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So: William’s mostly naked when Sandy kisses him, and the weird part is he’s fairly sure that those two things, the mostly-nakedness and the kissing, have very little to do with each other.

Sandy does it like it’s nothing, goes from standing there in his Marlies t-shirt and shorts to getting this determined look on his face, stepping right into William’s space and getting a hand on the back of his neck and kissing him. It’s not really a ‘you’re only wearing a towel and I’m overcome with lust because, hello, you’re William Nylander’ kind of kiss, the way William might have expected it to be, because he’s seen himself shirtless and being overcome with lust is probably a reasonable response. Instead it’s like- very to the point, with the point being kissing and nothing else, Rasmus’ closed mouth pressed against William’s, chaste enough that there’s something kind of grade-school about it.

William’s had worse kisses. The hand on the neck was a good move, very assertive, and sure, the locker room at a rented rink is not the greatest setting and it’s still all humid post-showers, but the lack of technical artistry of the kissing itself can mostly be forgiven by the fact that kissing is generally better if it’s happening with someone William likes and trusts, and Sandy meets both criteria.

So bad decision or not, William rolls with it, lets himself be kissed, then, when Sandy breaks off and takes a step back, he just watches and waits for him to speak.

“Hopefully that was okay,” Sandy says, and his voice is as even as ever even with William’s abs right there in front of him. The only hint that anything unusual just happened is the little bit of pink on his cheeks.

William bites his thumbnail while he thinks, presses his thumb into his bottom lip like he’s trying to leave a fingerprint. Sandy’s mouth tasted minty. Too minty to be left over from brushing his teeth this morning, like probably he waited ‘til William was in the shower then chewed gum or something to prepare for kissing him, and the thought of that is so unexpectedly endearing that William can’t even bring himself to tease him for it.

“What was that about?” is all he asks. He keeps his voice light.

“Oh,” Sandy says, then, slow, like he’s genuinely reasoning it out, “well, you’ve been a really good friend this summer, and I’m happy that we get to train together. I have fun hanging out with you.”

William tilts his head, bemused. “Do you kiss all your good friends?”

Sandy laughs, and has the courtesy to look abashed. “No, I guess you’re special.”

And the thing about that is that William is very, very good at knowing when a compliment is real or not, because he’s been learning that lesson as long as he can remember, because you get a lot of compliments when you’re rich and semi-famous in two countries and look like he does. As far as compliments go, ‘you’re special’ is usually an easy tell for bullshit, but Sandy doesn’t say it like it’s a compliment, just like it’s the genuine answer to a question. That’s how he tends to say most things, which is why William has been inviting him to hang out together in the first place even aside from the Leafs connection, because he seems like the kind of person who would tell the truth whether it was a compliment or not. The kind of person who, if he says ‘you’re special’, really thinks it.

“That’s a nice thing to say,” William says, and Sandy scrunches up his face, kind of funny. He still hasn’t looked at William’s abs.

“It would be weird if I kissed you then said something mean, I think?” he says. Maybe teasing, a little.

So: it’s summertime, there’s no Toronto media watching, Rasmus looks a lot stronger than he did last year, and he kissed William and was unflustered enough to tease him about it after. Works for him, William decides, for a summer thing, and drops to his knees on the damp tiles, tapping on Sandy’s thighs to push them apart.

“Okay,” he says, mostly business. “If you want me to stop, just hit my head or something because I might not notice if you try to just talk, I get really focused when I’m sucking someone’s dick.”

Sandy blinks a whole lot of times, really fast, like he thinks he heard wrong. William gets it. He looks good on his knees, speechlessness is common. “When you’re-”

William tugs on Sandy’s hem, patient. “Shorts, please.”

Calm, measured action is Sandy’s whole thing, on the ice. Slowing things down is why he’s as good as he is. William’s never seen him move faster or clumsier, scrambling to shove his shorts down and scooting back a little further into his stall, even though they’ve got the place booked for another half hour. He’s getting hard already. Eager.

“This isn’t your first time, right?” William asks, just to make sure.

“No,” Sandy says, then, innocently enough that it’s for sure him being a little shit, “Is it yours?”

William ignores the question. They both know that you don’t move to a different country on your own when you’re seventeen if you’re not ahead of the curve on most things. He peers up at Sandy anyways, intently, because he can be responsible, sometimes. “Are you lying?”

Sandy shakes his head. “No.”

He’s not. He hasn’t yet, to William or to anyone William’s seen him speak with. Hasn’t even tried to, not all summer so far.

So.

---

Blowing his team’s best prospect isn’t how William planned to spend his summer, obviously.

His plans haven’t gone that well, recently.

That’s not really a feeling he’s used to.

It’s complicated. That’s not something he’s used to either, because before this past season, William had things pretty nicely figured out. Like that he’s the best in their family at hockey but they pretend by unspoken agreement that he and Alex are the same, and that Michelle’s the oldest so she’s allowed to boss him around but he’s allowed to boss around all their other siblings, and that there are a lot of old men with low-angle profile pictures on social media who hate him but also are obsessed with calling him pretty as an insult. Easy. Predictable like a clock, one of the old circle ones that are hard to read.

He doesn’t regret the contract thing. He might regret the way it made things complicated, like the clock suddenly had a dozen hands instead of two and like they were all spinning around at different speeds and William was trying to synch them up and just- couldn’t.

He played bad. He’s never been as bad at anything as he was at hockey this past season.

The team was really nice about it. That felt bad, too. Well. Good because they were being nice, he guesses. Bad because they had to be nice, and hockey’s supposed to be the one thing that people don’t have to be nice to William about, and nice doesn’t really count if people do it because they feel like they have to. Bad-good?

Complicated.

William hates complicated, he’s been realizing.

His goals for summer are, A, get good at hockey again, and, B, get back to not thinking so much. He does goal A by going back home and going to the rink or the gym as many days as the trainers will let him. He does goal B by mostly not talking to anyone except his family and by letting Swedish start to feel normal in his mouth again.

He can’t tell if blowing Sandy at the practice rink is a side effect of goal A or goal B. One of the two, definitely, because he does it, and it’s pretty chill, and then they go out for dinner.

Alex stayed home today since he tweaked something in the gym yesterday, but he meets them at the restaurant they decided in the groupchat, this vegetarian place that’s healthy without tasting like it. The waitress has purple tips of her hair. It’s cool.

“I ordered already,” Alex informs them, looking up from his phone as Rasmus trails William toward their usual table.

“Good boy,” William messes up Alex’s hair, cheerful, and perches in the seat next to him while Sandy goes to beg a third chair from the couple at the bigger table next to them. He’s very friendly about it. Polite. “Fun day?”

“My arm feels like it’s going to fall off,” Alex complains, then doesn’t complain when William leans his head on his shoulder, because he’s a good brother. “Tell me something excited happened to you today.”

“Willy couldn’t get past me on the boards even once,” Sandy offers, dragging his chair over.

“We don’t remember that the same at all,” William says, but he can feel Alex’s shoulder shake as he laughs.

“I believe him.”

“Of course you do, traitor,” William flicks his arm, haughty, then straightens up in his seat, scoots over just a little so they’re positioned nice around the table, three even slices of the circle.

“You guys did it again,” Sandy informs them, and they settle into the familiar argument right away, because it’s a fun one.

“You’re so wrong,” Alex says. “So wrong.”

“I don’t think so,” Sandy says, mild. “When you said ‘believe’, there-”

“We sound the exact same as you!”

“Mm, no.” He shakes his head. Looks mostly serious, but William sees the corner of his mouth tick up, just the tiniest bit, at Alex’s indignant spluttering. “Canadian accents.”

“We learned Swedish first!” Alex protests as the waitress arrives with the food. Her hair’s still purple at the ends. William wasn’t really expecting it to have changed. Still is glad it didn’t.

The other two are still chirping, intermittent laughing and bickering and shovelling food into their mouths. There’s a little kid across the restaurant staring right at William, clearly recognizing him, but he doesn’t approach and neither of the others notices him, so William just listens, happy to let their voices make a nice soundtrack for him as he picks the onions out of his bowl one slice at a time. He’d probably rank it number one on things he’d want to listen to, people he cares about being happy. Maybe tied with Post Malone.

“You can’t talk,” Alex says, switching strategy to throw William under the bus too, so he must be losing the debate. “Neither of you can talk, I’ve heard both of you say ‘the six’ out loud, in real life. You aren’t Drake.”

William spears three edamames on the prongs of his fork. The little kid is tugging on his mom’s sleeve, now, still watching him. “Toronto mans,” he says, because he knows it’ll bother Alex.

“Toronto,” Sandy echoes. He says it all exaggerated, like ‘Tronno’, the way all the local boys do, and smiles happily at William as he does, like they’re in on it together.

He’s being totally, one hundred percent normal, the same way he has since right after he came in William’s mouth, earlier. It didn’t take long at all, but Sandy didn’t seem embarrassed about it, only kind of pleasantly dazed. He offered a hand to help William up from his knees. William didn’t take it, just got up by himself and shoved Sandy playfully back toward the shower. Sandy talked like he usually would on the car ride here. Didn’t start getting all googly-eyed and worshipful the way most people do, once William lets them have sex with him, like they’re trying to prove to him that they were worth it. Hasn’t even tried to subtly press his foot up against William’s under the table to get his attention, which William was semi-expecting him to. Maybe mostly-expecting. Maybe expecting, like. Something.

He doesn’t act nineteen.

William didn’t mind kissing him.

Stop thinking so much, he reminds himself, firm, and eats the rest of his dinner, jokes around with the guys; takes a picture with the little kid when he finally asks and leaves a big tip for the waitress, then, when it’s time to leave, tosses Alex his keys.

“Take my car back,” he requests. “I’m walking home with Sandy.” Rasmus, lingering by the door, glances at William a little curiously, but doesn’t say anything.

“Can I come?” Alex asks, automatically more than from any actual desire to walk anywhere, it sounds like.

“Nope,” William says. “Team secrets.”

Alex rolls his eyes, but he’s not going to turn down the opportunity to drive William’s car, which William was betting on; he jangles William’s keys in his hand, spinning and catching them, already turning to look for the car. “I’m doing Tokyo drift,” he warns as he goes.

“Maybe don’t,” Sandy calls after him, and William nudges him down the sidewalk, the opposite direction.

“Alex drives like a grandma, he’s not going to Tokyo drift,” he says. Alex’s Europe car is a Volvo. Even William’s Swedish pride doesn’t go that far.

“I might Tokyo drift if I was a grandma,” Sandy says, falling into step next to William.

“Why?”

“Not too much life left,” Sandy says, serious, like it’s a real conversation topic. “I think once you hit maybe ninety you can do whatever you want.”

“I do whatever I want anyways,” William says, and Sandy looks amused, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Well, you’re you,” is all he says, like that explains it, and William waits for him to add on something else, flirty or like, suggestive, but he doesn’t, just keeps pace with William as they walk.

It’s a typical summer evening in the city – the weather’s warm enough, even at this time, that lots of people are out, families and couples, mostly. The sun’s just barely starting to go down by the time they make it to Sandy’s place. He glances at William once they’re at the door, like he’s expecting William to leave now that he’s been safely escorted back, but William follows him up the couple of flights of stairs.

“Too many keys,” Sandy sings tunelessly under his breath as he searches through his keychain – he’s right, it’s overloaded, he can’t possibly have access to so many places – for his door key. William watches him, can’t help but feel this little jump in his belly, like anticipation. Maybe not just in his belly. Maybe just around them, shimmery in the air a little like static.

He’s seen the apartment that Sandy’s renting during training a couple of times before: the place is small, pretty standard furniture and décor. Mostly tidy, like it usually is, except for the basket of folded laundry that hasn’t been put away yet, sitting there on the couch.

Sandy shuts the door behind himself, scoots past William in the little entrance once he’s toed off his sneakers. “Do you want me to make coffee?” he asks, then corrects himself without being told, “Or- no, you like tea better, right.”

“Maybe later,” William says, then nods over at the basket of clothes on the couch, aims for teasing. Friendly advice. Casual. “You might need to get a new housekeeper, if this one doesn’t even put away your laundry properly.”

Sandy looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Yes, he’s very bad,” he agrees, eyes bright. “I’ll move it.” And he does. Not far, just over to the end of the hallway. William stares as he does, lingering on the doormat. He feels off-balance, a little.

“You don’t have a housekeeper,” he pieces together, because he’s not actually stupid, no matter what some people think.

Sandy shakes his head good-naturedly, leaning against the wall opposite William. “Did you think everyone does?” he asks it like a question, not like a trap.

“Lots of people,” William says, only a little bit defensive – it’s true, all his teammates do and he always had one growing up and half the people he knows here do as well – because this is the sort of thing that the guys love to tease him for, especially the ones who grew up really different from him. “If you laugh at me I won’t let you kiss me again.”

He wasn’t intending to bring it up quite so abruptly, or even really at all. Was mostly planning on waiting until Sandy put two and two together and figured out why William followed him home. Pretty obvious, he thought.

Sandy still looks a little like he’s trying not to laugh, and he doesn’t really react to William mentioning the kissing thing, just turns thoughtful. “I mean,” he reasons, “I made the first move, so I was waiting for your turn, to be polite.”

The tingly kind of anticipation in William’s stomach is back. “Blowing you doesn’t count as me taking my turn?”

Sandy really does laugh now, maybe kind of pleased, like he hadn’t really considered that. “That’s fair,” he says; then, when a few moments have passed and he gets that William isn’t about to spoon feed this to him, he takes a step closer, then another one, close enough so he has to look up, just a little, to meet William’s eyes. “My turn again?”

William raises his eyebrows, expectant. Makes it a dare.

He can feel Rasmus smiling when he kisses him. Has this moment, just quick, of wondering if he’s being laughed at again, but he doesn’t think that’s really Sandy’s style, and besides, he’s not supposed to be thinking at all, so he doesn’t, just sinks into it, backing against the wall and bringing Sandy with him.

William wasn’t really sure what to expect, because earlier wasn’t really enough kissing to be a great metric of skill – now, with Sandy’s lips parting under William’s, soft and eager, is, and William’s pleased to realize that he’s as good at this as he has been at pretty much everything William’s seen him try. Not shy, either, his hands on William’s hips and then, as soon as they’re there, slipping down to his ass, tugging him closer.

William’s got his fingers pushed up in Sandy’s hair, can’t help his grip there tightening when he catches Sandy’s lip between his teeth and elicits this unsteady, breathy laugh. “Ow.”

“Sorry,” William says, and Sandy shakes his head, hardly even pauses kissing.

“No, good ow, it’s good,” he says, really quick and kind of nonsensically, and William can feel his fingertips against his skin, creeping up under the hem of William’s t-shirt, distinct little points of heat. And they’re both young, both maybe on edge from whatever the fuck kind of foreplay laundry-related teasing is – William’s dick is straining against his jeans, and when his thigh slips between Sandy’s, he can feel him getting hard as well, can get another even less coherent sound out of him when he presses closer.

“Couch,” William decides, because having standing-up impromptu sex twice in one day is a bit too much, even for him. He hooks a finger in Sandy’s belt loop, half-hauls him into the little living room and onto the couch. Leafy blue cushions. Maybe good luck.

They both scramble to get situated, Sandy’s lips warm at the corner of William’s mouth – he missed, William thinks, bad aim, and wants to laugh – then on his mouth properly again, the lengths of their noses pressed together all the way down as Sandy fumbles with the zipper of William’s pants. William shifts back, just to give him more room, make it easier.

“You’re a pretty good kisser,” Sandy says in the second that they’re apart, and he’s tenting in his shorts, his hair’s sticking up like he just took off his helmet, and something about how he’s looking at William, all big eyes and looking thrilled-

“I know,” William says, then, because he doesn’t want this to be the kind of thing that gets ruined by either of them thinking too much, or thinking at all that this is something it isn’t, anything other than friends having fun during the offseason and William deciding to indulge in Sandy kind of punching above his weight, “You can’t start getting feelings about this, okay?”

“I don’t think people can not have feelings,” Sandy says, tucking his heels in so he’s sitting cross-legged on his own cushion, like they’re having a conversation at a sleepover. It’s a very casual, relaxed move. William doesn’t even think he’s faking it. “People feel things pretty much all the time.”

“You know what I mean,” William pushes, because this is important.

“Yes, I was joking,” Sandy says, unflappable. “No falling in love with you, I understand.”

“Good,” William says, then adds, as an afterthought, mostly from courtesy, “I won’t fall in love with you either.”

“Oh, I wasn’t worried about that,” Sandy says, and William frowns, because sure, Rasmus has extremely floppy hair and front teeth that make him look a little bit like a rabbit, but he’s got a cute smile and very good hockey sense and he’s William’s friend, and William’s friends aren’t allowed to feel bad things.

“You should have better confidence,” William tells him in his best wise big brother voice. He wraps his hand around Sandy’s shin, pulls until he uncrosses his legs and, taking the hint, crawls over so he’s half-kneeling in front of William, half in his lap. “Of course someone could fall in love with you.”

“I know,” Sandy agrees easily. “I meant I wouldn’t be worried if you do.”

“…Right,” William says, a little bit thrown off. “But I won’t.”

“Right,” Sandy says, all patient. William gets the feeling he’s being humoured, which is a little strange, but then he gets distracted by some other, significantly more pleasant feelings as Sandy pushes at his shoulder – gently, but stronger than William expected – to get him to lie back. William does, ends up with Sandy braced over him, peering down. “Did you want to have sex again now?”

William tugs him down by his t-shirt. It threatens to teeter them both off balance, one of Sandy’s knees just about slipping off the couch, but he catches himself, laughs just quick against William’s lips. William likes that. He likes how Sandy kisses like he’s totally focused, not pretending like he’s not enthusiastic about it. Likes how he props up on one hand and uses the other to undo William’s fly, only fumbling it a little.

“Skills, right?” he asks, following William’s gaze and train of thought and offering this little grin, like he’s making fun of himself and bragging all at the same time.

“Sure, skills,” William agrees easily enough, because bantering is a little bit beyond him, now that Sandy’s got a hand in his boxers, warm fingers wrapped around his dick. He’s not particularly delicate about it, but delicate can be boring, so William doesn’t mind. “Skills, skills, skills,” he says again, nonsense, lolling his head back against the arm of the couch and shutting his eyes, letting his breath come out unevenly as Sandy presses on the tip, smears around the precome there. It must leave his neck exposed, and that must be a sight, because Sandy’s mouth is there straight away, a kiss at first and then maybe just lingering there, his lips wet on the soft underside of William’s jaw.

“Okay?” he asks, his breath making the words ticklish against William’s skin, and William just clutches him closer, a hand fisted in his t-shirt as Sandy jerks him faster and faster, and William likes this part too, how it’s dry without lube like when he’s getting himself off too desperate to wait, how Sandy tightens his grip around him when William’s breaths turn into helpless gasps.

He turns his head, hides his face in Sandy’s hair as he comes. Too soon, maybe, but longer than Sandy took this morning and not with anywhere near as embarrassing a face, so still okay, and he wouldn’t even really mind doing something a little bit embarrassing in front of Sandy anyways, he thinks, and then he’s not supposed to be thinking through this so he stops, just focuses on the way their bodies are pressed warm together, all limbs slotted together and smelling of sex. The weight of Sandy is comforting, like a heavy blanket.

“I’m going to wipe my hand off on your shirt, okay?” he says, then, and William takes back every single nice post-orgasm thought he had.

“This shirt is Versace, Rasmus,” he says, and Sandy rolls his eyes, reaches for him anyways so William reaches first and jabs at his ribs where he’s ticklish, makes him jolt abruptly enough that his arms go windmilling, and this time they really do tumble off the couch. William scrambles to catch him in a headlock. “Don’t you dare-”

“Dare what, this?” Sandy asks, and they’re both laughing as they roll around, dumb play-wrestling even though William hasn’t wrestled since he was a literal child and he still can’t really feel his limbs and none of this is really how he does the sex thing, usually.

He pins Sandy’s wrists on either side of his head, ends up on top of him, triumphant. “You’re really weird,” he says, still out of breath. The last of the sun is filtering in through the window, makes a stripe of shadow across Sandy’s nose, makes his eyes shine when he looks up at William, his whole face crinkled into a smile.

“Good weird?” he asks, like he already knows the answer.

“Obviously,” William says, and he takes pity, grinds down against where Sandy’s hard under him and likes the way he pushes right back, the way his forearms flex where William’s got him pinned, maybe a different kind of dare, in its own way.

It doesn’t feel like a complicated thing, not at all, liking this.

---

Summer, in William’s mind, looks like summers when he was little, everything tinted pretty and gold and happy. Part of that is from the sun. Probably a bigger part of it is just from how it felt, because his dad was finally home for longer than a week at a time, and the family was all together at the house in Sweden, and it was five months of doing basically whatever he wanted. William remembers going from the cold, stale air of the rink out into the hot sun, remembers clearer than anything the exact way both things felt on his skin and still feels this little thrill of recognition every time he feels them now. He likes the familiarity of it, the way it means that some things change but summer doesn’t have to.

May spills over into June, and it’s the closest thing to those summers in William’s mind that he’s had in years. He skates and skates and skates, and works out off the ice too, and every minute when he’s not doing those things is for doing absolutely nothing at all.

Well. Not nothing-nothing, always. He gets a new suit tailored for Zach’s wedding in a couple months. Goes for brunch with his mother. Pesters Alex to take pictures of him when he looks good, or more good than is standard, then sorts through and posts the best ones. He waits to watch the first compliments spill in and then turns his phone off when they start turning into hockey comments. It takes like, ten seconds, usually.

Sometimes it’s nothing-nothing. Sometimes it’s lying on the rooftop patio and napping in the sun, music playing or just quiet. They’ve got a rotating group of friends, between him and Alex, that appear and disappear. Sandy, by unspoken mutual agreement, appears more often than not.

Stephy and Jacqueline come by the practice rink once. They do the thing they do ever since they discovered boys where they get all giggly around William and Alex’s friends, which, gross, but also kind of fun, when Sandy skates up to them and skids to a stop, directing a shower of snow right at William and his siblings while the girls squeal.

More Nylanders,” he says, all teasing, like he hasn’t been listening to family gossip for a month.

“Mom and dad were trying to have a hockey team,” Stephy says, all thirteen-year-old confidence, and Sandy nods, serious.

“They did a pretty good job.”

“Um, did you see my last season, or…” William says, because he’s good at joking things off and better at being honest about his own performance, and it gets a laugh from the others, this time.

 Alex claps an arm around Sandy’s shoulders, leaning on him. “Now he knows how it feels to suck like the rest of us,” he says, and maybe he means it as a joke, or means it to sound like one, but it doesn’t, really.

“Alex,” William says, after a beat of a Too Big silence, and there’s something almost defiant about how Alex meets his eyes.

It happens, sometimes. Another thing this summer that reminds William of when they were little.

Sandy glances between the two of them, then skates forward. “Here,” he says, kind, leaning down to offer a hand to Stephanie. “Want to go prove we’re faster than your brothers?” Stephy lights up, grabs Jacqueline’s hand to tug her along with them, and the moment, whatever it was, fizzles into nothing.

Rasmus is a good part of this summer. Maybe William’s favourite. He’s just-

He’s great at hockey, first thing, making the kind of smart plays that William recognizes by now as the sort of thing that can’t be taught. Great to talk to, as well, easygoing and steady and not at all intimidated by any of the NHLers that they run into at the gym.

The sex part is pretty great too. It, sex, has never been something that’s all that big of a deal to William, and he’s pleased to see that either they have similar opinions there or Sandy really took William’s ‘don’t fall for me’ order seriously, because he waits for it to turn awkward or clingy and it never does. They suck each other off in the shower, and trade handjobs in, like, every possible location in Sandy’s apartment, and sometimes they don’t even have sex at all. Sometimes, lazy afternoons tangled up on the couch, Sandy’s perfectly happy to just make out and not do more than that, which is nice, because aimlessly kissing is one of William’s favourite activities. He likes the way it takes up all his brain’s attention so he can’t focus on anything else, the way it feels good without being too much, just stretches out and out and could go on forever, no end in sight for as long as they both want.

For the first time since maybe last summer, since contract talks started, William feels completely and totally relaxed. Stress has never come naturally to him, and it feels good to get back to normal, to being comfortable off the ice which means comfortable on the ice which means his body knowing what to do without consciously deciding to do anything at all.

He knew he was still good. Hockey’s something inside him, in his blood. That doesn’t go away in a year.

He wears his Leafs stuff whenever he’s on the ice. Some of the guys tease him for it. William doesn’t care. That’s back to normal, too.

They’re all walking back from brunch one Saturday when a bunch of tourists, one of them in a Leafs t-shirt, stop William and ask for a selfie. It’s a decently common occurrence, even all the way across an ocean from Toronto – William gives a smile to the kids. Alex rolls his eyes, used to it. Sandy offers to take the picture.

“Imagine a team not winning for fifty years and people still like it that much,” Sandy muses, after, once they’re all three traipsing up the stairs of William and Alex’s building.

“Imagine liking anything that much even at all,” Alex says, and there’s a nice, contemplative kind of moment where they’re all thinking about the general insanity that is sports, and then they arrive at the roof.

William likes it up here. It’s his favourite part of the building, reminds him of the beaches he’s visited in Greece or the Bahamas, just a little bubble of blue sky and lounge chairs, isolated from the rest of the world. Worth the extra on their lease, especially as most of the other people rich enough to live in this building are travelling for the summer holidays, so the whole roof is mostly theirs.

Alex promptly falls asleep, sprawled out in his chair with his mouth open. He’s going to sunburn horribly, because he inherited the wrong half of their parents’ genes and never tans nicely like William does, just goes bright red. William sets an alarm on his phone to wake him in half an hour, then, happy at being a good sibling, squeezes himself into the inch of spare room on Sandy’s chair.

“Sure, this fits,” Sandy quips, then scoots over so they actually do fit, or close enough. He smells like sunscreen, a little forgotten patch of it white on his nose, and his arm is sweaty-hot against William’s shoulders, maybe enough that it’s objectively not that nice, but William likes the skin contact.

“You have sunscreen on your nose,” he says, closing his eyes, content to nap in the sun until his alarm goes off. He comes close, nearly drifting off as Sandy rubs in his sunscreen then shifts to get comfy. Isn’t expecting him to speak again, because he’s usually pretty comfortable with silence, but he does.

“Do you like when people know who you are?” he sounds curious, like it’s a real question. “Like today?”

“Who wouldn’t like it?” William counters.

“Lots of people,” Sandy counter-counters. “It’s kind of freaky.”

William hums. “No point in being freaked out about something that won’t change.” That’s another thing that doesn’t change, same as summers. People want pictures. When he was little it was his dad. Now it’s him or Alex. Just the way things are, when you’re a Leaf. When you’re him.

“Huh,” Sandy says, like he wasn’t really expecting that answer. He folds his arms under his head. “That’s fatalistic.”

“That’s me,” William says, even though he’s only like, twenty percent sure he knows what ‘fatalistic’ means. He peeks over at the other chair and, content that Alex is still passed out, leans his head on Sandy’s shoulder and closes his eyes again. He feels it more than sees it when a cloud passes over the sun. The shade is kind of a relief. Less global warming, or something.

“What are you thinking?” he asks, through a yawn, when he can feel Sandy staring.

“I’ll tell you when I figure it out,” Sandy says. Not a counter-anything. Just.

They’ll probably have sex later, William thinks, once he walks Sandy home. Maybe wrestle again, because it’s grown on William, a little, as a way of getting rid of the pent-up energy that Sandy never seems to run out of. For right now, though, William’s got his friend and his brother and summer stretching out in every direction, and things are just about as good as he could hope for them to be.

---

William’s not sure what precisely Sandy was trying to figure out, there on the roof. He mostly forgets about it, honestly, until they’ve got a day off and Sandy shows up at William’s door with a backpack.

“Hi,” Sandy says, and does this dorky little wave that makes William smile. “Are you doing anything today?”

William shakes his head. “No.”

“Good,” Sandy says, so William guesses that this is what the backpack is about, which is a relief, because as a fashion choice it is both overly bold and extremely underwhelming, especially in combination with Rasmus’ khaki shorts. Khaki. He gestures expectantly. “Let’s go.”

William steps into his tennis shoes, but doesn’t step out of his doorway. “If this is a trying to date me thing-”

“You said not to do that,” Sandy points out, like that’s stopped most people who’ve wanted William, before.

“I know I did.”

“Okay, then,” Sandy says, like that’s that. “Sometimes friends do activities together.” He pats William on the arm, bracing, “Come on,” then goes without waiting to check if William is following. Like telling William Nylander what to do is a thing that people do.

William follows.

“Tada,” Sandy says, once they’re down on the sidewalk. “You know how to ride a bike, right?”

“Do I know how to ride a bike,” William scoffs – he does, the family did a bicycle tour in Provence when he was twelve and he was excellent – and catches the helmet that Sandy throws him. He doesn’t protest, because, A, safety first, and B, he’s pretty sure Kyle would go into some kind of nerd rage and murder him if he missed camp because of a bike related brain injury, not to mention what Coach’s reaction would be.

No thinking.

They cycle through the city, one after the other in the bike lanes. Sandy checks back every so often, if they’re at a stoplight or something, and William gives him a thumbs up, trails after him until they veer off onto the quieter paths in the gardens. It’s more green leaves than flowers, this time of year. Still pretty.

“Hey,” Sandy says, dropping back so they’re pedalling along side-by-side, “Race you.”

William doesn’t wait for any kind of countdown, and neither does he – they’re both off as fast as they can, part competitiveness and part just because they can. It’s an underrated part of the hockey thing, William thinks, the way it makes him strong and fast and aware of every piece of his body, how it all works together and lets him do what he wants. He feels the sun on his arms, his hair whipping in his face, and he smiles at nothing, at Sandy’s back in front of him.

He doesn’t know how long they ride, or where they’re going, but Sandy must, because he eventually slows right down. William doesn’t get a chance to gloat about having better endurance, because Sandy signals for him to stop too, hopping off his bike and guiding it right off the path, into the grass.

“Where are you going?” William asks, leaning on his handlebars to catch his breath, one leg on the ground as a kickstand.

“Top secret,” Sandy says, and disappears behind the little row of trees. When William follows, tugging his bike along and almost certainly getting grass stains on his white shoes, he emerges into a little clearing, a patch of grass maybe a couple metres wide. It’s mostly hidden behind the row of trees, obscured and obscuring from the main path.

“Are you taking me back here to kill me?” William asks, only semi-concerned as he leans his bike against the trees next to Sandy’s. He could take Sandy in a fight, probably.

“No hockey fans to ask for pictures,” Sandy explains, shrugging off his backpack and crouching down to unzip it. He grins up at William, just quick. “Congratulations, you’re a normal person now.”

“You’re not,” William retorts, pretty lamely, and Sandy had a point about no fan pictures, but the little clearing they’re in is really pretty, so William takes some pictures of his own, and when he turns back around, there’s a checkered blanket spread out on the ground and Sandy’s sitting on it, taking out juice boxes and sandwiches from his backpack.

“What’s all this?” William asks.

“This is a sandwich,” Sandy says, straight-faced. “They’re really popular in lots of places, I can’t believe you haven’t tried one before.”

“You’re way more annoying than I gave you credit for,” William informs him, and Sandy just smiles like that was the point. William’s pretty sure it was. He deigns to sit down on the blanket, one leg tucked close and the other stretched out, and watches Sandy sort through the food.

“Tuna or ham?”

“I don’t care,” William says. Sandy passes him the tuna. William makes a face, so Sandy sighs and swaps them.

It’s a good sandwich. Homemade, William’s pretty sure, which is a cute idea, Rasmus standing there spreading butter on bread. For a while, they just eat quietly, listening to the occasional noise from the path. The sun filters down through the trees.

“You do this a lot?” William asks, taking another bite and folding the paper down the particular way he likes. “Riding bikes?”

“It’s fun,” Sandy says, brushing the crumbs off of his lap. “I like going fast.”

“Me too,” William says, and they exchange little smiles, then Sandy leans back on his hands, stretching out.

“So I took my mom’s bike, once, when I was four,” he starts, conversational. “I was jealous because my older brother always got to go riding by himself and I wanted to prove that I could too.”

William wants to laugh, he can picture it so clearly, little tiny Sandy certain of himself same as he is now. “What happened?”

“I was the best cyclist any four year old ever was,” Sandy says, then, wry, “and then I went down a hill and crashed into the neighbour’s fence and broke right through.”

“Oh no,” William says, covering his face, playing up his reaction a little, because Sandy’s clearly enjoying telling the story, and William doesn’t want him to stop.

“Oh yeah,” Sandy says. “It was bad, I still have-” He tugs up the hem of his shorts, shows off the cross-hatching of scars on both knees. William noticed them before and assumed they were from hockey.

“And-” Sandy drags his hair back, enough that it looks like it must hurt. There’s a puckered-up scar just barely peeking out from under his mop of hair.

“Harry Potter,” William says, a little bit delighted by it. He reaches out and traces the scar until it disappears, then messes up Sandy’s hair, facewashing him and laughing when he gets swatted away, all playful.

“What were you like when you were little?” Sandy asks, smoothing his hair back down. Mostly pointlessly. It’s permanently a mess. William’s been waiting patiently to be asked for conditioning tips.

“What do you think I was like?” he deflects deftly.

“Hm,” Sandy stares up at the leafy treetops, gamely, then back at William. “I can only picture you the exact same.”

“Pretty close,” William says. Little him was dumber and worse at English than the other kids and too trusting of like, anyone who was nice to him. Other than those things, mostly the same. “I had worse hair.”

“That’s a lie.”

“I don’t lie,” William says. “I had a bowl cut.”

Sandy looks skeptical. “Like-” He traces the shape of a fringe on his forehead.

William nods, resigns himself to it when Sandy bursts out laughing. The only good thing to come out of that haircut.

“That’s amazing, I want to see pictures.”

“They’re all over the internet,” William says. He can’t help but laugh too, just a little, at how happy Sandy sounds. Laughing with instead of at, like one of those stupid no bullying campaigns they used to show in every school he ever attended.

“Show me,” Sandy requests.

William takes out his phone obediently enough, navigating to his camera roll. “You didn’t google me before?”

“That would be pretty weird,” Sandy says, pulling a face even as he’s still giggling. “Like, oh, hey, I researched everything about you and your childhood before really getting to know you.”

“Googling isn’t the same as researching,” William says, automatic, as he scrolls past recent pictures. He’s kind of thrown off by it, the idea of Sandy just showing up and befriending him without knowing all the stuff about him that’s already out there and getting an idea of William Nylander in his head. That never happens, not ever in William’s life. Maybe if he went and met Amish people or something, people without computers or TV. So never. “I googled you.”

He regrets saying it right away. It makes it sound like some kind of big deal, like he went out of his way to study up on who Rasmus Sandin is. He didn’t. It wasn’t. He just wouldn’t ever invite someone to train with him and his brother and their friends, even someone from his organization, without having some idea of them being a good person.

“Well, that’s different, I’m kind of a big deal,” Sandy says, without missing a single beat. William peeks up at him – he’s joking, doing the thing he’s good at where William forgets whatever he was embarrassed or stressed about and it doesn’t feel like it’s even on purpose, even though he thinks it might be – then passes over his phone, with a picture of himself as a three year old open.

“Oh wow,” Sandy says, taking the phone and lighting up. “You were really cute. Even by baby standards.” He delivers it like one of their video coaches, like baby cuteness is a serious and measurable matter.

“I know,” William says, because he does, because if baby cuteness was a serious and measurable matter, he’d rank very high on the leaderboards, objectively. He accepts his phone back, shutting it off and lifting up just enough to tuck it back into his pocket. When he sits back down, Sandy nudges his toes against William’s, so William nudges him back.

“The bikes were a good idea,” William says. It feels like a thing that matters to say. He had fun. Is having fun, being out in the park and no one bothering him.

“Thanks,” Sandy says, and there’s something softer about the smile he gives then, maybe in his eyes.

William holds out his hand for a juice box.

“Peach or apple?” Sandy asks, and then, before William can answer, “Actually, I like peach, can I have peach?”

“Sure,” William says, even though he likes peach better too, so this way they’ll be even for the sandwich thing. He stabs his juice box with the little straw. It’s kind of fun. “I didn’t have one of these in so long,” he says. “Like years.”

“Me neither,” Sandy agrees, and it’s probably nothing, but it’s a nice thought, the idea that bicycles and picnics and juice boxes are a special thing Sandy planned because they’re friends and not just how he spends all his afternoons. Good weird, the way lots of stuff is with him.

“So, the khakis,” William says, and Sandy laughs out loud, and that’s a nice thing, too.

---

“And as we’re breathing in, we’re going to reach our arms up to the sky,” Hanna the yoga instructor says, in her always-calm, monotone voice. She reminds William of ASMR YouTube videos. Those could be a good side hustle for her.

“And holding, reaching,” she says, so William reaches and holds, relishing in the stretch. Next to him, Alex wobbles where he’s balanced on one leg, and Borgy coughs to hide a laugh and fails horribly at it. William’s never inviting him to yoga class again. He glances to his other side, finds Sandy already looking in his direction. Their eyes meet, and William raises one eyebrow, just slightly. He watches Sandy’s throat move as he swallows.

“And exhale,” Hanna says, and they all do, and after, when they’re all filing inside and have finished swatting at each other with their rolled up yoga mats, Sandy comes and stands on his toes and hooks his chin on William’s shoulder.

“You should come over and help me with the team thing,” he says, all casual.

“Team thing?” William asks, then, when Sandy flicks him in the back, “Ooh, the team thing.”

He’s not sure, strictly speaking, if it counts as a team thing when Sandy shoves William onto his couch and drops to his knees in front of him, once they’re back at his apartment. William is sure that he doesn’t care, nope, not even at all, because he’s still feeling pleasantly loose from yoga and the team excuse means they’ve got at least a couple of hours, and sue him, he likes that Sandy’s eyes were on him the whole time, likes that he looks good enough doing yoga to get him all riled up like this. Then-

“I really want to copy your workout,” Sandy says. It takes William by surprise, a little, considering Sandy’s currently between his legs, a hint of teeth here and there as he puts his mouth everywhere except where William wants it. “I want-” He glances up at William, pupils really big, “-thighs like yours.”

“You could just give a normal compliment,” William says, a little shakily, because he’s so hard he thinks he might die, and Sandy’s mouth on the inside of his thighs is both helping the situation and making it a billion times worse.

“I wasn’t trying to give a compliment,” Sandy says, then kisses William’s kneecap and says, like an afterthought, “They are nice, though.”

“I know,” William says, and shuts his eyes as Sandy starts jerking him off, only to reopen them to finish his thought. “Seriously, the yoga helps, though, it makes other stuff easier.”

“That makes sense,” Sandy says, without even stopping his hand around William’s dick, oh my god, and then, like punctuation, he leans down and gets his mouth around the tip, one hand still at the base like he’s holding William in place.

“Oh my god,” William says out loud this time, and gets a hand in Sandy’s hair; he doesn’t intend for it to be a signal but maybe Sandy takes it as one, because he sinks down deeper on William’s dick, warm and wet and fucking- he’s everywhere, and his free hand ends up firm on William’s thigh, his thumb pressing down on one of the marks he made there, and the edge of pain is enough for William to shudder and come.

“Get-” he pants, before he’s even really done, while Sandy’s lips are still wet and shiny, “Come up, come on me, I want-”

“Yeah,” Sandy says, his voice sort of hoarse, and he doesn’t waste any time either before clambering up onto the couch, bracing himself over William’s lap, then ending up sort of plastered to him, because William clutches him close, hides his face in the crook of Sandy’s neck.

“You- you’re clingy” Sandy informs him, and he’d maybe sound bemused, if he wasn’t so busy furiously jerking himself off. It’s a bad angle, but he doesn’t complain. William loves it, the way he can feel every caught breath, the way he’s still so, so aware of the bruises kissed inside his legs.

“You’re good at blowies,” William retorts, and it gets a laugh out of Sandy.

“I never did anything with a teammate,” he says, matter-of-fact like usual, like William didn’t just come in his mouth. “Just one guy and two girls that I dated.” Because of course, he’s the type to date people.

“At the same time, wow,” William teases, mouthing against Sandy’s collarbone, his neck. He feels it more than sees it when Sandy shakes his head.

“Not at the same time,” he says. “Did you ever hook up with a teammate before?”

“Are we teammates?”

“I want to make the Leafs this year,” Sandy says, and his voice is all tight, broken off as his hand moves faster. He’s close. “I think- I think I’m good enough.”

“You are,” William says, and nudges their noses together, stays up close, just feels it.

“Thanks,” Sandy says, and does this little grin, like he’s surprised at the compliment – not that it exists, but that William said it to him – then bites down on his lip, makes this needy, breathless sound that’s William’s favourite, and comes, striping warm on William’s chest.

It’s way, way too hot to stay pressed up this close, all sweaty and sticky and probably gross.

“I can move,” Sandy says, and he’s heavy on top of William, sort of awkwardly in his lap, but William shakes his head.

“Not yet,” he says, and if Sandy thinks the sweaty-sticky-grossness is too much, he doesn’t say so, just lets William hold onto him and stay in the moment, holding on as long as he can.

“You know what,” William says, a year or maybe ten minutes later, once his heart rate has finally slowed down, and he can feel Sandy breathing more normally too. “You talk so much during sex.”

“I don’t mean to,” Sandy says. “Just, if I think of something, I won’t remember it by the time we’re done, you know?”

William is very, very glad his face is still hidden, because his smile is big and embarrassing. It’s a nice feeling, liking someone as much as he likes Rasmus. Sandy’s just- there’s no secrets, with him. Nothing for William to wonder about or mistrust. He just is, the kind of confident where he can chatter about whatever during sex and still make William want him without even trying. No one’s usually as confident as William is. It’s fun.

They do pull apart, eventually. They wrestle over who gets to shower first, and William wins – lower body strength, ha – so he soaps himself up with Sandy’s endearingly basic ‘cucumber but manly, we promise’ body wash and takes his time, enjoys the hot water. When he comes out of the shower, Sandy’s perched on the bathroom counter in a pair of sweats and nothing else, staring at his phone.

“Your turn, chicken legs,” William says, and Sandy blinks over at him. The look on his face makes William’s stomach flutter. Not in the good way. “What?”

“Um,” Sandy says, looking down at his phone again, then back at William. “Your brother just got traded.”

It’s weird- William hears the words, but they’re so out of place and out of the blue, here in the sunny closeness of Sandy’s en suite, that he doesn’t process them right away, can’t quite wrap his head around what they mean for the rest of his day and his summer.

“Oh,” he says, after a silence that goes on and on, and then only because he feels like he has to say something. There’s more silence after that.

“To Chicago,” Sandy reads from his phone. “For-” He breaks off, glancing up at William. “I guess it doesn’t really matter, who for.”

“No,” William agrees, and he’s grateful that Sandy’s smart like he is, about this, because right now the hockey part doesn’t matter at all, only William’s little brother, because he knows his brother, and he knows that Alex will put on a happy face and convince exactly no one with it.

Fuck.

He gets dressed as quick as he can remember ever getting dressed, and drives back to their place too fast, even by his standards. Their apartment feels silent like a funeral as soon as William walks in, jarring, like half an hour ago, sweaty and happy in Sandy’s place, was a daydream.

He finds Alex sitting in his bed, still kind of sweaty from yoga and chewing on the neck of his t-shirt. William sits down next to him, bunches up the covers with his toes.

“Did you tell dad?” he asks, because they both know that’s the most important thing.

Alex nods. Not like it would matter. Their dad has news alerts for both of them.

“Okay,” William says, then, making his voice happy on purpose, “You’ll get more chances in Chicago. They traded for you, that means they really want you. It’s good.”

“Buffalo drafted me,” Alex says, dully. “They wanted me, before.”

“Think how good dad did on new teams,” William reminds him. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you had to leave Toronto,” Alex says, sinking further into his shirt, and this is the part William hates about being a big brother, the way he feels it like his own hurt every time one of his siblings hurts, maybe worse because he can’t do anything about it.

“I get it, Alex,” is what he says, and the look that Alex gives him is one like he wants to laugh, which doesn’t make sense, for how angry it is.

“No, you don’t,” Alex says, bluntly. “You missed like three months and they still wouldn’t trade you, even when you were bad. They would never send you down. You don’t get it, so don’t say you do, please.”

This time, it’s William’s own hurt he feels. So. An improvement there, at least.

He keeps his mouth shut. This is one of those times where it’s better to just shut up, he thinks. There are a lot of those times.

Alex lets out all his breath in one big sigh, then slumps over and leans on William’s shoulder.

“I’m embarrassed,” Alex mumbles, like an apology.

William hugs him. He gets that part too, maybe even especially, the feeling of trying to meet expectations and falling short and wondering if people were wrong to have expectations of you in the first place. He really, really gets that.

“It’s okay,” William says, and nothing else about getting it, nothing else at all.

---

Things are complicated again.

William hates it.

He wonders if this is going to be the new normal for the rest of his life, if every time things settle back down something new is just going to pop up to ruin them. Hockey’s supposed to be easy, the common ground for his entire family, a language they all speak, and now every reporter William talks to wants to ask him about his slump, and Alex has spent the week since his trade alternating between extremely motivated to prove everyone wrong and moping around the apartment being grumpy any time William tries to distract him. Even the promise of the family’s upcoming trip to their favourite lake house doesn’t cheer him up.

im not doing anything today, he texts Sandy, as close as he’s going to come to asking for company, and Sandy’s good at getting the message, because in an hour’s time they’re both at their place, the little grassy spot behind the trees. Gourmet vegetarian takeout maybe doesn’t count as a picnic, but Sandy brings his blanket and they eat outside even though it’s a pretty windy day, neither of them speaking much. That’s more unusual for Sandy than it is for William. He’s been hanging around, training with them as usual. Didn’t say anything, even though Alex has snapped at him a couple of times.

“Does the waitress still have purple hair?” he asks, while William glumly picks the onions out of his container.

“Yeah.”

“Good,” Sandy says, then, after a second, “Why don’t you just tell her you don’t want it with onions?”

William hardly glances up. “What?”

Sandy pokes at the growing pile of onions at the side of William’s meal. “You always pick them out before you eat. Why don’t you just say that you don’t want onions?”

William swats him away from his onions – are they still his if he’s actively rejecting eating them? – without much heat to it. “It doesn’t matter.”

Sandy doesn’t give it up. “Are you shy?” he asks, tongue poking out, all teasing.

William flings one of the little onion slices at him, can’t help the laugh that sneaks out at the way it makes his eyes cross when it hits him on the nose. “Do you think I’m shy?”

“No.” Sandy wipes at his nose with his wrist. Doesn’t get distracted, though. “Then why?”

William sort-of-laughs again, but Sandy doesn’t look away. “What, do you want an actual answer?” William asks, a little thrown.

“That’s why people ask questions, normally,” Sandy informs him. He’s got a very specific brand of sarcasm, delivered with just enough wide-eyed, guileless curiosity to almost – almost – hide how much of a shit he is. It reminds William of Zach. Maybe a little of Kappy. All his favourite people are varying degrees of asshole.

He prods his food around the takeout container, considering his options. It’s a light, nothing kind of conversation. Dandelion fluff, the only not-complicated thing in William’s life, currently. He doesn’t want to make it not that. Doesn’t want the thing to happen that usually happens when he mentions money, which is either eye rolling or weird fake understanding. Then again- Sandy isn’t the fake type.

William decides to gamble with honesty. “Once your net worth passes ten million dollars, people don’t take it really well if you complain about stuff.” He realizes too late that it sounds kind of like a brag. It’s not one. It’s facts. A lot of his facts just sound like brags, which also sounds like a brag, but is just- more facts.

“That didn’t count as complaining,” he clarifies. “You’re not supposed to feel bad for me, about the money thing, that’s not what it was.”

“I know,” Sandy says, then nothing else, just chews all pensively on a forkful of rice. Then maybe just on the end of his fork, kind of absently, like he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. William watches him do it for a little while, the ends of his teeth just barely peeking out from under his lip.

“It makes sense, why people think you shouldn’t complain about most things,” Sandy says, finally, like he’s decided on it. “But people not worth ten million dollars ask for food without onions, though, if they don’t want onions.”

“It’s different,” William says. “It’s like- being spoiled.”

“So you’re never going to complain again?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll survive it, probably,” he says, and he says it with some finality to it, but Sandy’s eyes light up.

“What would you complain about, if I promised not to make fun of you for being spoiled and thinking everyone has housekeepers and ten million dollars?” He stretches out his legs, leans back on his elbows like he’s settling in to listen to William’s answer. “Another real question.”

William scoffs. “Come on.”

“It’s not a setup.”

“I didn’t think it was,” William says, even though he thought it might be, just for a second.

Sandy’s still waiting, expectant.

“Come on,” William says again.

“You come on,” Sandy says. William wishes he was easier to boss around, sometimes. Maybe also wishes that he was harder to talk to, because he just looks at William with his face all open and trusting and expecting to be trusted back like it’s not a big deal at all, and it makes William feel like he can just say whatever he wants.

William chews his lip. “I can’t say anything to Alex about the trade,” he blurts. Like he’s the kind of person who blurts things. “Everything I say is wrong, because my GM and the Leafs like me. It’s annoying.” He says it like admitting to a crime, feels like it, too, and he doesn’t know what reaction he expects or wants, because if Sandy says anything about Alex William’s going to have to argue to defend him.

Sandy just nods, like he’s processing. “What else?” he asks, simple.

William shoves his food around the takeout container. “I don’t like how I can’t listen to sports radio in Toronto because they all just talk about if they should trade me.”

“What else?” Sandy asks.

William squeezes his eyes shut, lets the words bubble out easier this time, like something that’s been pushing to come out. “Coach hates me.”

Sandy tilts his head. “Babcock?”

“Yeah.”

“Because of the contract thing?”

“No, before that.” Since his first season with the team. Never anything bad, never anything that made William cry, not like he did with Mitchy a couple years ago. William suspects that may be more due to him not being a crier than to Coach pulling any punches. It’s embarrassing, the whole thing. Embarrassing and bad.

He can’t place the expression on Sandy’s face. Just curious, maybe. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” William says. “My personality? I thought it might be just because of how handsome I am.”

There’s a little crease in between Sandy’s eyebrows, now, like he’s thinking hard about how to solve the problem, like it’s the kind of problem that can get solved. “Maybe you could try to look less handsome?”

“That’s not possible for me, I’ve tried,” William says, then everything like, catches up to him – what is he doing, he’s being a whiner, this isn’t about him – and before Sandy can ask anything else, he orders, “Eat your food, you won’t make the team if you get skinny.”

He’s not expecting Sandy to laugh. Not like anything’s really funny, just this kind of exhaled laugh as he looks down at his takeout container without eating anything.

“What?” William asks, and Sandy looks at him, that look he gets like he’s seeing right through him.

“You like talking about everything except yourself,” Sandy says, frank. Not accusatory. Just. “Every single time, you change the subject.”

And that’s the thing, right, about how he sees right through William, is it’s scary because he’s good at it, and even scarier because it doesn’t feel scary, when it’s him.

“Is that another question?” William asks, and his voice comes out nice and normal, even with the weird panic feeling roaring up in his chest at getting called out.

Sandy’s smile is wry, small. Just a little sad. “No,” he says.

William chews his thumbnail. “Don’t tell anyone the Babcock thing,” he requests. He doesn’t want to get spite-traded. He doesn’t want to get traded at all. He just wants things to go back to the way he likes them, for everyone who matters to be happy, and to stay that way.

“I won’t,” Sandy says. William believes him.

A group of people walks by, loud, on the other side of the little wall of trees. William and Sandy both go quiet as they listen to them pass. Once the voices fade, William lets out a breath.

“Anyways,” he says, only half joking, “you should probably be friends with someone other than me on the team so he won’t hate you too.”

“People don’t usually hate me,” Sandy says. It’s fair. William can’t imagine hating him. He’s pretty much just objectively likeable as far as William’s been able to discern, approachable and funny and just generally like if apple pie with ice cream was a person. Especially when he continues, casual as ever, “Besides, I’d be your friend anyway.”

It's kind of funny, how things work: William never ever took biology classes, just general science stuff and listening to the team trainers, but he knows that the heart is where blood pumps, not where actual feelings happen, even though Valentines cards and movies pretend like it is. He knows that, he does, but he feels it anyways when Sandy says what he says about being his friend, this warm, floaty feeling right in his heart, filling up his chest. It’s a really, really good feeling that he sort of hates, because he’s bad at keeping it off his face, and he doesn’t need to hand anyone quite that much honesty, so he crosses his arms around himself to keep the warm feeling inside.

“What would you complain about?” he asks, and Sandy takes the hint this time, of not calling him out for a subject change, because he doesn’t.

“Oh,” is all Sandy says, and he looks like he’s thinking really hard, that wise old man face he gets. Like Yoda.

William shoves him, lets out a real laugh for the first time in days and days. “Now you’re going to say nothing and make me look bad?”

“I’m trying!” Sandy protests, and he does a bad job at sounding angry, because he lit up as soon as William laughed, his smile taking over his whole face. “It’s hard to think of stuff, I’m too happy right now.”

William reaches across the space between them, gets a hand on either side of Sandy’s face to bring him in close, and kisses him. A nothing, grade-school kind of kiss, like their first one ever. He tries to make it mean something. He doesn’t know what.

Sandy’s hand comes down to rest on William’s knee when William kisses him, almost like he’s catching himself. William wants him to stay there, touching him like nothing, keeping him here.

Sandy’s eyelashes, stubby and darker blonde than William’s, flutter when he opens his eyes. It’s searching, when he looks at William, still up close. “What was that for?” he asks, quietly.

William shrugs, small.

Sandy splays his fingers out, taking up more room on William’s leg. “Sorry if my mouth tasted like food.”

“It’s okay,” William says, quietly as well. He lets go of Sandy and sits back, slowly. Sandy trails his hand down William’s leg, hooks a finger in the hem of his pants, then gets this little smile on his face.

“Willy,” he says, smile growing. “Think how mad Coach Babcock would be if he knew how much sex we’ve had.”

William’s laugh escapes without his permission. “Very fucking mad,” he says, and their eyes meet, and they’re both giggling at the sheer awfulness of it, maybe of everything, and William thinks: I almost didn’t have this, this summer, and thanks anyone who’s listening that he does.

---

It’s probably an impulsive thing, when William asks, even though it doesn’t feel like it.

They’re out on Sandy’s puny little balcony, William perched on the windowsill as Sandy hangs his wet laundry on the clothesline to dry in the sun.

“Pass me the clips,” he requests, so William fishes a few more out of the bucket and passes them over, then keeps watching. It’s pretty fun, watching Rasmus do chores. William likes how his arms look when he’s hanging things, the way he lifts up on his toes when he’s attaching a clip to the line, even though he doesn’t need to, like he’s used to being smaller than he is.

“You should come with us,” William says, mostly for no reason, and partly because of Sandy’s arms, and maybe partly because he doesn’t want to not see him for a whole week. “To the lake.”

Sandy pauses the laundry thing to peer at William from behind a t-shirt, which is a shame. “I don’t want to bother your family,” he says, polite, like always.

“Everyone in my family who’s met you wants to adopt you,” William informs him, and Sandy scoffs like he thinks he’s joking, but two days later, they’re at the big old lake house that William’s family has been renting every summer since before he was born, so William thinks it’s safe to say he wins the argument.

The thing is-

He maybe didn’t account for just how much his family would like Sandy. William stops to say hi to Michelle for literally five minutes, and Sandy gets stolen by the little ones and enlisted as a ringer in their game of table tennis while Alex sulks on the sofa and keeps score.

“He’s not your usual type,” Michelle says, hooking her arm with William’s and following his gaze to the others.

“It’s not like that,” William says, which is true, even if she’s right. That’s kind of the point, maybe. William wouldn’t bring someone his type to hang out on a family holiday. His type lasts one night. Maybe two, if they’re good at sex and at pretending that they’re not going to try to make William fall for them and sweep him off his feet or whatever. “Tell me about school.”

“A waste of time, you’re so lucky you got the beauty instead of the brains,” Michelle moans, then launches into an enthusiastic rant about her advisor, which William knew she would; he doesn’t tell her off for indirectly calling him dumb, because she’s the oldest sibling, which means she gets teasing privileges.

The two of them carry all the bags up to the bedrooms, getting things sorted even though the staff have already taken care of clean linens and all of that. William looks for Sandy to tell him that and make him make some snarky joke – he gets teasing privileges too, apparently – and learns by looking out of a second floor window that he’s out getting a tour of the lake from William’s dad, which, hello, it’s a lake, there’s grass and some pebbles and a little dock maybe half a mile away, no tour needed.

“Where’s Rasmus’ stuff?” William asks, sliding on sock feet into the kitchen where his mother and Michelle are pouring coffee.

“I put it in the empty room, the blue one,” Michelle says, and William doesn’t know whether he wants to laugh or cry – not only does his family steal Sandy and hog all of his attention, they also put him in the guest room literally on the other side of the house from William, because of course.

“Coffee?” his mom offers, and William nods.

“Yes, please,” he says, heading through the kitchen and toward the back door. “I’m going to go rescue him from dad.”

“Rasmus called him Mr. Nylander,” Michelle smirks over the rim of her mug, and their mom laughs while William rolls his eyes. He’s reaching for the door handle when he glances outside and stops, right there in his tracks.

In the time it took for William to get downstairs, Alex must have wandered outside – he’s standing by the water with Sandy and William’s dad, and whatever Sandy says, this look on his face all big-eyes, it makes Alex laugh, big and practically audible even from inside.

He hasn’t been that happy since the trade. Hasn’t been even close.

William’s mom joins him at the door, holding onto her coffee in both hands. Her eyes go soft when she looks out there at their family. William knows she’s like him, that she feels it hard when any of her kids are hurting, even if she doesn’t show it.

“I like him,” she says. Quietly, just for William.

“Me too,” William says, and decides that he can cope with every other Nylander in the country stealing Sandy’s time and attention, if it means getting Alex happy again.

Only then:

William’s in his pajamas, his face clean and moisturized, and he’s just about to turn out his light when there’s a knock on his door, so quiet he thinks he might’ve imagined it, until it happens again.

He opens the door to see Sandy standing there, this crooked grin on his face. “I wanted to see you but my room was way far,” he explains. Not apologetic at all. “So. Got sneaky.”

William looks at him, standing there with messy hair and wearing this massive t-shirt that says CLUNE on the back, because of course Dicky loves him too, and it hangs loose enough on him that it almost completely covers his boxers, leaving his legs sticking out and him looking like an absolute dork.

“You’re sneaking into my room to make out with me while my parents are asleep down the hall?” William asks, and he can’t get the stupid smile off his face.

“You said the making out thing, not me,” Sandy says, all innocent, so William basically has to kiss him, then, to pull him over to the bed and pull the covers over their heads and kiss him under there, both of them giggly and trying way too hard to stay quiet. It feels- like, people have bought William literal jewels, before, and somehow they didn’t feel this special. He feels special, and also kind of like how he imagines people in 80s high school movies feel. He’s the whole entire Breakfast Club. He’s-

“What’s the movie?” he asks. “With the sixteen candles?”

“Um,” Sandy says. “Sixteen Candles?”

“Maybe,” William says. “Kiss me more.”

And Sandy does, and it’s secretive and a little goofy and eventually gets kind of sleepy, so they curl up together to rest. William tugs Sandy’s hand up to his hair, and Sandy plays with the ends of it without needing to be asked, and that’s how William drifts off to sleep, grounded and cozy and at least – at least – sixteen candles lighting him up inside.

---

It’s a pretty good move, in William’s opinion: he borrows two bikes from the shed full of sporting equipment and the boat, finds a minimally-offensive looking backpack and stuffs it with a spare blanket and a tub of cookies and, because he didn’t think to buy juice boxes, a whole container of juice.

“Picnic part two,” he announces, after grabbing Sandy’s hand to tug him downstairs and out to the little path around the other side of the house to reveal the bikes. It was worth the two spiders he had to confront in the shed, for the look on Sandy’s face.

They bike around the edge of the lake, further than they’ve gone before – the five days they’ve been here so far have been spent on the water with all the siblings, playing volleyball or having swimming races. Today, William leads them far enough that he’s confident the others will be too lazy to come find them, all the way to the older, way more rickety dock that used to belong to the only other house on the lake, before it started getting renovated.

“Secret dock,” Sandy enthuses. “Nice.”

“Top secret,” William agrees, straight-faced. “Come help.”

They spread out the picnic blanket in the middle of the dock, so there’s water on three sides of them, deeper than it is near the house. Sandy dips his feet in while William sets out the food, which mostly involves opening the tupperware of cookies and putting it down in a convenient location.

“Come eat, the sun’s going to melt the chocolate,” he says.

“Melted chocolate is still great,” Sandy says, but he takes his feet out of the water and joins William on the blanket, and William keeps noticing all these little details, the sun glinting off of Sandy’s wet skin, the sunburn on the tops of his ears, the way his lips taste sweet like chocolate when they get to making out, because that part seemed a little inevitable, out here all on their own for the first time in days.

Maybe because of that, it heats up quick, turns into rolling around on the blanket until William gets Sandy pinned and kisses him properly, lets himself get kissed back.

“Really, even out here?” William chirps, when he feels Sandy getting hard against his thigh.

“Your fault,” Sandy says, scrunching up his nose against William’s to make him laugh.

“That’s pretty kinky,” William says, peppering kisses across Sandy’s lips, his cheeks, even his nose as he speaks. “Like, right out here in public-”

“Barely public.”

“Right out here in public,” William continues, unruffled, “and you totally want me to get you off.” He catches Sandy’s bottom lip with his teeth and tugs, just a little. “I could,” he says, and Sandy makes this noise back in his throat, like it wants to be a laugh but is really just kind of overwhelmed. It’s a good feeling, overwhelming him. Doesn’t happen often.

“I could suck you off, and anyone could see it,” William says, goading, dragging his hands down Sandy’s back. “I could fuck you with my fingers, right here.” He lingers at the hollow of Sandy’s back, just barely dips his fingertips under the waist of his swim shorts, and then- he’s not expecting it, it’s nothing, just talking and teasing, but Sandy does this punched out breath, his fingers tightening at the back of William’s neck, and comes right in his shorts.

“Did you-” William starts to ask, even though he knows the answer, and Sandy squeezes his eyes shut, there on the blanket under William.

“Yeah,” he says, and he’s blushing, his only tell for when he thinks he did something embarrassing, or at least unintentional. His voice sounds normal, steady as ever. “Um. Also your fault.”

“You’re just easy,” William retorts, grinning, and gets even more adorable blushing Rasmus as his reward. He did that, just by talking and kissing. “And now your shorts are all gross.”

“Easy fix,” Sandy says, then shoves at William’s chest until William sits back to let him get up. He heaves himself to his feet and, while William watches, takes off at a run down the little dock and jumps straight into the lake, no hesitation.

William laughs in spite of himself, just barely manages to school his face as Sandy resurfaces and shakes his head out like a dog, spraying everywhere as he treads water. He peers over at William, all proud of himself.

“That doesn’t count as getting clean,” William calls over, rolling onto his front and trying very very hard to sound disapproving.

Sandy ignores the attempt at disapproval – probably for the best – and wordlessly pats the water next to him, just barely breaking the surface, like an invitation.

Coming when he’s called is a new thing, for William. He doesn’t jump in or anything – he’s having a good hair day, and he’s planning on getting sunset photos of himself with Michelle’s new camera – but he slides off the edge of the dock, kicks his way over to where Sandy’s treading water a little distance away.

“Happy?” he asks, because that’s what he wants, even if he’s not going to come right out and say it.

“Very happy,” Sandy says, with this amazing, toothy smile. It’s pretty. William didn’t think that was a word he’d apply to Sandy, but- it just is.

Sandy splashes him, just lightly, and William splashes back.

“I didn’t think I’d like thinking about that so much,” Sandy says, frank.

“Fingering?” William asks, because it’s pretty obvious what made him go off like he did, barely a touch.

“Yeah.” Sandy sinks a little deeper, blows bubbles in the water. “Have you done it?”

“I’ve done everything,” William says, and that earns him a skeptical look.

“No one’s done everything.”

“I have,” William says. “You’re younger than me anyways.”

“I’ve been living away from home since I was fourteen,” Sandy points out, which, yeah, that would explain a lot of things. “Barely even younger than you, anyways.” Four years doesn’t qualify as ‘barely even’, William doesn’t think, but he doesn’t get a chance to say it, because Sandy continues, “Do you like it?”

“You talk like a dad half the time,” William says, honest. “If I wanted someone younger, I would find someone who actually acts-”

“I meant fingering, Willy,” Sandy says, extremely unimpressed.

“Oh,” William says, then shrugs. “Yeah. If someone does it properly.”

Sandy splashes at the water again. Not really at William this time. Just. “I never have,” he says. “I mostly usually have sex with girls, I guess that’s why.”

“Probably,” William says, instead of pointing out that no one’s stopping a girl from doing that stuff if she wants to, because that’s the kind of thing Sandy will probably learn on his own, eventually. When he’s back to having sex with other people.

William splashes, now, to distract himself from his instinct, which is to make a face. There’s still plenty of summer left. No point in thinking about not having this, anymore, and besides, Sandy’s probably not even going to enjoy sleeping with other people as much, now that he’s done it with William. So there.

“You should do it for me,” Sandy says, oblivious to William’s internal dilemma. This time, William doesn’t have to ask what he means.

“If you want me to,” he says, and is a little thrown off when Sandy ducks his head, smiling all soft like he’s trying to hide it. “What?”

Sandy looks over at him, eyes all fond. “I guess I’ve been less obvious than I thought,” he says. “But I want mostly anything with you, in case you didn’t figure that out yet.” And it’s that thing he does, the thing that always always makes William’s heart feel big, the way he just- says things, no irony at all and no self-consciousness, either. Just the truth, like anything else isn’t an option.

“You’re good at words,” William says, around the lump in his throat that he chooses to ignore.

“Thanks,” Sandy says, then, his smile getting wider, more mischievous, “No falling in love with me, though.”

“Don’t you da-” William starts, and doesn’t finish, because Sandy tackles him right into the water, head and everything, and when William kicks to the surface, spitting out lake water, Sandy is laughing and laughing, keeps on bobbing under because he’s too busy clutching his stomach.

William drags his sopping wet hair out of his face. He picked the one boy in Sweden who thinks play wrestling is a suitable end to every conversation. “I don’t even like you,” he splutters, even though he adores him, probably, then, when Sandy splashes him again, still giggling, William flings himself at him and dunks him right back, fair’s fair.

---

Their last night at the lake house, the whole family eats together at the big round kitchen table, making sandwiches out of bread and cheese and nice fresh market tomatoes because none of them are good cooks, and staying around the table even after they’re done, putting off when they all go their separate ways again.

Everything inside of William is quiet, settled in place in the way that only happens when he’s surrounded by people that love him, by his family and his friends. Stephy has her chair scooted up real close to his, and she’s been falling asleep against William’s arm for maybe ten minutes now, eyes heavy as it gets later and later past when she’d usually go to sleep. He squeezes her close, presses a kiss to the top of her head. When his eyes wander, they land on Sandy, the way they tend to do. He’s sitting with his legs tucked up in his chair, that way he has that reminds William of dogs who think they’re smaller than they are. It’s cute.

Sandy looks over at him like maybe he heard William’s thoughts. Doesn’t call William out for staring, even though it’s pretty obvious that he was, just makes a face, poking his tongue out a teeny little bit.

William smiles down at his plate. He thinks, hi, just in case Sandy really can read his thoughts, because that might explain a few things, probably.

He gives Stephy a piggyback up to her bed once they finally start turning in, around one in the morning, because piggybacks are the kind of thing you get to demand, occasionally, when you’re the baby of the family and three of the non-babies are professional athletes.

“Night,” he tells her, even though she’s been asleep since her head hit the pillow, and then he heads down the hall to his own room and finds Sandy waiting there, apparently deciding against the sneaking thing, this time.

William yawns, curls into the space Sandy left for him in the bed, fitting himself like a puzzle piece into Sandy’s side and wrapping around him. He’s allowed to be clingy, on a night like this. Sandy doesn’t complain either, just extracts an arm from William’s octopus grip and wraps it around William’s shoulders, tugging him in. There’s something nearly proprietary about it, casual, too, like it’s just instinct. It’s a good one.

“Guess what,” William says, after a long time of just lying there in the dark, and for a second he thinks that Sandy maybe fell asleep or that he maybe got drowned out by the hum of the fan, but Sandy traces a loop with his fingers on William’s arm.

“What?”

William breathes in then out, slowly. Yoga-style. “Something I never did is dated someone, like, been boyfriends dating, ever,” he says, the way he couldn’t out on the lake, before. “That’s what.”

Sandy doesn’t stop drawing shapes on William’s skin. “Your choice or theirs?” he asks.

“Whose do you think?” William asks back, then, because that’s enough honesty about himself for tonight and maybe for ever, “Don’t talk about it more, I just felt like saying it.”

“Okay,” Sandy says. “Thanks, for saying it.”

The fan spins and spins in the corner, white noise until they both fall asleep.

---

Some things that William learns, once they’re back in town, are that, A, the purple haired waitress’ name is Alicia and she doesn’t care about hockey but likes William’s hair as much as he likes hers; and, B, Sandy likes fingering better than being fingered, but they have fun with both; and, C, September looks a lot closer from this side of July.

C is a less nice thing to know, than the other stuff.

He doesn’t know when summer started going by so quickly. The difference feels tangible, especially at the rink, like the switch from ‘offseason training’ to ‘preparing for camp training’ happened without William noticing and is here with a vengeance, the way it always is. One second he’s at the lake, the next he’s working himself breathless to get into hockey shape, on the ice more often than not.

He takes more pictures and rides bikes more, goes with Sandy to their spot in the park and puts off packing for Toronto until he can’t anymore.

He’s leaving before Alex, fitting in Zach’s wedding before camp, so their apartment is only half-empty on William’s last night.

“We’re going to be good,” he says, when they’re saying goodbye. Goodbye for now, until our teams are trying to beat each other on the ice. “You’re good?”

Alex, who’s settled firmly into the ‘prove them wrong’ version of trade emotions, meets William’s eyes and grins. “Watch me,” he says, and hugs William back really tight when William hugs him first.

The last person William says goodbye to in Sweden is Sandy, and the word ‘goodbye’ doesn’t actually factor into it. Not a lot of words do, really, because Sandy says, “Is it weird if I say I’ll miss you, when I’ll see you at camp in a few weeks?” and William just kisses him because he doesn’t know what response he wants to give.

They’ve gotten good at kissing each other, by now. Good at understanding each other too, even though they were pretty much from the very beginning, and both of those things are underneath the words when William says, no big deal, “I have condoms, if you want,” and when Sandy looks at him the same way he did the first time he kissed him, like he’s reasoning something out in his own head.

What he says, eventually, is just, “Tell me if I don’t do it right,” and what William says is, “I will,” and so that’s how they do that, quiet and comfortable and not a big deal, except for the ways it feels like it is.

“Not going to try to wrestle me this time?” William asks, after.

Sandy shakes his head. First time maybe ever he’s been quiet during sex. Maybe that’s a big deal, too.

William doesn’t bother checking the time – he has an alarm set for a couple hours before his flight – just rolls over onto his side, tugs the sheets of Sandy’s bed up to his chest. “What are you thinking now?” he asks, curious.

The corner of Sandy’s lips tugs up, a crooked little half-smile. Almost wistful. “I’ll-”

“Tell me when you figure it out,” William finishes, and Sandy’s eyes meet his, which William doesn’t know if he can do, right now, so he turns onto his other side, facing the wall. Sandy hugs him from behind, getting an arm around William’s stomach and leaning his forehead in the hollow between William’s shoulder blades. William scoots back against him and closes his eyes, loops his fingers around Sandy’s wrist.

He’s not ready for summer to end. He’s just- not.

“Remind me to take down the laundry before you leave,” Sandy mumbles against William’s skin.

“Okay,” William whispers.

“Maybe-” Sandy cuts himself off with a yawn. His breath is warm on William’s back, his voice sleepy as he finishes, “Maybe I’ll show you how to fold properly, when we’re back in Toronto.”

“Maybe,” William says, and the whole room is so, so quiet, still everywhere like they’re in a painting.

Sandy presses a kiss to the base of William’s neck, and that tiny little kiss is such a tender thing that William can’t breathe for it, suddenly, and then William thinks of months ago, saying bossy like it was nothing, don’t get feelings, and then William thinks of everything since and until this kiss right now making his lungs feel like they’re going to explode, and then William thinks, oh no.

---

 Any other event, William would assume that lifting people up on chairs and bouncing them around to loud music was the highlight of the evening, but apparently Jewish weddings are outside of his wheelhouse, because they do the lifty thing for Zach almost before the dancing has even started, and then the dancing does start, and no one shows any single sign of stopping.

The big hall at the art gallery is all decorated, dark around a lit-up dance floor that’s crowded enough to be claustrophobic. William sticks close by the Leafs guys he was seated with, fights the urge to hang back when Mitchy drags him into the middle of the floor to dance. He feels- not like he usually would, at an event like this. Antsy. Too much like everyone’s watching him, which they are, in a lot of cases, but it doesn’t normally stress him out this much. He’s too aware, feels like he’s in a fish tank.

It’s past midnight and some horrible remix of ‘cotton eyed joe’ is playing when Zach finds them, the first time William’s had a chance to see him since the ceremony.

“I’m so happy you guys could come!” Zach says, shouting to be heard over the music. His tie is loose, his shirt half-unbuttoned, and he’s totally and completely smashed, which William figures is fair when you’ve successfully pulled off getting married in front of at least ten billion people.

“Cheers, Hyms.” Mitchy, somehow even drunker, which shouldn’t be possible, claps him on the back then laughs, swatting wildly as Zach traps him in a headlock.

“You’re next, you know,” Zach says, giving him a noogie, then he beams at William over Mitch’s head. “Hey, you too, Will.”

“Willy’s gonna get married like, eight times,” Mitchy says, finally wriggling free and not bothering to fix his hair. “Fuckin’- like, an enigma, you’re an enigma, Willy.”

“You’re such a messy drunk,” William informs him, and does not mention the time they did the dirty dancing lift while plastered at the team Halloween party, because it doesn’t seem helpful to his point. He doesn’t want to get married eight times. He doesn’t want to get married at all, he doesn’t- it’s stupid.

“I’m going to go get a drink,” he says. Shouldn’t bother, probably, because Zach’s already being pulled into a conversation with some old lady relative and Mitchy is doing some weird solo square dance. Someone bumps into William as they dance, and he pushes past, nearly walks right into another person, then another.

“Excuse me,” he says, pushing his way out of the crowd. “Sorry, I-”

“William Nylander!” This middle-aged guy grabs William’s arm, looks thrilled. “Can I get a picture, man, my son freaking loves you.”

“Sure,” William says, and he does his picture smile for a selfie, even though he’s still being jostled by the crowd and the music is making his head throb, pounding bass inside his brain.

“Thank you so much,” the guy gushes. From the bride’s side, probably, because he looks nothing like Zach at all. “You’re his favourite Maple Leaf, he loves you.”

“Thanks,” William echoes, instead of grabbing the guy and shaking him and saying no he doesn’t, you’ve never even been in the same room with me before. “Excuse me,” he says, even though the guy has already stopped listening, now that he got his picture.

William has to get out of here. He doesn’t, because he’s taken all of two steps when someone else grabs his hand and spins him in close, and William’s about to pull away until he realizes it’s Kappy.

“Dance with me, asshole,” Kas says, or something close enough, William can hardly hear him because they’re right next to a speaker. He doesn’t mind dancing, when it’s with his friends, so he loops his arms loosely around Kappy’s neck, has to shift to keep his balance when Kappy clings right to him, like slow dancing even though the song is still fast.

“You missed me, Kasu, huh?” William says right into his ear, trying for a smile.

Kappy ducks in close, and his breath tickles William’s ear. “Yeah, ‘cause you went off the grid all summer,” he chides, but not like he’s really mad. It takes a lot to get him really mad. “Couldn’t even text back to your best friend.”

“I was thinking about stuff,” William says.

“What- since when do you think?” Kappy bursts out laughing like William just told the funniest joke he’s ever heard, and it’s just, after everything tonight- he’s William’s closest friend on the team, because he doesn’t handle William or anything with kid gloves and he’s as close as anyone comes to understanding how William grew up, but he says that and it’s this awful, sinking feeling because he doesn’t get it, that William’s been thinking and thinking and thinking all summer and maybe all year, he can’t stop.

“I fell in love with someone,” William admits, only he forgets to say it loud so it disappears into the music, like he shouldn’t have bothered saying it at all.

“What did you say?” Kappy asks, loud in his ear; then, without waiting for an answer, “Do you think Hymie’s hot cousin would hook up with me if I asked?”

William shakes his head, because anyone with a Zach Hyman type personality is objectively out of Kappy’s league, but Kappy just plants a sloppy kiss on his forehead then disappears further into the dance floor to presumably go get rejected.

Since when do you think, he said, and William does this laugh, abrupt and kind of crazy sounding even to him, right there by himself in the middle of a wedding, and this time he doesn’t bother to say excuse me, this time he just pushes past the people in front of him, past the big fancy doors of the hall they’re in, and doesn’t realize he’s running until he’s pushing open the front doors, too, and he’s finally out.

His breath comes out like a gasp, and he half-expects that he’ll be able to see it frozen in the air, even though it’s still twenty degrees out.

He sits down on the curb so hard that it hurts, trying to catch his breath. Head still aching, even though the music has faded to a distant pulsing sound.

It’s like: William had two texts from Sandy when he got off his plane in Toronto, and he got three more over the next week and a half, and he didn’t respond to any of them, and then Sandy stopped sending them.

That’s it. Easy.

William didn’t mean not to respond. He just couldn’t. Literally couldn’t make himself do it, just sat there staring at his phone and feeling actual literal dread, because he’s in love with Sandy – has been, he thinks, for maybe all summer, even if he didn’t know it – and he’d bet all his money that Sandy thinks he’s in love with William too, and that’s how it always, always starts, and the way it always ends is with William losing a friend.

He can’t lose Sandy. He thinks he has, unintentionally, because he’s never been great at talking, not in English or Swedish or, like, emotions, because there’s no way to say I like you too much to be stupid enough to love you, especially in a text message.

He thought it would feel better, seeing his friends again. Being around people other than his family or the little circle at training. William feels- he feels like he’s out of practice with being William Nylander instead of just William, like he had three perfect months and now he’s forgotten twenty-three years of how to act.

“Hey.”

William tenses up, startled, at the voice from behind him; turns around to see Mitchy poking his head out the doors. “You okay?”

“Do I look okay?” William deflects, automatic, because he looks better than okay and he knows that perfectly well.

Mitchy comes and sits down next to him, clumsy. His pants are extremely poorly tailored, showing way too much of his ankle. “Was it scary, not being signed yet?” he asks. He’s a worse pretender than William – he’s terrified.

“I don’t know, Mitch,” William says. He stares out at the street, forces himself to school his face. He’s here. It’s fine. This is normal.

“Oh,” Mitchy says, then, “Do you ever feel like you’re doing the wrong thing?”

“No,” William says, William lies, and Mitchy doesn’t know any better, and William should be relieved at that, and he’s just- not.

---

Bad decision number one, William decides, was letting Sandy kiss him in the first place, and bad decision number two was the whole ghosting thing, and bad decision number three is new and exciting and really takes the cake, because he sees Sandy for the first time on the tarmac at the airport and his whole brain goes totally empty, and he can’t look anywhere else.

He makes his way over once Sandy’s done talking with Babcock. Keeps his voice light. “Already making Coach like you,” William says. Sandy glances at him, and his expression doesn’t change at all, really, but it doesn’t get warm, either.

“Oh, are you talking to me again now?” Sandy asks, mildly enough that it takes a second for William to recognize the sarcasm. Not his usual sarcasm, either, not even a hint of the indulgence that William didn’t realize was always in his voice until it’s not.

“Maybe I didn’t check my phone,” William says, and knows right away that it was a mistake, because Sandy doesn’t even look annoyed, just disappointed, like he expected better.

“Don’t lie, please,” Sandy says, then turns around and heads for the plane.

It’s the first time they’ve spoken English to each other in months. First time anyone’s ever walked away from William like that.

William stands there in his nice suit in the gross Toronto-in-August humidity and thinks, fuck.

“On the plane, Willy!” Coach hollers over.

William gets on the plane.

Newfoundland is a nice place to have training camp. Not that it would really matter if it wasn’t – William gets on the ice with the boys and, if it was up to him, just wouldn’t leave. Even if everything else is complicated, hockey’s not, not after a summer of training like he did, and William refuses to let himself be anything but his best this year. He talks to reporters who ask him a million different variations on whether he’s ready to put last year behind him, and William gives them a million different variations of the same answer – already have – because fair’s fair.

“You trained with Sandin this summer, right?” Kristen from TSN asks. William looks over her shoulder and makes eye contact with Sandy – bad decision number four – who promptly looks away and continues his conversation like nothing happened.

“Yeah, he skated with us,” William mumbles, belatedly. Sorry, Kristen from TSN. He’s the kind of person who gets all self-doubty because of middle-aged nineteen year olds now, apparently. It’s awful.

He wants to, like- apologize? Also kiss Sandy more and maybe ask if he wants to maybe do some dating stuff, together? It’s all just very confusing, because William doesn’t do either of those things, and they feel like bad decisions but also maybe amazing ones, and he doesn’t know how it’s possible to want something while also being terrified and wanting to run in the opposite direction of it.

It’s complicated. Worse than that, William’s got a sinking suspicion that it’s complicated because of him, or even worse still, that some things are just, like, inherently complicated and part of being a person, whatever that even means, even though William didn’t sign up for that at all. Being a Nylander is so much simpler than being a person.

Kappy invites him to go exploring, once they’re all clearing out of the locker room, but William begs off and holes up in his hotel room to facetime Alex and clean his glasses, because neither of those things involves Feelings or interacting with people.

Alex updates him on everything Chicago-related without needing to be asked. He seems happy enough, there. “It’s pretty cool,” he says, face at a terrible angle on William’s screen. “I mean, aside from the racist jerseys and whatever.”

“Cool,” William says, and Alex hums in agreement.

“Is Sandy good?”

William swipes at his glasses lens. “You know,” he says, non-committal. Rasmus has been playing as well as William knew he could. Well enough to get the coaching staff paying more attention to him than to most of the other young guys destined for the Marlies.

“I hope he’s up when I play against you guys,” Alex says, then, fondly, “He keeps checking on me.” And that-

“Still?” William asks, thrown off, because Sandy and Alex got along, sure, but William sort of assumed- it wouldn’t have been the first time someone thought they were in love with him and decided to get along with his family, too.

“What do you mean, still?” Alex asks, clueless, and William has to turn his phone over so he can flop into his pillow and hide, because the feelings are back, he can’t escape them and they’re making his heart feel all mushy and gross, and maybe this is just going to be his life now.

He loves how Sandy fits with his family. Loves how they all love him too, because how could they not, when he cares and shows it and somehow magically isn’t even embarrassed about it. He’s like- everything William isn’t. Confident in himself in the way that William tries to be and sometimes, he’s figuring out, doesn’t really manage. William would be jealous of him, maybe, if it wasn’t for the whole love thing.

“Hello-o, dickhead,” Alex says. William forgot he was still on the call.

“I have to go,” he says, lifting his phone and sliding his glasses back on. “I’ll text later or something, okay?”

“Where would you even have to-” Alex is cut off as William hangs up, and he tosses his phone towards the pillows, doesn’t bother bringing it with him as he marches right out of his room and toward the elevator.

He’s doing this, apparently. Just a bad decision machine. Maybe this is the beginning of a midlife crisis, and he’s going to shave his head and start dressing bad and just keep feeling feelings in front of people forever.

Instead, he makes his way through the hotel lobby; intends to go out and find Sandy – it’s a smallish town, there aren’t that many places he could be – except that he’s already right there, perched on a sofa and laughing at something with Lily and a couple of the young guys just out of this year’s draft, who go quiet as William approaches.

“William Nylander,” Robertson says, and it comes out a little bit awed, which is more adorable than annoying because he looks, like, sixteen years old, cheeks still baby-fat chubby.

“Hi,” William says, because they might be lineys one day, who knows, and then he turns to Sandy and doesn’t let himself hesitate. “Can we talk?” he asks, not caring how needy he sounds. “Please?”

Sandy had his mouth open to say something, but he closed it when William said ‘please’, like he wasn’t expecting it. Good. William wasn’t either. “Yeah,” is what Sandy says, eventually. Very graciously, because he’s not the type to do the drama thing, not in front of people especially. “Of course.”

He grabs his sweater from where it’s tossed over the back of his chair, tugs it on over his head then does this little gesture for William to lead the way.

They walk outside, and William picks a direction at random. It’s nice enough, weather-wise, the sun peeking out from behind the clouds even as it’s spitting a little bit, like it can’t decide if it wants to rain or not. Hardly anything. There are people out, and they’re getting a couple of looks like a request for a selfie is very imminent, so William veers off onto the first side street they come across. There’s a bench in front of an apartment building, and William doesn’t know if it counts as a public bench or an only-for-apartment-residents bench, but he sits on it anyways, and Sandy sits down too, at the other end of the bench.

He doesn’t say anything. William was kind of counting on him saying something. All the impulsive bravery love stuff that propelled him this far seems to have abandoned him, annoyingly, so all that comes out when he tries to speak is, “Are you mad at me?” in this scared little voice.

He doesn’t do it consciously, but he’s speaking in Swedish, back to what was comfortable, for them.

Sandy shrugs. “Confused, I guess.” Then, after a second, “And kind of mad.” And yeah, William was expecting those things, but he’s not expecting what Sandy says next, which is, “I’m sorry.”

William blinks. His first though is that it’s maybe more sarcasm, but he doesn’t think Sandy would use sarcasm in a conversation like this, which means he’s for real apologizing, which- “For what?”

Sandy looks down, scuffing his toes on the ground. He looks exactly his age for the first time maybe ever.

It takes a while, but he speaks. “I did what you said not to do,” he says, quiet. “I didn’t mean to get feelings. I thought I wouldn’t, but I did, by accident.” He looks at William, then back down. “I’m sorry that I did something you didn’t want.”

“Sandy,” William says, pained, but Sandy shakes his head before William can say anything else.

“I’m not done yet,” he says, and his voice is still all quiet, but he says it firm, and William doesn’t try to interrupt again. “I’m sorry I fell for you when you didn’t want me to, but I still- we were still friends, separately from that, and it wasn’t cool for you to just ignore me and then act like you didn’t do anything.” He coughs, maybe a little awkwardly. “Now I’m done.”

“I wanted to text you,” William says. “I just- didn’t.” It’s not a good excuse. He knows it’s not.

“Did you know I liked you like I do?” Sandy asks, and now, when he catches William’s gaze, he holds it. Talking about feelings like he talks about anything, questions and questions and questions.

William nods.

He hates the hurt that appears on Sandy’s face. William swears he can feel it, sharp in his heart, even as Sandy tries to hide it. “Could I ask why?” is all Sandy asks, voice steady, if a little smaller than usual. “Why do you hate so much the idea of me liking you like that?”

William’s shaking his head before Sandy’s even done talking. “It’s not you,” he says, because he knows that, Sandy has to know that.

It gets a wry eyebrow lift from Sandy. “It’s not you, it’s me?” he asks, in this exaggerated American accent. The closest he’s come to joking with William since they’ve been back in Canada.

“Yes,” William says. “People always do this.”

“They always fall in love with you?” Sandy doesn’t ask it like it’s a trap, or like he’s waiting to make fun of William for being pretty, just like he genuinely wants to know the answer.

“They think they do,” William says, and he has to fight to get the words out, but Sandy deserves the truth, so William squeezes his eyes closed and just talks, stops trying to filter himself for once. “They get this idea of me and how I’m supposed to be and then I sleep with them and they realize I’m not like how they imagined me to be and it always ruins things when I’m too much not theirs,” he says. “And everything is always easy and good with you, and you always talk to me like I’m- like, a real person, and I like you too much to ruin things when you figure out I’m not as perfect as you think I am.”

His mouth feels all dry when he’s finished. He hasn’t said that many words all at once since maybe when he was a kid. Hasn’t said that many words about himself since maybe ever.

 Sandy is staring at him, the scrunched-up brow look he gets where it feels like he’s staring x-rays right into William’s thoughts. There’s a raindrop on his nose. He doesn’t look angry. William doesn’t know if that’s good or not.

“What are you thinking now?” William asks, tentative, and this time, he gets an answer, even though it takes a while again.

“I think that you think that I’m more, um. Amazed by you than I am?” Sandy says, slowly, then before William can really process that, he adds on, “Not in a mean way, I obviously think you’re great, and good at hockey and everything, it’s just-”

He breaks off and sighs, looking at William like he’s exasperated. “Willy, we spent all summer together. You take too many pictures of yourself and you don’t know how to do laundry and you hate onions even though they’re one of the most common things used to flavour, like, a lot of food.” He shrugs. “I don’t think I’m going to suddenly realize you’re not perfect, like- I get it.”

William stares back, not daring to hope, except for the tiny part of him that does. “Then why would you get feelings about me?”

Sandy shrugs again, sort of helplessly this time. “We get along well. You’re funny and smart and chill. I just like you,” he says, like it’s facts. Easy-peasy. “You’re my friend, I just- I love it, how we are.”

William doesn’t mean to laugh, but he does, just quick, this extremely embarrassing sound. “You just said I’m smart?” he asks, disbelieving; then, when Sandy nods, he laughs again. He thinks maybe two people, total, have ever called him smart, his entire life. Sandy means it, too.

He always, always means it. It makes William brave.

William exhales, and it comes out shaky. No feelings, his brain reminds him, and William tells his brain to shut up and really, truly, for once stop overthinking.

“You’re my friend too,” he says, a little bit clumsy.

“I know,” Sandy says.

“And good at sex.”

Sandy inclines his head. His eyes haven’t left William’s, watchful, very much waiting for William to make the move. William doesn’t mind. It’s his turn, probably. “I know that also.”

William touches the hem of Sandy’s hoodie, barely anything. “And probably good at dating and being a boyfriend or whatever, too,” he says, and this time, Sandy hums.

“Well, this one you don’t know, technically, right?” he says, and his voice is serious, considering but his eyes are bright like the sun, like summer. William missed him. “I could be a terrible boyfriend, it’s really possible.”

“It’s not,” William shakes his head, determined. “Not possible at all.” He crooks a finger in the pocket of Sandy’s sweater and pauses, careful; then, when Sandy doesn’t stop him, pulls him close enough to kiss the corner of his mouth, then his nose, to love the way it makes his cheeks turn pink.

“Sandy,” William says, sort of sing-song. “Sandy, Sandy-” and then he doesn’t say anything at all because he’s getting yanked into this fierce hug, like a celly, like Sandy missed him too. It’s not a big movie kiss like William was expecting. Sandy never really is.

“I broke the rule too,” William admits, into Sandy’s hair. “The falling rule.”

“Good,” Sandy says, and squeezes William extra tight, enough that it kind of hurts, because he still has no idea how strong he is. “Great.”

“Yeah?” William asks, then laughs, ticklish as Sandy presses kisses against his neck.

“Yeah,” Sandy agrees, and William can hear the smile in his voice. “Yeah, even though you dragged me out here and my housekeeper’s going to be mad at me for getting my clothes all damp.”

It takes William a second.

“You’re telling jokes now?” he demands, pulling back to look at Sandy’s face. He’s so, so weird. The best kind of weird. He’s William’s favourite.

“I don’t think I can help it.” Sandy doesn’t bother looking embarrassed, just frank. “Maybe it’s a nervous thing I do.”

William shoves him, playful, and gets shoved right back “Are you nervous?” he asks.

“Not really.” Sandy gives him the truth like it’s easy, like with most things with him, eyes shining. “Are you?”

William shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No, I’m just happy.”

That’s the truth, as well.

Easy.