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Charlie wakes up with a blinding headache on Saturday morning, a deep pressure at his temples. He groans and rolls over, but it’s as if moving his head relieves the pressure instantly. It’s the strangest sensation he’s felt in a while. Something’s still off, though.

He sits up and rubs at his eyes, feeling parched and like he really needs to piss all at once. There’s movement beside him in the bed, and the cover pulls down to reveal the top of Matt’s head. He’s burrowed down deep in the sheets like he belongs there.

It’s still dark in the room, but Charlie can just make out Matt’s eyes blinking up at him. He keeps waiting for his own brain to log on and provide him context of why Matt is sleeping next to him, but there’s nothing.

“Hi,” Matt says sleepily. He smiles gently and wiggles around like he could doze for another hour.

Charlie is uncomfortably sweaty. There’s something wrong, like, really wrong. He feels it. “What are you doing here?”

That was the wrong thing to ask, apparently, because Matt’s relaxed face turns to stone in an instant. He rolls out of bed and grabs an oversized t-shirt from the floor, pulling it on like nothing would make him less happy. He steps into a pair of boxers with the same attitude, and Charlie can only watch, bewildered. “You told me,” Matt snaps, bitter, “You told me I should stay.” He doesn’t meet Charlie’s eyes as he walks out of the room. He can hear the sound of the faucet running in the adjacent bathroom.

It’s at that moment that Charlie realizes that he doesn’t recognize the soft white of the bedroom walls, or the sheets that he’s under, or anything that’s on the bedside table. “Matt,” he calls out, panic rising in the pit of his stomach. Matt’s brushing his teeth, ignoring him. He silently curses whatever he did to make him so mad. “Matt, please!”

There must have been enough fear in his words this time, because the sink turns off and Matt appears in the doorway. “What is it?”

“I don’t-” Is he crazy? “I don’t know where I am.”

Matt is backlit by the bathroom light, and his silhouette stiffens. “What do you mean?” he says, his tone careful.

“I don’t know where I am, like, I don’t know where we are right now.” Charlie wants to get out of bed, but he realizes he’s not wearing clothes. “I don’t remember.”

“Are you serious?” he asks, but he must know from the look on Charlie’s face. He’s never been a good liar. “Shit,” Matt breathes, and is by his side in an instant. “You sure?” He puts a hand to his forehead, like that will do anything. “Do you know what day it is?”

Charlie mentally reaches for a date, but comes up empty. “Saturday?”

“Yeah, that’s good,” Matt’s still feeling around on his head. “You know the year?”

Oh, yeah, he thinks so. “Uh… 2019?”

Matt goes still beside him, his palm frozen against his clammy forehead.

“That’s not the right answer, is it.”

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re alright,” Matt says, his tone a forced neutral. He’s scrambling around for his phone, shoving his hands in a pair of shorts on the floor. “I’m going to call the doctor so we can get you checked out, okay?”

“No.” He stumbles out of bed, covering himself with a hand while he looks for clothes. “No, don’t do that yet. I think I just need a minute.” Charlie looks up at Matt, wishing for anything at all to make sense. “Can you help- can you help me find clothes. Or turn on the light.”

Matt is quick to comply, fishing some fresh briefs out of a dresser drawer and handing them to Charlie before walking over to flip on the light. He turns around to face Charlie again, his face creased with concern.

“Gryz,” Charlie gasps, and it’s sucker punched out of him. Matt is standing before him, there’s no one else it could be, but he’s older. Years older. It’s like those before and after pictures that people love to show of Bergy and Marchy, except Matt is now the after. There are new lines and wrinkles around his face, and there’s a few gray strands at his temples where there weren’t any before. He looks good, Charlie’s heart says with an inexplicable pang. “Oh my god.”

“Let me call the doctor, baby,” and Matt is scared, too. “Did you hit your head? What’s the last thing you remember?”

Baby? Since when-

They were in bed together. Charlie reaches again for a memory and comes up empty handed. What can he remember? At all?

“We lost the cup,” and it hits him, the deep feeling of loss, but somehow it's a worn memory, edges softened by time. “We lost the cup, that’s the last thing I remember.” Oh god. It’s been a long time since then, he knows. His gut rolls again. “Let me-” he grabs towards where Matt has his phone clutched in his hands. “Let me call Zee. He’ll know what to do.”

“I’m not sure if now would be a good time to call,” Matt says, still typing, searching for a specific number.

Charlie rolls his eyes. “He wakes up at like, six in the morning, he’ll be up.”

“Charlie.” Matt looks at him, visibly pained. “C’mon, he’s not in the States anymore.”

He goes to speak, but it’s as if his throat has dried up and his voice won’t work.

“I’m calling the doctor now,” Matt says, and reaches for Charlie’s hand.

________________________________________

The doctors poke and prod at him, take his blood and ask him a thousand questions. He goes for an MRI; they make him drink that awful dye stuff.

Matt stays with him through everything, a whole day’s worth of sitting and waiting. Matt takes the clipboards from the nurses and fills out everything for him. Charlie scrawls his signature where he’s told, and he’s now convinced that he’s living through a very vivid dream. Except for that the crook of his elbow is sore, and his stomach feels unsettled from the dye, and Matt looks pale like he’s the one they’ve been drawing blood from.

After hours of inconclusive results, they send him home. There’s nothing they can find anywhere that would indicate any kind of medical imbalance, in fact, he’s the picture of great health. He’s supposed to go home and rest, keep the doctors updated, and not strain himself or his mind. That includes searching through his phone or computer, the doctor tells him.

The sun has long set by the time they walk back out to the car.

“Are we going to my house?” Charlie asks after a few minutes of driving, his hands folded tightly in his lap. He hasn’t spoken in a long time. His sense of reality is so beyond fucked that he wouldn’t even know where to start asking questions. He feels untethered, loose, like he’s floating in space.

Matt pauses for a minute, thinking about his answer. One of his thumbs has been rubbing against the steering wheel since they got in the car. “Yes,” he says finally. “I live there, too.”

Charlie nods and thinks back to the morning, Matt in his bed, the pet names- “We aren’t roommates, though, are we.”

“No.” The soft clicking of the blinker light seems deafening in the relative silence of the car. “No, we’re not roommates.”

“If I uh-” What is he even trying to say? He pulls on his seatbelt, anxious. This car is nicer than nearly any he’s ever been in, but what does he know? Maybe this is the midline model these days. “If I say anything wrong, I’m sure I don’t… really mean it. Just give me a little time.”

Matt shrugs.

Charlie’s suddenly reminded of the strange interaction they’d had this morning, how Matt had gotten so upset when he asked why he was laying next to him in bed. God, it would be very unfortunate to have this happen in the middle of a fight. Damn him for whatever the fuck he did to deserve this.

“Maybe you’re cursed, or something,” Matt offers, like a continuation of Charlie’s own thoughts.

“What?”

“You know,” Matt shrugs again. He looks tired. “Like somehow you got a curse. The Czechs and some of those guys from that area believe in that kind of thing.”

“Damn.” Things are so crazy, Charlie is starting to feel delirious. “Maybe I should give Zee a call.”

“Yeah, maybe you should,” Matt says like he’s pissed off. They pass under an orange streetlight, and his face is illuminated for a moment. He’s still shockingly older to Charlie, and the worry and hurt on his face ages him even further.

“Please,” Charlie says, and feels the panic rising in him again. “I don’t- whatever was going on before, if I did something to you, I’m sorry. But right now, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t even know where I live.” Well- “where we live,” he corrects himself. “I’m going to need you while I get through this, okay? So don’t- please don’t be mad.”

Matt puts the car in park, and they’re in front of the house now. Their house. “I mean-” He sighs and drops his head into his hands. “This was not really great timing for you to lose, what, seven years of life?” He laughs wryly.

“Has it been that-”

“Yeah,” Matt answers quietly. “Just under seven. Look, I can’t blame you for things you don’t even remember, right?”

Charlie doesn’t answer.

“Right, yeah.” Matt sounds like he’s talking himself into it. “So. Right, we’re going to go inside, and I’m going to make us dinner while you take a shower because I know you want to do that. I’m not mad at you, and I’m going to help you through this, okay? I’ll do everything I can to help.”

He really does want to take a shower.

“Okay.” He nods, and his head swims again. “Thank you.”

________________________________________

Matt briefly shows him around the house, but Charlie can tell it’s awkward for him. The guest bed isn’t made up, and there’s some evidence that either he or Matt have been sleeping there recently. He doesn’t ask any more questions once he’s solid on the layout of the place.

Dinner passes by quickly. Matt watches him with wide eyes as he scarfs down the pasta he’s made- Charlie didn’t realize how hungry he was until he smelled the chicken breasts sizzling in the skillet.

“I’ll sleep in the guest room tonight,” Matt says without preamble, picking up their plates from the table. “If you need me for anything.”

“You-” Charlie stops himself. He wants to tell Matt to stay with him tonight, because he thinks that it’s what they would usually do. Maybe. But if he doesn’t want to sleep with him, then he understands that. He shouldn’t ask for it. “Okay. Thanks.”

He breathes a sigh of relief as he watches Matt disappear behind the door of the guest room. Now he can snoop around in their bedroom uninhibited.

Well, he thinks to himself, as he pulls open the bedside drawer, it’s not exactly snooping if it’s in his own house, right?

He’s not sure what he’s expecting. There’s a framed photo on Matt’s side of the bed, a picture of the two of them together on a beach somewhere. There’s another photo next to it, where they’re both in suits. It’s cute. They’re both laughing at something, and look like they’re the happiest people alive.
Next to that is a little bowl with random stuff, loose change, a safety pin, and a tie clip. A boring lamp.

The first drawer is more interesting. There’s a small stack of photos that look like Matt had them printed off his phone at a drugstore. There’s a few of his family, his mom and dad smiling at a dinner table somewhere homey. The rest are of Charlie, candids of him in different places. It’s a very strange sensation to see these photos of his own self at places he hasn’t been. Or, he has been there, he just doesn’t remember it. It’s a feeling close to deja vu. Several greeting cards still in their original envelopes sit under the photos, each with some version of Matt’s name on it. There’s one that says Gryz in Bergy’s distinctive handwriting. Charlie leaves that one alone.

Charlie makes quick work of the rest of the bedside table. There’s condoms and other stuff in a drawer that he tries not to be embarrassed about. And, he supposes, they are clearly together, so he shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. There’s a sensation inside his mind that feels like what he imagines a lobotomy would be like. Like, maybe he should be more shocked or freaked out that this is his future. Or that this is his life, currently. He thinks about Matt, thinks about them together, and the shock never comes. Huh.

After he sits on the bed for a moment, he tries to think of who he could talk to. He could text Jake, that would be nice. He wouldn’t know what to say, but he’s never had to know what to say when talking to Jake. If he asked him anything specific he could just pretend-

Well.

It occurs to him suddenly that he doesn’t even know if Jake is in Boston anymore. And also, after digging through his belongings, he can’t find a phone anywhere.

________________________________________

“Hey,” Matt whispers, shaking him awake the next morning. “Hey, wake up.”

Charlie groans and stretches, his leg sliding off the bed and bumping into Matt’s solid torso. Hi Matt, he thinks, but what comes out is: “Hm?”

“How are you?” he asks. Matt is standing right over him, scrutinizing him in the dim morning light.

He’s not sure how he’s supposed to answer that. “I’m okay.” He remembers everything about yesterday, which is… better than not. “Same as before.”

Matt hums, disappointed. “Okay. I have to go to practice. Just hang out here, I’ll be back at lunch.”

“Wait,” he sits up in the bed. Did Matt fucking forget that that means he has practice, too? “Don’t I need to go?”

“No, you’re sick.” Matt puts a hand against Charlie’s forehead, and the touch is tender.

“Well.” There’s nothing more to say, really, but Charlie doesn’t want to be alone again just yet. “Don’t I need to call in and tell them?”

“I already did that for you. Just rest, alright?” Matt’s gentle hand turns into a firm pat on the back.

So that would be it, then. Getting left in this house all day.

As Matt’s walking out of their bedroom, Charlie can’t help his curiosity. “If Chara’s not in the states anymore, then who’s the captain?”

“Torey,” Matt says simply. He shrugs and looks back over his shoulder. “But,” he swallows his own proud grin. “I have the A.”

Charlie smiles for the first time since he woke up the day before.

________________________________________

Matt lets him borrow his phone to make a few needed calls- first his parents, then his sisters, who all had somehow already been informed as to what was going on. His mother is especially calm about it, all things considered. She asks him if he wants her to come up, and when he says no, she tells him that she loves him and to call her when he’s feeling better. Her tone of voice was that as if he’ll remember everything within the hour, which soothes and frightens him simultaneously. Charlie wants to ask her about- well, about everything, but he can’t bring himself to do it. He doesn’t know why. Matt will take care of you, she reassures him, and he believes her.

There is one more call he needs to make, one other person who he can’t imagine not asking for advice.

Chara picks up on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Zee,” Charlie breathes a sigh of relief. “Hi.”

“Hey, it’s good to hear from you,” he says. He sounds a little distant, a little more benign than he’s used to. “It’s been a while.”

Has it? God, what a terrible thought. “I’m sorry that it has,” and he means it from the bottom of his heart. He has a moment of speechlessness, struck again by the strange sense of emptiness and the feeling of hearing a familiar voice after a long time, although it hasn’t been a long time. He talked to Chara just a few days ago, except he didn’t.

“Is everything okay?”

“Do you have a minute?” Charlie takes a deep breath. He’s already pacing.

“Yeah,” and he can hear rustling noises in the background, like he’s sitting down. “Charlie,” He clears his throat. “Torey called me yesterday and told me what was going on. With you.”

“Oh.” He wasn’t expecting that, but it makes sense that the team would have been notified, too. It throws him off track; he expected to have to convince Chara that this wasn’t some kind of elaborate prank.

“He said that seven years are gone from your mind. Is that true?”

“Yes,” Charlie replies. “Zee, Matt said that-” He stops himself. What is he saying? This is ridiculous.

“What is it?” Chara’s tone is even, always calm in the face of even the strangest circumstances.

Fuck it. What’s the worst that could happen. “Matt said that maybe I was cursed. And that you knew stuff about being cursed. Because- I don’t know, it’s not like- I don’t know. I’m not injured. The memories are just… missing.”

Chara takes a long time to respond.

“Yes,” he finally replies after enough time has passed for Charlie’s palms to grow sweaty. “I do believe sometimes people are cursed in different ways.”

“Well,” Charlie says, feeling ridiculous. He’s walked at least 45 laps around the house by now, it feels like. “What do I need to do to fix it?”

“That is something you may have to figure out on your own,” he says, in the same tone that one might tell a child they had to put up their own dishes. “Sometimes… a curse is not a curse at all. It can be a gift, a chance to see things in a different way and change your life.”

“Well how am I supposed to-” He groans. Chara’s words struck him, but at the same time- “I don’t remember anything about the past seven years Zee, what am I supposed to change?”

“I wouldn’t know.” And yeah, he can still give attitude back. “This is the first time I’ve heard your voice in more than half a year,” Chara finishes. “You didn’t answer my calls for a while.”

All the frustration that was building in his chest deflates instantly. “I’m sorry, whatever happened-” He regroups. What could have happened that he would ignore Zee? God. “You will always be important to me. Shit. I’m sorry.” He prays that Zee knows how sincere the apology is through the phone.

“I am going to be here for you while you get through this,” he says, unwittingly echoing Matt’s words from earlier. “But Charlie, I think there is work for you to do. For yourself, and for the people you know.”

He nods until he can find his voice again. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Hey,” Chara says, hearing the farewell in Charlie’s tone. “This is going to be hard on Grizzy, too. Be kind to him.”

“I know,” he replies automatically, but he realizes that he hadn’t fully considered what he’s putting Matt through right now. Especially considering they’re… together. Or whatever.

“And I want to know how you’re doing, okay? Let me know.”

“I will,” promises Charlie. He means it.

________________________________________

The omelet Charlie’s making is almost done when Matt walks in the door from practice. He isn’t sure what compelled him to make one, but they had the ingredients and it seemed like it would be a nice gesture to fix lunch for Matt. Like, the fucking least he could do, probably.

“Hey,” Matt smiles when he gets a whiff of the melting cheese in the pan. “Smells good.” He tosses his bag on the floor and comes over to where Charlie’s standing in front of the stove. There’s a visible recalculation, like Matt had momentarily forgotten what was going on. Forgotten. Ha.

“I made you lunch,” Charlie says even though it’s obvious, trying to break up the weird tension.

Matt nods slowly. “Omelets are my favorite.” He shifts on his feet. “Did you remember that?”

The answer is no, he did not. “I think I just knew. Like, instincts.” He flips Matt’s omelet and it’s perfect; the best he’s ever made. There’s an even golden-brown toast, and it’s stayed in shape somehow.

“Pretty good instincts, then,” Matt says, and as he takes the plate from Charlie, he leans in and kisses his cheek. He smells good, warm and familiar, like locker room soap and something else he can’t put his finger on. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” and Charlie can feel his face burning.

In another few moments he’s sitting with Matt at the table with an omelet of his own. Well, it turned into a scramble halfway through, but whatever. At least Matt’s turned out okay.

Matt is very into his food, and Charlie takes another moment to study him. Looking at Matt makes his mind feel the most broken, somehow. He’s so different, but at the same time, he doesn’t feel like any of this is strange. He liked it when Matt kissed his cheek, and he likes watching him scarf down the lunch he made him. He wears the years well, which is a thought that comes out of nowhere. It soothes him to think that they live here together, that maybe they have spent many years together. Maybe he’s made Matt fifty omelets.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Matt says, catching him in his stare.

“Hm? Oh,” he puts more eggs in his mouth. “Nothing.”

Matt nods, and stabs an errant piece of ham with his fork. “I think I expected you to like, have more questions or something.”

“I don’t really know what to ask,” answers Charlie, and it must be a little too honest, because Matt looks disappointed. “I mean- um.” It’s obvious that he’s trying to recover, he’s sure. “How long have we lived here?”

“About four years? Well,” Matt squints, doing the math. He’s finished his lunch already, which is fine, but now his undivided attention is on Charlie. “You bought this place four years ago, and then I moved in pretty soon after that.”

“So a long time, then.”

“It’s flown by,” he laughs in a sort of sad way. “Crazy how fast time goes by.”

“Tell me about it,” Charlie laughs, a real one. “Feels like just yesterday I was twenty-one.”

Matt rolls his eyes, trying to contain his smile. “Yeah, okay, good one.” He catches Charlie’s eye, and his gaze is something he can’t decipher. Longing, maybe, something happy-sad. “Listen, uh, I was thinking tomorrow we should do something fun. Go to the beach, maybe. Maybe it’ll jog your memory, or, I don’t know.” He shrugs. “Could be fun.”

“Yeah, I’d love that.” The beach sounds amazing right now. He’s always been a beach bum at heart, so good to know that hasn’t changed. Matt’s looking at him again with that same glare, and it’s too much.

He excuses himself to go take care of the dishes, and he takes his time, waiting for Matt to leave the kitchen on his own volition.

________________________________________

Charlie takes a deep breath of the salty air as soon as they arrive on the beachfront, and it relaxes something inside of him that he didn’t know was tense.

“You good?” Matt teases, watching him suck in breaths like he hasn’t been outside in years. “It’s nice out today.”

“We come here a lot, don’t we?” Charlie asks, and it’s not a memory so much as it is a sense. Matt looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to say more, but there’s nothing more to say. That’s all he’s got.

Matt nods, and starts walking towards the water. “Yeah, this is one of our favorite spots.”

They stand next to each other at the shoreline for a while, letting the water come and lap at their toes even though there’s still a chill in the air. There’s an easy silence between them, except for when Charlie decides to take another big lungful of ocean smell and Matt laughs at him.

Because Matt is a hero, he’d gotten them two huge beach towels and packed a cooler before they’d left. They settle in quickly, the warm sun making everything slow and sleepy. Charlie closes his eyes and tries to remember being here on the beach with Matt, but all he comes up with is a realistic daydream and he knows it. It’s close to being a true memory, but it’s not.

It’s peaceful out here. Matt looks comfortable lying next to him, like maybe this is something they do every other weekend. Well, maybe they do. Fuck this stupid curse.

“I called Zee yesterday, after I called my parents,” Charlie says after a while, hoping that it’s casual enough. It’s been burning a hole in his mind.

Apparently it wasn’t casual enough, because Matt jerks up from where he’d been laying down on his towel. “You did? What did he say?”

 

Where should he begin? “Well.” He stretches out his legs past the towel to dig his toes into the sand. “He said that maybe I was cursed, by the universe I guess? And to get rid of the curse, maybe I needed to fix some stuff in my life?” Charlie phrased it like a question even though that was verbatim what Chara had said.

“I figured he would know about that kind of thing,” says Matt, halfway to himself.

Charlie nods. “Yeah, of course he would.” He’s glad they are having this conversation at the most relaxing place in the world. He’s not sure he would be able to do it otherwise. “I just- I don’t really know how I’m supposed to fix stuff if I can’t remember what’s messed up.”

Matt is watching him carefully now, and Charlie feels the same way he did on that first day after he woke up when Matt was clearly upset with him. “Well? Did he say anything else?”

“He said that this was going to be hard on you.”

Matt’s gaze cuts away from him in an instant and fixes out on some point on the horizon. “You know-” he begins, and then stops himself.

“What?” Charlie asks, suddenly desperate to know what he was thinking.

Matt rolls over towards the cooler and pulls out a beer. “Nothing. Yeah.” He takes a few long swigs, and Charlie is helpless to be mesmerized by the slow movement of his throat as he tips his head back. Some untethered part of his mind wonders what he would need to do to get him shirtless.

There’s a sense of frustration that boils over inside of him, a combination of this awful longing he has for Matt that comes out of nowhere, and the sense that Matt is hiding things from him. Or at least not telling him the whole truth.

Charlie stretches out on the towel, and the bodily awareness in that moment reminds him- “When were you going to tell me that I’m not playing anymore?” he asks, and he barely can believe it came out of his mouth that easily. But he’s pretty sure he’s right.

Matt freezes. “Who told you that?”

It’s true, then.

“No one,” he says. “I feel different.” Well, he feels different, but also he got a good look at himself in the mirror after his shower the evening before. It shocked him at first, but there must have been some part of his mind not completely gone, because the shock wore off almost as soon as it came. He looked older, which was fine. Some of his muscle definition had melted away, though. It was not the body of someone who had a spot on an NHL roster. “You didn’t tell me, though.”

“Fuck,” Matt says, and he looks more upset than Charlie feels, which is not very upset, all things considered. “I’m supposed to not overload you with information, okay?” He takes another drink of his beer, but it’s way less sexy when he seems this distressed. “I’m not keeping stuff from you.”

“It’s okay,” Charlie replies, more to calm Matt down than anything. He feels shitty now, to have brought it up like that. “I’m not super sad. Disappointed, but, you know, that’s fair.”

Matt laughs, but it’s an ugly thing. “You’re not?” He shakes his head. “Sorry. I’m not really helping, am I.”

“Was I very upset before?” He already knows the answer.

“Yeah. You were very upset.”

Charlie reaches across the strip of sand between them and takes Matt’s hand. He searches for the right words to say, something that could possibly encompass all that he’s feeling, but there’s nothing. Matt takes mercy on him and doesn’t make him ask.

“It was health stuff, mostly. One too many bad hits, and you’d been having frequent migraines. Some other things, too. In the past few years they’ve tightened up on what is and what isn’t ‘too many’ concussions, so you were advised to retire. And by advised, I mean, they told you no more.” Matt’s rubbing his thumb against the skin on the back of his hand. “You wanted to keep playing, though. Didn’t take it very well.”

He nods, and yeah, that doesn’t seem like something he would take well. The panic comes and goes like the waves lapping at the shore. His chest constricts, and he turns to look at Matt.

“This is the first season you haven’t played. It was good, Charlie. You had a really good career, a good run.” He squeezes Charlie’s hand, and after a moment’s consideration, brings it to his lips for a soft kiss against his knuckles. “And now, this is good.”

Charlie isn’t sure what he’s referring to- this, as in, here on the beach now, or as in their lives now, or something else he doesn’t remember. But as the panic ebbs again, and he breathes through the pain that he’s certain he’s felt before, he doesn’t feel anything but the lingering sensation of Matt’s kiss.

“I’m glad we end up together,” Charlie says. He can’t read the expression that flashes across Matt’s face. “Can’t say I would have predicted it. But it feels right. This is a good thing, too.” He needs him to know that, at least. But Matt doesn’t reply.

Matt gets to his feet, messing up the towel as he stands on it. “Come on,” he says, dragging Charlie up by the hand. “Let’s go see if we can find any shells.”

They take home a shell, the best one that they found as deemed by Matt. Charlie felt a little silly beachcombing, but Matt was serious about finding a good shell, so he wasn’t going to argue.

It all makes sense when they return to the house, though. Charlie follows Matt into the master bedroom, where there’s a bowl on the dresser filled with shells. He puts the newest one on top.

“The first time we went to the beach, just you and me, I kept a shell. To remember, I guess. And ever since then, when we go, I always have to get one,” he smiles shyly. “So. Yeah. We’ve been to the beach a lot.”

________________________________________

“Do we have a dog?” Charlie says, poking his head into the living room.

“Hm?” Matt looks up from his Kindle. “A dog?”

“Yeah, do we have one?” He’s pretty sure he would know if they had one, but maybe Matt had it put in the kennel after his hospital stay, or something like that.

Matt shakes his head. “Nope, no dog.”

Damn it. “Why not? Can we get one?”

“I don’t know, we just don’t have one,” Matt looks amused. He sets his Kindle down and turns to give Charlie his full attention. “I was thinking maybe a cat. But you always say-”

“Ugh. No cats,” Charlie finishes for him, but his tone is light. “I’ll sneeze so much.”

“Okay, well,” Matt says, still happy to play along, “maybe when you’re better we can see about getting a dog.”

Charlie thought that as a stable adult with a house and everything he would have had a dog already. “What if I don’t get better, can we still get a dog?”

“Don’t-” Matt nearly chokes on how quickly he tries to stop that train of thought. “Don’t say that.” He stiffens from where he was melted into the couch. “You’ll get better.”

“Can we get a pug,” Charlie says, trying to recover. He wants to see Matt look relaxed again. “Or like… what are they called. A bernedoodle. Like Sean.”

“I’m pro normal dogs.”

“A pug is normal!” he retorts, even though he knows they’re definitely in the more weird category.

Matt rolls his eyes. “Fine. Okay. I swear we will look at dogs soon.”

There’s a warmth that spreads through Charlie’s chest, and it’s not just from envisioning having a dog. He lingers by the doorway for a moment longer, watching Matt push his glasses back up his nose and pick up the Kindle again. He wants to live here with him forever.

________________________________________

“Hey Zee.”

Matt’s already gone, he’d left early that morning. The Bruins have a game tonight, and there’s a whole routine that was luckily not that much different from what he remembered from before. He’d be back that afternoon to eat and nap, but until then Charlie didn’t have much to do. It seemed like a good time to make a phone call. They still never found Charlie’s phone (which he found highly suspicious, and it was probably more likely that Matt was hiding it from him so he wouldn’t break doctor’s orders), but Matt had gotten him a replacement just with a few numbers in it in case of emergency.

“Charlie!” It’s always a relief to hear Chara’s voice. “How are you?”

“Mostly the same,” he admits, and Zee makes a disappointed noise.

They shoot the shit for a while, and it’s wild to think that his kids are already high school aged. There’s a reason for this phone call, though. “This is my first season not to play,” Charlie says. He opens his mouth to say more, but he loses his words.

“Yeah, I know that’s hard on you. Been hard on you,” he says, his words careful.

“I think-” He’d thought about this before he called, he had everything ready to say. “I always look up to you so much,” Charlie says, and Zee doesn’t reply, because he knows. “I wanted my career to look like yours.”

“I had a very long one,” and Charlie can almost hear it in his voice, the way he sighs through it. “I was blessed.”

“I used to think I was going to be just like you,” he continues, “so I don’t know. I’m okay now, but I know that I wasn’t taking it well. Before.”

“The world had more than enough of me,” Zee says. “There was no need to be just like me. You are just like Charlie, and that is the best thing. Your last years- you were incredible. Your best years, you gave it everything. And now you are going to have more good years, just for you.”

Charlie lets the words settle. “Thank you.” Something about it feels like turning his face into the sun. “That means a lot to me.”

“Charlie-” he takes a breath. “I tried to tell you this, a while ago. Tried a few times, actually, but you wouldn’t-” Zee is choosing his words carefully, Charlie can tell. “This is the first time I think you’ve been able to hear what I’m saying to you.”

“Yeah, well,” Charlie loses what he wants to say. He suddenly feels overwhelmed, trying to reconcile his past self that he doesn’t know with his current self that feels so blank. “I’ll call you if anything changes.”

“Okay,” Zee says. “Talk to you later.”

“Yeah, talk to you.”

________________________________________

Charlie watches the Bruins game on mute that night. He’s not sure if Matt even expects him to watch at all, but it’s been another long day of being home alone and he’s willing to do just about anything to try to bring back some memory.

There are names and faces he doesn’t know, but feel somehow familiar, like a strange echo in the back of his mind. He thinks it would be overwhelming to hear the announcers, especially since even watching the game feels like a lot to begin with, so he keeps the sound off. It’s a fairly uneventful game, an easy 3-1 against the Kraken. Matt scores the last goal and Charlie surprises himself with the cheer that erupts from him and echoes through the empty house. He leaps off the couch and grabs for the remote, hitting the mute button so he can hear the goal song and Matt’s name.

He stays up until Matt comes home, which isn’t until late, past midnight. A storm has blown in, and the rain is lashing against the windows.

“Hey,” Matt’s surprised that he’s still awake, Charlie can tell. He’s worn out, that much is for sure; his hair is disheveled and his eyes are tired.

“Hi,” Charlie says, his heart pounding like it used to when he would see his crush in high school. “You looked great tonight.”

Matt looks up from where he’s untying his shoes at the front door. “You watched the game?”

“Yeah.” He wants to hug Matt so much. “I saw you score, it was great.”

“Thank you,” he says, not meeting his eyes as he stands up and shoves his hands into the pockets of his dress pants. “I’m glad you watched it.”

He looks so good, Charlie can’t help but think. He’s wearing a dark suit with a black tie, almost monochrome. Matt’s loosening his tie, and Charlie catches himself staring again. Staring at the line of his neck, the way his chains glint in the kitchen light when Matt tugs at his collar. The tension between them is thick, but before Charlie can move in to hold Matt, the oven beeps behind him. “Oh, and I made you cinnamon toast.”

It was another instinct he had, or maybe it was a memory. It was hard to tell. But a few minutes before Matt arrived back at their home, he’d slathered some slices of bread with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Now, as he pulls the baking sheet out of the oven, the pieces of toast smell heavenly.

“Charlie,” Matt says, breathless. “Did you remember this?” He stands stunned and watches Charlie set the toast down on the counter. He pulls the tie from around his throat. “You always make this special for me.”

“I just knew,” he says, and pulls Matt into his arms. The baby hairs on the nape of his neck are still damp from his shower at the rink. “I had a feeling.”

Matt settles into his embrace, sighing softly against his neck. “Good instincts,” he murmurs, and then worms a hand out to snatch a piece of toast off the tinfoil. They both laugh, and things are funny in the way that they are late at night.

“Mm,” Matt says, cramming the crust into his mouth. “Perfect. You’ve still got it.” He’s all up in Charlie’s space, and Charlie feels like he’s passed some kind of test. Like, sure, maybe he can’t remember anything else, but he remembered the toast. Fuck yeah, cinnamon toast.

“You’ve got a little-” Charlie reaches out to wipe at some grains of sugar that are stuck to Matt’s bottom lip. His thumb lingers there a moment longer than it strictly needs to, but Matt lets him. He’s staring up at him, wide-eyed, waiting for him to make the next move. “You know,” he swallows, thumbing at Matt’s collar, “I have other instincts, too.” His voice goes quiet as he undoes the top button. It feels like his blood is buzzing, he wants so much.

Matt keeps his gaze fixed on Charlie as he pulls two more buttons loose. “Charlie-” he starts as Charlie runs his fingers along the chains he has around his neck. Matt tilts his head back to give him better access.

Charlie pulls the chains out from under his shirt. “I like-”

He stops, his heart caught in his throat.

Hanging from the longest chain is a silver ring, like the exact kind of ring that someone would wear as a wedding band.

Matt moves to grab the ring, but Charlie’s too quick. He already has it in his hand.

He opens his mouth to say something, but every word and thought shrivels up in his mind as he thumbs over the ring. Matt doesn’t move away as he holds it up to the light. It’s plain in every way, smooth and silver and mostly unremarkable. There’s an engraving on the inside of it.

“I wasn’t sure how to-” begins Matt, and then he waits.

Charlie’s still staring down at the ring until Matt reaches out to hold his face. He meets Matt’s eyes and- oh my God. Matt thinks that he doesn’t want this. That he doesn’t-

Matt thumbs across his cheekbone and drops his hand. “I wasn’t sure how to tell you, if you didn’t remember anything. If you didn’t remember that-”

C + M, the ring reads, with a date beside it.

It’s hard to find the words, because yeah. He doesn’t remember this. But his heart is singing with the thought, mind racing to imagine it, to try to replace what he doesn’t have in his memory. He loves Matt. Oh God, he does. It wells up inside of him, it doesn’t come from anywhere new. He’s finding it harder and harder to reach back in time to those old things, those well-loved memories that seem so far from where he stands here, barefoot on the cold kitchen tile. There are a thousand questions, he barely knows where to start.

“Charlie-”

“Where’s mine?” he asks, finally finding the words. That feels like the most important thing.

“I don’t know,” Matt whispers. “Let’s- C’mon,” he says, closing his hand over Charlie’s when he won’t let go of the ring. “Let’s go sit down, baby. I need to sit.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know,” Charlie says, following Matt into the living room. He should really try to stop asking stupid questions, but he can’t help it.

“I mean,” Matt says, dropping down onto the couch, “You took yours off. A while ago.”

“No,” Charlie says before Matt can get out another word. He settles on the couch and tucks his feet up underneath him. “Matt, I-”

“Don’t say no,” He shakes his head and looks away. “You don’t remember it.”

“Then tell me,” Charlie begs, desperate. He grabs on to Matt’s hands where he has them resting in his lap.

“Well. I don’t know everything that was going on in your head,” Matt says, and he’s sad, oh, Charlie sees how sad he is. “It’s like I said, you took your forced retirement really hard. I think it’s hard for anyone, but that rhythm of life was all you’d ever known. And then,” he sighs, “Then, you know, when I had to start going to practice and games every day, I think that made things worse. Because you were jealous, I think, and being home alone all day didn’t help.”

Charlie nods, his throat tight.

“I didn’t-” Matt’s having trouble, now. He reaches out to Charlie and pulls him so that he’s pressed against his side. “I didn’t know how bad it was for you until it was... really bad. But I should’ve seen some of the signs, you know, that this was sending you to a darker place. You started to withdraw from me, but it just,” he squeezes Charlie, like he could bring him any closer than he is already. “It made me angry, that you were being like this. You would snap at me over anything, and be really rude. And you’d never been like that before.”

“I’m so sorry,” Charlie says, lowering his head and resting it on Matt’s shoulder. “I-”

“No, it was my fault, too. Because I think you didn’t know how to ask for help. But at the time, I thought it was just because you didn’t want to be with me anymore. So I didn’t initiate any kind of affection either, just because I was upset.” he says.

Charlie doesn’t want that for them. He doesn’t remember it and he doesn’t want to even imagine it, months of Matt going to sleep in that stupid guest room alone. And he let him do it. Maybe he asked him to. “I shouldn't've-” he’s touching Matt’s cheek, brushing his hair behind his ear.

“I thought you were getting better, you know?” Matt continues, “Things were not as bad as usual. And when you woke up with the curse, that last night was the first we’d spent together in a really long time. So.”

Charlie frowns, his mind racing to piece things together. “If things were getting better, then why-”

“I don’t know. I don’t. But,” Matt bites at the inside of his cheeks. “I didn’t realize all of this until after you’d lost your memories. I wish I could have seen it before but-” He looks down at their hands. “It’d been so long since I felt like we even had a real conversation. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it.”

The rain outside is beginning to let up, but there’s a low rolling thunder that shakes the whole house.

"You know," Matt says, "I would never in a million years wish something like this on you. But-" he shrugs. "Maybe it's not about you? Like, maybe this had to happen so that we could both have a chance to try to change things before it's too late."

Charlie wants to reply, but he can't find the words. He thinks Matt is right, though.

He rests his head against him and feels like he has a galaxy inside his chest. He searches again for what to say, but by the time he does, Matt has fallen asleep where he sits.

It’s been a long day for him.

When Charlie slowly moves him so that he’s laying down, his eyelids barely flicker. He lifts Matt’s feet onto the couch and pulls a blanket over him. He looks comfortable. They have a nice couch, he thinks absently.

“Goodnight,” he whispers, and after a moment’s pause, kisses Matt’s temple.

________________________________________

When the light is out in the living room, Charlie begins his search for his ring. He quietly rummages through everything in their bedroom, trying desperately to access some kind of blocked memory of where he would have put it. He prays that he didn’t put it somewhere where it could have been lost or rolled somewhere where he couldn’t reach.

It’s nearly dawn when he comes across a dark blue velvet box underneath a pile of sleep shirts in the back of his closet. His ring is inside, thank God.

The ring itself is identical to Matt’s in every way that he can tell, with the same engraving on the inside. That will be nice to help remember their anniversary, he thinks, and then fights the feeling of seasickness he gets when he realizes that he doesn’t even remember their wedding.

Their wedding.

He’s exhausted by the time he drops into bed with his ring back in it’s rightful place on his left hand, but his mind is still running, searching for memories that won’t come.

________________________________________

“C’mon, let’s go,” Matt says, shaking him from his slumber. “C’mon, Charlie, hey.”

Charlie opens his eyes a sliver and sees Matt, fully dressed for the day, standing in the daylight coming from the window. He smiles.

“Yeah, hi,” Matt laughs, and then rolls his eyes. “Let’s go, it’s past noon, and I told Anders we would see him today.”

“Holy fuck,” Charlie groans, and rolls over into a full body stretch. “Bjorkie is going to be so old.”

“Excuse me?” Matt gasps in fake horror, “He’s younger than me!”

“You’re old too,” he says, still half asleep, and is promptly whacked over the head with a pillow. “Hey!”

“Get dressed, we’re leaving in thirty minutes,” says Matt, and he’s trying and failing to be stern. He hits Charlie with the pillow once more for good measure.

Matt is driving them to an undisclosed location, or at least that’s what it feels like when he jumps in the car a few minutes later. It’s getting warmer outside, but not warm enough that Charlie will forgo wearing a beanie.

“So, uhm.” Matt begins, and it’s a very loaded ‘so’.

“Oh God,” Charlie groans. “Is Bjorkie disfigured? Does he still have teeth?”

Matt isn’t expecting him to say that, apparently, because he sputters for a second. “No, oh my God. No.”

“Does he-”

“Just let me tell you,” he sighs, but he isn’t mad. “You know, I’m supposed to not overwhelm you,” he leans over and puts his hand on Charlie’s thigh, “and I feel like I’m doing a pretty shitty job of that.”

“It’s fine,” Charlie says, and it is fine. He feels fine. Mostly. “Go ahead and tell me what it is.”

They turn off the interstate to a nice part of town, and there’s lots of shops and locally-owned restaurants and that kind of thing. “We’re going to a frozen yogurt place.”

“I do not feel overwhelmed by that information.”

Matt rolls his eyes. “Because that’s Lucy’s favorite place. And Lucy is Anders’ daughter.”

He feels overwhelmed by this information.

“You’re really good with kids, always have been, you know, and uh,” Matt’s train of thought wanders off as he focuses on parallel parking. “And yeah. Well. She’s crazy about you. You’re her favorite, and you haven’t seen her in a few months because of. Well, you know.”

They’re in front of the fro-yo place now, where he assumes Anders is inside with his child. His daughter, named Lucy, who loves him. Shit, life is weird.

“I have to tell you all of that because Anders didn’t want to try to explain your situation to her, so you’re going to have to bullshit your way through this. Sorry. But,” he pats Charlie on the shoulder and unbuckles his own seatbelt. “She’s three. So it shouldn’t be that hard.”

It’s a cute place from the outside, brightly decorated with pastel everything, and there’s a huge cartoon panda window decal on the outside of the store. Charlie can see why a three year old would like a place like this. He leans into Matt and whispers, “Have I been here before?”

“Don’t think so,” Matt says as he pulls open the front door. “Maybe once. You’re good, though.”

Charlie spots Anders as soon as they enter the small shop- he’s sitting at a quiet corner table with his little girl. Lucy notices them before Anders does. Her whole face lights up and she shrieks, “Charlie!”

“Hi!” Charlie waves and bends down when she comes racing towards them. She flings herself into his arms, and Charlie is once again thankful for instinct when he lifts her up easily.

“Lucy has been excited to see you all day,” Anders smiles. He hasn’t visibly aged as much as Matt, Charlie thinks, but he’s starting to look more like his dad, which is weird. “But not as excited as me,” he says, reaching out to shake Lucy’s little foot where she’s hanging from Charlie’s hip.

He finds himself suddenly with a lump in his throat in the middle of the frozen yogurt place. Lucy has gotten suddenly shy again in the way that toddlers do, and she hides against Charlie’s shoulder.

Matt must see his glistening eyes. “Hey-”

“Why don’t you catch up with Lucy while me and Matt can get everybody some yogo?” Anders says, reading the play perfectly. Also, yogo? Some things never change, he supposes.

“Cool,” Charlie says, swinging Lucy back down to the ground so she can get back in her seat. She has Anders’s eyes. Also, she’s wearing tiny Jordans, because of course she is. “I like your shoes,” he tells her.

“Thanks,” she says dutifully. “I like red.”

“Oh yeah? Me too,” he says, and points down at his own red sneakers.

Lucy puts her head all the way under the table to check out his shoes, and she must approve. She looks at him very seriously and asks, “Do you want to come to my house?”

“We can ask your dad.” He’s surprised how easily it rolls off his tongue. Maybe it’s a memory. Maybe if he thinks hard enough, he can remember what it felt like to hold Lucy when she was a newborn, and he can imagine it easily enough. Maybe-

“Well,” Lucy says, making grabby hands towards where Anders is returning with her cup, “I’m almost four.”

“Almost four huh?” Charlie laughs and pulls out Matt's chair for him next to where he’s sitting. “So you don’t need dad’s permission anymore, is that it?”

“You are not almost four,” Anders gives a knowing look to Charlie, like he would be able to remember that. “You’re three and a half. And what do we need dad’s permission for?”

Lucy’s mouth is already full, and Charlie leans forward to see what she’s got. The whole cup is full of bursting tapioca pearls with maybe one spoonful of frozen yogurt in the bottom.

“I’ve been invited over to your house,” Charlie answers for her, and smiles up at Matt as he sets his cup on the table in front of him and sits down. It’s cake batter with oreo pieces, he knows before he even puts it in his mouth. Matt has the same except with cookie dough pieces. “Which was very nice,” he adds, waving his spoon at Lucy. She giggles and squishes her face into Anders’ arm.

“As her godfather, you have a standing invitation to come over anytime,” Anders says, glancing over to Matt for approval, as if he’d said too much. “Just a reminder.”

Shit. Godfather? Does that mean he has like… duties? He looks over at Lucy who is busy slurping up more of her weird tapioca stuff. He hopes he’s done a good job, doing whatever a godfather is supposed to do.

“Hey,” Anders chuckles nervously after seeing the concern on his face, “Don’t hurt yourself man, it’s good. You didn’t embarrass me at her baptism, so you’re golden.”

Charlie is so glad to see him, but things feel out of his control. He can’t help the passage of time, can’t help anything that he may have done or said in the past years that he doesn't remember. He knows it’s been a while since Anders has seen him anyway, and on top of that, he doesn’t even remember that he’s the godfather of his only child. Anders doesn’t hold that against him, though, and Lucy acts like she couldn’t be more happy to be chilling there with them.

Of course Matt is his saving grace, like he is every day, filling in the awkward gaps in conversation and politely interjecting information where Charlie needs it. Halfway through their visit, Lucy leaves her seat and comes to perch on Matt’s leg. She’s comfortable around him, certainly, but she stares up at Charlie the whole time, enraptured by his every move.

Lucy gets wiggly and tired not too much longer after they finish their yogurt, but they all swear to get together again soon. Charlie makes a very solemn pinky promise to Lucy that he will come over within the month.

“Mac,” Anders grabs him before they part ways. “Hey. Text me anytime, okay?”

“Yeah okay,” Charlie says, and he smiles. “I will.”

________________________________________

“I’m sorry if that was a lot,” Matt sighs, dropping his car keys on the counter when they get back into the house. “It’s hard to know how to-”

Charlie takes Matt’s hand, squeezes it once. “It was good. I was glad to see Anders again, and see Lucy. It was…” How can he explain this? “Sometimes, I feel like things are right on the tip of my tongue. Like, maybe, somehow I’m close?”

Matt looks lost, but he squeezes Charlie’s hand back, willing him to go on.

 

“Close to remembering, I mean. But I don’t know if it’s just things I want to remember, so I’m imagining them, or if it’s real.” He has the sudden desire to hug Matt, and it comes in so swift and strong that it burns through him. “I want it to be real.”

“You’re alright,” Matt says, and he reaches out to put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder, but it’s entirely not enough. “You’re doing good. You’re not supposed to strain your mind- why don’t you… why don’t you sit down on the couch for a little bit, and we’ll watch a show.”

Charlie would have argued except for that it seems like Matt is going to sit and watch with him, which, okay. He allows himself to be led to the living room, and scoots in close to Matt while he rapidly clicks through unfamiliar menus on their TV, eventually settling on something about undercover gangsters. They’re mid-season, and Charlie can’t follow the plot, but it’s nice to have some background noise while they rest together. Matt yawns, his jaw cracking.

He knows that Matt is going to fall asleep on the couch again, and that this is something he does often. It comes to him stronger than an instinct. It doesn’t take long.

Matt begins snoring softly, and Charlie peels himself away, being careful not to wake him.

Yeah, he’d just gotten the speech about not straining his mind, but there was one room in their house that Matt hadn’t shown him, one room that the door stayed shut. Every hockey player in the world had a room like this. And now, he feels like it’s time that he saw his own. The trophy room.

Charlie pushes the door open slowly, mentally bracing himself for whatever might be inside. Or might not, he supposes.

There are framed photos and jerseys all along the walls. Their BU jerseys hang next to each other, with a picture of them on the ice beneath. Matt had seemed so old and wise to him then, already technically a Bruin before he’d even gotten into the NTDP. Charlie was always following him around, Matt used to joke, and it was true. He’d always been two steps behind him. They used to be chubby cheeked children, and now look at them.

There’s a huge painted canvas with Matt in different hockey scenes, one of those big paintings they give to players at milestone events. He’d have to ask Matt what this one was for.

A few other things rest in shadow boxes, pucks with dates and inscriptions. A few stacks of three, which feels unreal.

Olympic medals hang from hooks as a centerpiece in the room, and the sight of them makes his heart skip. He can’t- he isn’t sure- He’d have to come back to that in a minute.

A team photo is near the jerseys- or, on second glance, it isn’t a team photo at all. He and Matt stand in the middle, both dressed in black, and the surrounding group is a mix of teammates all making crazy faces, pointing or shouting. Jake is lying horizontally in front of the group, red in the face with his mouth open. It takes Charlie longer than it should have to realize that this is a picture from their wedding.

He’s not sure why he initially envisioned some kind of quiet ceremony far away, maybe with a friend or two there, but seeing the reality makes his brain swirl. Their closest friends, all there- it’s more than he could have ever asked for.

There’s an ache behind his ribs as he looks through the rest of the room, but it’s not painful.

“Can’t even take a nap around here, huh?” Matt says gently. He’s quiet coming in, Charlie didn’t hear him enter the room. He steps behind where Charlie is still staring and pushes up on his toes, hooking his chin on Charlie’s shoulder. “You okay?” he murmurs, wrapping his arms around Charlie’s waist.

Is he okay?

Time seems compressed around him, like the corners of his life have folded and met right here, in this moment. There are truths, and they stand out against the noise clearer than anything.

“We have a good life, huh.” That’s one truth.

Matt looks overwhelmed. “Yeah, we really do.”

“I love you,” he says, and that’s another truth. “I have loved you for a long time, I can feel it.”

Matt stills. “You don’t have to say that just because-”

“No,” Charlie says, turning to face him, holding Matt’s face in his hands. “I don’t have to. It’s not new, it was in me,” he can’t believe he gets to have this, that he gets to feel this much. “I can’t help it.”

“I love you too,” Matt says, and kisses him, once, soft. It feels like everything, like their first kiss, and it feels like they’ve done it a hundred thousand times. “It’s why I married you.”

Charlie kisses him again, and takes his time with it.

His second time kissing Matt. Or his hundred thousand and second time.

________________________________________

Matt is sitting on the edge of the tub, watching Charlie brush his teeth. He’s waiting, calm, but there’s an intensity in the air. Charlie loves the way Matt’s perched there, hunched over a little, his stomach soft and folded. He’s only wearing boxers, old ones that are soft and thin. Charlie wants to touch him, wants to relearn everything about his body. The thought of it turns him on so fast it makes him lightheaded.

“You’re coming to bed with me,” Charlie says after he spits into the sink, and he means it to be more of a question than it is.

“If you want me there,” Matt says as though he doesn’t mind either way, and Charlie knows that tone of voice is deceptive. “Then yes.”

“I want you,” and his throat dries up. “Yeah.”

He finishes up in the bathroom while Matt disappears, and he takes some deep breaths in the mirror. Hopefully he still has some instincts left when it comes to this.

When he walks into their bedroom, Matt looks almost the same way he did that very first morning he woke up without his memories, burrowed down deep in the covers, the sheet up to his chin. From the foot of the bed, he can only see his hair sticking up, and it looks soft against the pillow.

Charlie comes to sit on the edge of the bed. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Matt says, looking sly. He’s flushed, and flips the cover so that he’s exposed down to the navel.

Charlie blows out a slow breath and climbs in the bed. It’s easy from there to settle in above Matt. They kiss, slow and easy at first, getting used to the feeling of their lips meeting and parting again. Then Matt wraps his legs around Charlie’s waist, and the last of Charlie’s self control dissipates. He deepens their kiss, and it feels perfect.

Matt knows exactly how to kiss him.

His hands wander over Matt’s chest, running over the caps of his shoulders and down his stomach. There’s a new scar on his neck, and Charlie traces the line of it with his tongue. It must be doing it for Matt, who rolls his hips when Charlie’s fingers dip underneath the waistband of his boxers. Charlie gasps when he feels Matt hard against him, and pulls away to hang his head and take a few shuddering breaths.

“You okay?” He feels Matt’s hand touch his cheek.

“It’s just a lot,” he replies, pressing his lips to Matt’s palm. “Feels like,” he shrugs.

Matt squirms underneath him. “Feels like what?”

Charlie suddenly has a sense of clarity when he can name the emotion, but he ducks down to nip at Matt’s collarbone to confess it. “Feels like this is my first time.” He kisses along Matt’s tattoo, reveling in the way the muscles jump underneath his lips.

“Well-” Matt’s voice breaks off when Charlie kisses over a nipple, “You were my first, so.”

“Oh my god,” and the knowledge goes straight to his dick. He palms himself through his briefs. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” he lifts his hips up so that Charlie can pull off his underwear. “Very serious.”

Charlie drags his fingertips up the inside of Matt’s thighs and watches him shudder. “Was it good?”

Matt laughs like the question is funny until Charlie scoots down the bed so that his cheek is resting on Matt’s hipbone, his hot damp breath against his dick, and all of a sudden things aren’t very funny anymore. “Yeah, it was good,” he sighs. “I wanted you so much.”

“You should tell me about it,” Charlie whispers, and takes the head of Matt’s dick into his mouth. He keeps his tongue and lips wet and soft, just the way Matt likes it.

Instincts.

Matt makes a strained sound and reaches down to put his hand in Charlie’s hair. “Uh, we were, uh. It was bye week, and I’d had feelings for you for a while. And-” He groans, and Charlie can feel him strain to not buck up against him. Perfect.

“We were supposed to go on a trip with Jake and someone else, I can’t remember now. But last minute, they backed out, and we decided to go, just us two.”

Charlie stills and looks up at him, waiting for him to go on.

“Seriously?” Matt says, throwing his head back when he realizes Charlie’s game, that he’ll keep going only as long as Matt is talking. “Okay, so when we got there, it was just us and this beautiful beach, and it was easy to talk about things, talk things out, and then- Fuck, Charlie,” Matt gasps when Charlie gets him just right. He’s getting close. “And on the last day, we went back to the hotel room, and it was the middle of the afternoon. And-” he breathes like he’s just finished a shift on the ice.

Charlie pulls off for a moment, just to wipe his mouth before settling back in.

“I closed the curtains, shit, Charlie,” He’s shuddering now, these fine tremors that Charlie can feel in his thighs. “And then you fucked me.”

Charlie groans around his dick. Something about the way Matt says it makes his head swim with arousal.

“You were gentle, probably more gentle than I wanted at the time but,” he puts his other hand at the nape of Charlie’s neck, “It was so good,” Matt gasps and pulls up on Charlie’s hair.

He’s been laying there so sweetly, letting Charlie have his way with him, but now he pushes at Charlie’s broad shoulder, flipping them over. Charlie lets himself go easy, happy to be manhandled.

“You always make me feel-” Matt’s voice trails off, and he puts his palm against Charlie’s sternum from where he’s straddling his thighs. His gaze is intense, full and honest.

Matt cups him through his briefs, his touch a little rough. There’s a wet spot, the fabric dark and soaked through. Charlie sucks in air through his teeth as Matt slides his briefs down his legs. He leans over to the bedside table and comes back with his hand slicked up.

The first touch is devastating- he was already so worked up, and now Matt knows exactly what he needs, his grip just on the right side of tight.

“That’s right baby,” Matt says, looking down at where Charlie’s whining underneath him, chest heaving. “That feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Holy fuck, he’s not going to last. “Feels s’good.” It’s just the way he likes it, Matt bringing his fingers up over the crown. “Yeah.”

“Look at me,” Matt commands when Charlie closes his eyes against the pleasure. His gaze is intense, Charlie can barely stand it. Matt jerks another thin sound out of him, completely involuntary. “Yeah, you love it.”

Charlie nods, and he wants to come so badly it’s absorbed every other thing in his mind.

“Nobody knows you better than I do,” he leans down to Charlie’s ear, “nobody knows your body better than I do, nobody else can make you feel this good.”

His blood is boiling, buzzing underneath his skin.

“And you,” Matt continues, devastatingly, “fuck, Charlie. You-” He leans down to kiss him like he can’t help it, and Charlie moans into his mouth. “You always- after all the time, every day I want you so much.”

Everything is so good, he can’t focus on anything but-

“Come on, Charlie, there you go,” and that’s all it takes for him to come all over Matt’s hand.

Matt follows soon after, and once he settles beside him again, Charlie’s asleep between one breath and the next.

________________________________________

Charlie wakes up early the next morning, gentle and slow. Matt’s already awake, blinking at him when Charlie opens his eyes, and it’s so sweet and good to have his warm bare skin touching him underneath the sheet.

“How’s your head?” Matt asks tentatively, his voice sleep rough.

Is he really- Shit, that’s funny. “I didn’t get my memories back from having sex with you, sorry.”

“I don’t know,” Matt giggles. “Pretty sure I remember you saying I was a wizard at some point, you know, like, in bed.”

“No waaaay.” Surely not. That’s like, big time dorky. He presses soft kisses to Matt’s forehead. “I said that?”

They’re warm against each other, and Matt wiggles in close to be wrapped up in Charlie’s arms. “Yeah, you did, once. And I’d tell you all about it, but you’d probably get worked up, ‘cause it’s a good story. And-”

“You need to get up, I know,” Charlie smiles into Matt’s hair. “But you should tell me later.”

Matt hums, happy. “Yeah, okay.” He squishes his face into Charlie’s chest. “How do you feel though, really.”

It’s nice. It’s really nice to be here. To be snuggled under the covers with Matt, to be able to touch him, feel the strength under his skin even when he’s half-asleep. It’s nice to be here, in this moment in time, to know that this is his life and he can have it tomorrow, too. He feels strengthened; saturated. Like things are clear again, but he’s not sure what it is that he has clarity on. He barely knows what his plans are for the day. But he’s not afraid of it, because-

“I feel real.”

________________________________________

The days start to pass quickly.

Charlie talks to the Bruins staff about getting hired on as a scout, and it goes well. Matt is a great cook, and Charlie quickly grows to love domestic life. He’s getting good at avoiding thinking too much about the missing pieces. He learns most of the missing stuff anyway, and although he doesn’t have the memory, he can recall the facts well enough to get along in conversations.

One of the best things that happens is spending time with Jake. Seeing Jake again is a relief, more so that he thought it would be. He appears at their front door on a free afternoon, looking just as much Jake as he did seven years ago. In fact, Charlie thinks the years did him some favors. He is missing an exceptional amount of teeth, though.

Jake flings himself into Charlie’s arms, screaming, “Dude!!”

Charlie can’t speak, he’s laughing so hard.

They eat together, and it’s probably the rowdiest that Charlie’s felt since he doesn’t know when. Jake always brings out that side of him.

Matt and Jake take turns telling stupid stories, reminiscing on old times to include Charlie.

“You know Jake always comes in clutch. Like- the shoes. You remember the shoes,” Charlie laughs, smiling at Matt. “You’ll always be a legend for that.” The wine he’s drinking is making him feel fizzy and warm, and also like he wants to kick Jake out and take Matt to bed.

Matt laughs too, but his eyebrows are drawn together. “What shoes?” he asks, setting his glass down.

“You know, when Jake had to give me his shoes, because I forgot mine,” Charlie says.

Jake stills where he’s sitting at the head of the table. “And I had to stand there in socks.”

“When- Charlie, the shoes?” Matt does a double take, and then looks like he might cry. He turns to Jake. “When-”

You,” Jake points accusingly at Charlie, “made me swear that I wouldn’t tell anyone, and I did swear,” Jake says. His face is pinched, and Charlie hates to see him look that serious. “Because it was your wedding, and it would be embarrassing to lose your dress shoes right before your own wedding.”

Matt pales. “I thought that-”

“Yeah,” Charlie nods. “I lost my shoes. Right before our wedding. Seriously, I couldn't find them anywhere. So I made Jake give me his shoes.”

“Oh my god,” Matt whispers. “My whole family asked me about my groomsman who was only wearing socks, and I chirped you about that shit for years,” he says, incredulous.

“And it was your own husband’s fault!” Jake says, vindicated at last.

There’s a beat of silence as Jake catches up to what’s happening, and he looks back and forth between Matt and Charlie.

“I remembered that,” Charlie says. He takes a deep breath, and- yeah. This is real.

“Oh my god,” Matt repeats. His hands are shaking. “You-”

“I swear we haven’t talked about it since the wedding,” Jake confirms, looking overwhelmed. “So-”

Charlie doesn’t want to cry in front of Jake, but his eyes are feeling dangerously hot. “I remembered that.”

He waits for the earth to shake, for the foundation of the house to crumble beneath his feet. Or for his mind to open, for a flood of light to pour in and knock him out cold. For a moment of higher understanding, a vision of his true purpose in life. He’s waiting for it, but it never comes.

At the kitchen table with his husband and his best friend, he feels-

It’s different from being happy. It feels like peace, like a buzzy joy deep inside that rests at the bottom of his heart. There’s nothing particularly special about this moment, nothing that would ever be written down in any important record of history.

And yet. And yet.

It’s in this moment. He knows.

“The curse is broken,” Charlie whispers.