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i wonder if you'd take it slow

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Leon’s flight from St. Louis gets in late, and he’s bone-tired when he collapses onto his couch. The cleaning service had clearly been in, and it makes Leon feel less like he’s arrived in an empty house. He twists around with a groan until he’s staring up at the ceiling and fishes out his phone. There’s texts from his dad, his sister, and a few in the team group chat touching base on who’s back in town already. Leon probably could have gotten away for a few days after the All Star Game, but he’d had no one to go with and he decided that he’d rather be alone in his own space.

He’s scrolling through Twitter mindlessly when he comes across an NBCSports tweet with a video interview with Tkachuk. He almost scrolls past until he sees his name in the headline. He feels vaguely bad about the comments he had made about getting off the ice if Tkachuk was there, but if Tkachuk is saying shitty things back it’ll make him feel less guilty. He clicks on the link, groans at the fact that the video is ten minutes long, but he doesn’t have anything better to do so he settles in. The video meanders through conversations about Tkachuk’s father, his brother, being in St. Louis for the All Star Game, and players he looked up to growing up. He smirks and rolls his eyes at Tkachuk talking about Kane being the greatest American hockey player because of course the American Tkachuk is a Kaner fan.

He gives the video his full attention when Tkachuk starts talking about Davo, smirking as he calls him ‘the best player in the world.’ Leon wonders how much it pained Tkachuk to admit that.

“Uh, he has a teammate named Leon Draisaitl, who apparently isn’t thrilled about having to go on the ice with you.” The interviewer starts, and Leon’s eyes are stuck on Tkachuk’s face. He feels something uncomfortable in his gut because Tkachuk looks….sad? Leon isn’t sure that’s the right word, but he definitely doesn’t look angry or annoyed like Leon would expect. “How do you feel about playing with Draisaitl?”

Leon expects a snarky, asshat response from Tkachuk. Instead, he listens to Tkachuk over footage of himself playing with his mouth open in shock.

“I think he’s a great player.” Tkachuk tells the interviewer. “I think he’s, uh, having a great year. I think both of them together is a really great one-two punch, but as for the other question I probably can’t answer that, though, he’ll get mad at me.”

The conversation moves on after that, and Leon pauses the video and copies the link. He drops it into his conversation with Davo.

 

Leon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeA1-tl3Y_M have you seen this?

Davo

Yeah. He’s not a bad guy.

Leon

of course you think that he thinks you’re the best player in the world

Davo

We skated together last year. I think he’s misunderstood. He’s not always who he is on the ice.

What you said was kind of shitty and he didn’t give it back to you.

Leon

yeah

 

Leon mulls over what Davo told him, and what he’s seen in his interactions with Tkachuk. He’s an asshole, a pest no doubt, but he thinks about the goal they scored together during the ASG. Thinks about the small smile on Tkachuk’s face after Leon yelled ‘fuck you’ toward him. Leon hadn’t thought about it at the time, but looking back it seemed almost like good-natured teammate chirping.

Leon doesn’t think about it again for a few days, caught up in preparing for the return from the All Star break. They’re playing Calgary, though, which means that eventually Tkachuk is back in his thoughts. He thinks about the interview, about his own comments, about Davo’s assertion that Tkachuk isn’t as bad as he seems. The Battle of Alberta is always chippy, but maybe…maybe Leon could be the bigger man here. He’s waiting for Connor to finish his post-morning skate shower, flipping between apps, when he finally decides fuck it and opens up Instagram. He finds Tkachuk’s account easily enough, and opens up a DM to him.

 

@drat_29

hey. sorry about what I said about not getting on the ice with you. didn't mean it. this rivalry is really stupid  

 

Tkachuk doesn’t respond, probably busy preparing for his own team’s skate – or he’s being the asshole Leon suspects he is and is leaving him on read. He’s just wrapping up lunch with Connor when he gets a response.

 

@matthew_tkachuk

no worries, it’s cool

 

Okay, he thinks. I can do this. I can be friendly with Tkachuk.

 

@drat_29

we could grab dinner after the game?

 

He sets his phone aside and focuses on his lunch, but Leon’s pulled out of his thoughts by Connor falling over in his chair laughing while staring at his phone.

“What?” He asks, and Connor shakes his head.

“Is there a reason Matthew Tkachuk just texted me and asked if you’re plotting his murder?”

“I, uh…” Leon scratches the back of his neck. “I invited him to dinner?”

“Why?” Connor’s got his judgmental stare down and Leon wants to squirm underneath it.

“That video. I mean…maybe we don’t have to hate each other? Just because of a team rivalry?”

“How very mature of you.” Leon scowls and tosses a napkin in Connor’s direction.

“Shut up.” He grumbles.

“No, seriously, I think it’s good. Like I said, we skated together a bit in the offseason last year, he’s not a bad guy.”

“Hmm.” Leon replies noncommittally, and finishes his lunch.

The game is just as chippy as Leon had been afraid of, and he and Tkachuk get sent to the box for slashing each other. Leon seriously considers giving up on the whole ‘learn to tolerate each other’ thing in favor of punching Tkachuk in the face, but Davo had seemed so proud and there was nothing in the world Leon hated more than Connor McDavid’s Disappointed Captain face.

They lose in a shootout, and the only comfort Leon gets is the knowledge that Tkachuk missed his shot, too. The locker room is subdued – they’re too far into the season to be dropping stupid games like this one. They’re playing the Blues in two days, and Davo gives an approximation of a pep talk, and Leon drops a hand on Smithy’s shoulder on his way toward the showers.

Leon lets his foul mood fester under the heat of the shower, his frustration at his own performance and his team’s and the fucking Flames, and Matthew Tkachuk. The locker room is mostly empty by the time he’s throwing his suit back on, and there’s no notifications on his phone. Maybe Tkachuk will bail and they can scrap this whole stupid plan altogether. Connor’s still wrapping up, and Leon waves at him as he heads for the door. He almost misses him, leaning against the wall across from the door and obviously trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. He’s staring down at his phone, but Leon would recognize those riotous curls anywhere.

“Tkachuk.” Leon’s voice is flat, even to his own ears, and Tkachuk’s head pops up to stare at him.

“Hey,” he greets, pushing off from the wall.

“Uh…” Leon starts, then stops.

“Are we, uh…are we still…on?” Tkachuk sounds wary, unsure, and it makes Leon momentarily defensive before he deflates.

“Yeah, sure.” He gestures down the hall and Tkachuk falls into step beside him. It’s quiet between them, a little tense, but not as awkward as Leon would have thought it would be. Tkachuk’s brow furrows when Leon turns away from the parking garage and heads for the exit, but he seems to decide that it’s not worth questioning.

The area around the arena’s mostly emptied out, and no one seems to recognize them as they head down the street. It’s cold, because Canada, but not so much that it’s unbearable. Leon looks over to check on Tkachuk, who also seems comfortable. He looks back at Leon before Leon can look away and offers him a small smile that Leon returns.

“Where are we going?” Tkachuk finally asks. “Getting me far enough away from the arena to hide the body?”

“The arena would be the perfect place to hide a body. Plenty of dark hidden corners no one ever bothers to check.”

Tkachuk stares at him for a long moment before chuckling and shaking his head.

“There’s a diner I like a couple of blocks from here.” Leon supplies, and Tkachuk nods.

“Nutritionist-approved, of course.”

“Of course.”

They’re silent the rest of the way to Magda’s, but it’s not exactly uncomfortable. When they enter, his favorite waitress smiles and waves him over to his usual booth. The menu is a strange mix of diner fare and traditional German food, and Leon can tell when Tkachuk figures out why he likes this place so much.

“Shut up,” Leon grumbles, though he knows he has a smile on his face.

“I said nothing,” Tkachuk argues. Rosie comes over and takes their orders, and Leon can feel Tkachuk grow tense, watches as he fiddles with the napkin in his hands.

“I wanted to apologize,” Leon tells him, and Tkachuk freezes. “For what I said, before the All Star Game.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t mean it, not really. I just…got caught up in the rivalry, I guess.” Leon shrugs. “I wouldn’t actually get off of the ice.”

“Obviously.” Tkachuk’s lips curve into a smirk. “We scored a goal together, after all.”

“Ugh.” Leon chuckles, leaning back into the booth. “Don’t remind me.”

“It’s cool, though. I get why you said it.”

“No, it was…it was rude. Just because our teams hate each other doesn’t mean I have to be a dick about it.”

Tkachuk stares at him for a long moment, and Leon finds himself staring down at his glass.

“Sorry for slashing you,” he finally says. “While we’re apologizing and shit.”

“I did it to you too.” Leon shrugs.

“Maybe you’re the pest,” Tkachuk muses, and Leon rolls his eyes.

“Sure.”

Rosie brings them their food soon after, and Leon’s momentarily distracted by Tkachuk’s reaction to the Sauerbraten with Klöße.

“This is amazing, holy crap.”

“This is the closest thing I’ve found to authentic German food since I got to Edmonton,” Leon tells him. “Rosie’s grandmother came here after the war and brought all of her recipes with her.”

“God bless Rosie’s grandma,” Tkachuk says before stuffing his face again, and Leon honest to god smiles.

It’s late by the time Leon pays the bill, has to be getting close to Tkachuk’s curfew, but Leon’s surprised to find that he’s not itching to leave the other man. He hates to admit it, but Connor was right. Tkachuk’s not so bad off the ice – funny, even, in his own way. They walk back to the arena side by side, silent and content and full of good food.

“I can give you a ride back to the hotel?” Leon offers once they reach the players’ garage.

“Nah, that’s okay. I’ve already called an uber.”

“This was…nice.” Leon finally settles on, and Tkachuk nods.

“Yeah, thanks. You’re not so bad to hang out with.”

“Sure, Tkachuk.” Leon rolls his eyes, but smiles.

“If we’re going to be friends, I think you should call me by my name.”

“Matthew?” He asks, which sounds weird on his tongue.

“Sure.” Tka-Matthew shrugs. “Or Matty, Matt. I’ll answer to anything.”

“Leon,” he replies as what he assumes is Matthew’s uber pulls up.

“Maybe we should, uh, exchange numbers?” Matthew suddenly seems unsure in a way that Leon’s never seen on the ice. Leon holds out a hand and gestures for Matthew’s phone. Matthew’s shoulders sag a bit, and Leon bites his lip as he enters his number into Matthew’s phone and hands it back to him.

“Thanks,” Matthew says as he wanders toward the waiting car. “I guess I’ll see you in a few days?”

“Yeah, we’re going to wipe the floor with your team.”

“Sure, sure,” Matthew chuckles. “See ya, Leon.”

“Bye,” Leon replies, waving as Matthew climbs into the uber and drives away.

 

 

Matthew doesn’t text him, but two days later the team is flying to Calgary, so Leon knows this will be the test of their newfound truce. It’s early in the morning when they land, and they go straight to the arena for morning skate. It’s grueling, but Leon feels that familiar, comforting burn in his muscles when he gets off the ice, and he knows that he’s ready for tonight.

“You want to grab some lunch?” he asks Connor as they throw on their street clothes.

“Can’t, I’m having lunch with Matty and Johnny.”

“Oh.”

“You can come with? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. You and Matty are friends now, right?”

“I don’t know if friends is the right word,” Leon replies, following him out of the locker room. “More like ‘mutually agreed to not kill each other on the ice’?”

“You took him to Magda’s.” Connor rolls his eyes. “You only take people you like there.”

Leon wants to argue, but he’s right. He can count on one hand the number of people he’s taken to Magda’s, and they all were people he genuinely liked. He chooses, instead, to not investigate that too deeply and simply gets into the uber with Connor.

They pull up in front of a small sandwich shop, and Leon recognizes Matthew’s curls immediately. Connor waves when they get out, and Johnny and Matthew wave back. It’s odd, to think that he and Connor are having lunch with two Flames, as if that’s something normal that happens every day.

“Stop looking so constipated,” Connor mumbles, elbowing him in the side.

“Whatever, hockey robot.” Leon snaps back.

“What’s up, McJesus?” Johnny greets, holding up a fist for the Oilers captain to bump. Leon watches as Connor rolls his eyes but returns the gesture. He then looks over to find Matthew already smiling at him, something small and quiet.

“Hey, Matthew,” he greets.

“Leon,” Matthew replies. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Connor invited me,” he replies, and Matthew nods. They fall into step together behind Connor and Johnny. They order their sandwiches, and Leon somehow ends up pressed next to Matthew on one side of the booth.

“You never texted me,” Leon tells him quietly once Connor and Johnny are lost in conversation. Matthew shrugs and stares down at the table.

“Wasn’t sure if you wanted me to.”

“I wouldn’t have given you my number if I didn’t.”

“Right.” Leon looks over and finds that Matthew’s cheeks are pink. Leon has the strange urge to reach out and poke Matthew’s cheek with his finger. “Sorry.”

“You just didn’t want to be reminded that we’re going to destroy you tonight.”

“I’m sorry, who lost the last game literally two days ago?” Matthew grins, mischievous, and Leon bumps his leg into Matthew’s.

“A fluke, Tkachuk.”

“You wish.”

“Gonna make you eat those words.”

“Can’t wait to see you try.”

Leon smiles into his sandwich, and he can see Matthew doing the same out of the corner of his eye. It feels oddly comfortable, like two friends chirping each other, like he and Matthew are friends and not former mortal enemies in an uneasy truce. He looks down at the table when his phone lights up, a text from his agent that he swipes away.

“Is that your dog?” Matthew asks, grabbing his phone to look at the lockscreen.

“Yeah, that’s Bowie.”

“Holy shit, he’s cute.” Matthew says, clutching the phone. “I miss having a dog.”

“You could get one?” Leon suggests, but Matthew shakes his head.

“Nah, I’m gone too much. It wouldn’t be fair, staying cooped up in my apartment all the time all alone.”

“My ex and I got him together, but I kept him. I’ve got a big yard, though, and a dogsitter.”

“Hmm.” Matthew hands him his phone back. “We had a dog when I was growing up, Buddy. He was the best.”

“Big dog?”

“Yeah, a lab. Your dog’s cute and all, but big dogs are where it’s at.” Connor looks up from his conversation with Johnny at that to nod in agreement. Leon rolls his eyes and takes a bite of his sandwich.

“You all are just jealous that I have the most perfect dog in existence.”

Matthew snorts at that, but shrugs.

“He is pretty cute.”

“I’ll tell him you said that.”

When Leon looks over at Matthew, he’s looking back at Leon with a smile.

 

 

The game is even worse than that last one, and Leon didn’t think that was possible. They’re up six to three near the end of the second, Connor’s on hatty watch, and Leon’s got three assists, but the Flames are pissed and not afraid to show it. It all comes to blows with twenty seconds left in the second as a line brawl erupts near the Calgary goal. Leon’s not on the ice, but he watches as the Flames start throwing punches. It’s chaos, and Leon rolls his eyes when he sees Matthew jumping into the thick of things because of course he is.

The linesmen manage to pull them apart, but then Leon sees Matthew and Bear start to go at it. Connor nudges him and points out where Smithy is skating up to center ice.

“Oh, Jesus,” he mutters, and Connor nods as Talbot skates up and the goalies start to go at it. It takes a minute for the refs to get everything under control, and then they call off the rest of the period and send both teams to the locker rooms. Leon looks over as Matthew is getting off the ice, and he shoots Leon a shit-eating grin that Leon absolutely refuses to find amusing or endearing.

The game’s almost as chippy in the third, and Leon can see the unhappy scowl on Matthew’s face when he gives up a goal on a penalty shot. The game ends 8-3 for Edmonton, and the locker room is flying high on the win and raucous energy from the fights.

“We’re going out!” Darnell proclaims, and Leon’s not sure how great of an idea going out in Calgary after beating their team so soundly is, but he doesn’t say anything.

“You in?” Connor asks, and Leon shakes his head.

“No, I’ve got plans.” He doesn’t elaborate, and Connor studies him for a long moment before moving on. He’s not actually sure at this point if he has plans. Matthew had texted him before the game, asking if he wanted to hang out, but now he’s wondering how much Matthew wants to see his face after that game. Still, he puts his suit back on and wanders the halls of the Saddledome until he finds the home locker room.

“Draisaitl?” Leon looks up to find Giordano staring at him, one eyebrow raised. “Are you lost?”

“Um…Waiting for Tkachuk?” He doesn’t mean for it to come out like a question, but it does. Giordano doesn’t look impressed, nor does it seem like he’s going to move any time soon, until Johnny appears behind him and slaps a hand on his shoulder.

“Chucky and Drai are besties, didn’t you know that?”

“Since when?”

“All Stars, didn’t you see that sweet goal of theirs?”

“Go away, Johnny.” Matthew comes through the door, eyes on Leon. “It’s cool, Gio.”

“Okay.” Giordano doesn’t seem convinced, but he lets Johnny steer him away.

“Have fun, boys!”

Leon watches them leave, and when he turns back to Matthew he’s got something like a soft smile on his face as he looks back at Leon.

“Did you still want to?” Leon asks. “I wasn’t sure, after…”

“Yeah, ‘course.” Matthew shrugs. He gestures toward the exit and Leon follows.

“I thought we could hang out at my place? Not really feeling up to crowds.”

“Sure,” Leon agrees, and Matthew’s shoulders sag with relief. “You going to cook for me? Not sure I’m up for getting poisoned.”

“I can cook!” Matthew acts affronted, and Leon chuckles. Matthew unlocks his car and gestures for Leon to get in. It’s an Audi sedan, less flashy than Leon had expected, and Matthew rolls his eyes when he makes a comment to that effect.

“What did you expect, a tiny red sportscar like Malkin?”

“Maybe.” Leon shrugs.

Matthew ignores him in favor of pulling out onto the streets of Calgary. The radio plays a news report about the coronavirus currently spreading around the world. Leon half-listens until Matthew fiddles with the controls and switches over to his Spotify.

“The boys going out to celebrate?” Matthew asks finally.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You didn’t want to go with them?”

“Nah.” Leon shrugs. “Celebrating in Calgary when you’re an Oiler? Asking for trouble.”

Matthew smiles at that, and Leon studies his profile in the dark car. He’s got a nasty bruise forming on his cheek from his fight with Bear, and Leon has the strangest urge to reach out and touch it. He refrains, turning instead to watch the streets of Edmonton.

Matthew’s apartment is spacious, modern, and clearly decorated by a professional. Leon can see little personal touches here and there – mismatched photo frames, a worn blanket across the back of the couch, gaming system and games in a mess under the television.

“Chicken and pasta okay?” Matthew asks, and Leon hums his assent as Matthew wanders toward the kitchen. He lingers near the table by the front door, staring down at the pictures. He recognizes Brady Tkachuk, a few of the Flames players, Mitch Marner of all people in one, and a young girl Leon can only assume is Matthew’s sister is in most of them. He picks up one that looks to be from Matthew’s draft, Brady on one side and the girl on the other. Matthew looks young, happy, beaming with pride in his red Flames jersey.

“That’s Taryn.” Matthew sidles up beside him holding out a beer. Leon sets the picture down and takes the drink from his hands.

“Sister?” he asks, and Matthew nods. “Does she play?”

“Field hockey.”

“My sister wanted nothing to do with hockey. I think my dad was relieved.”

“Oh, my dad would never.” Matthew chuckles, something darker than what Leon’s heard before, and Leon follows him into the kitchen.

He sets up on the island and watches as Matthew moves around. He seems comfortable, here in his own space, in a way that Leon hasn’t really seen before. Leon shucks his jacket and rolls up the sleeves of his dress shirt to his elbows before moving to join Matthew where he’s seasoning the chicken.

“Can I help?”

“Chop the veggies?”

Leon nods and picks up the knife Matthew had set out. They work together silently, Leon chopping and peeling as Matthew sautes the meat and sets the water to boil. It’s nothing fancy, but Leon’s made enough chicken and pasta dishes when carb loading that he does it on autopilot. They work well together, though, moving around each other seamlessly. Whatever Matthew put on the chicken smells amazing, and by the time they’re sitting at the small table in the kitchen Leon’s stomach is growling.

“Do you fly back to Edmonton tomorrow?”

“Straight to Arizona from here, then back home.”

“Is Edmonton home now?”

“I guess so.” Leon shrugs. “It’s been so long since I lived in Germany. Cologne is more the place that I visit, where I’m from, not really home.”

“But your family is still there?”

“Yeah, my sister works for a production company there.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister before today,” Matthew says, and Leon smirks.

“I guess we don’t really know much about each other.” Matthew’s face does something unreadable and Leon takes another bite to distract himself.

“Is it just your sister?”

“Yeah. You have Brady and Taryn. Is that it?” Matthew nods. “Brady’s having a pretty good season. Lot of penalty minutes.”

Leon looks up just in time to see something like pride cross Matthew’s features, and Leon rolls his eyes.

“Well, we can’t all be perfect players who never do anything wrong ever.” It lacks venom, and Leon chuckles.

“Maybe Tkachuks are just pests. Was your dad like that?”

Matthew doesn’t reply, and when Leon looks at him he’s poking at his food. He waits, but Matthew never responds, and Leon files that away to think about later. He’s not sure why, but something about Matthew’s response to the subject of his father piques Leon’s interest.

Dinner is a little more awkward after that, but Matthew seems to recover quickly enough, and by the time Leon’s shrugging on his jacket and calling an uber, Matthew’s telling him a story about Taryn pranking Brady when they were kids by putting shaving cream in his sneakers.

“This was…nice,” Leon finally settles on as Matthew leads him to the front door. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” Matthew nods, chews on his bottom lip in a way that reminds Leon of the man’s affinity for chewing on his mouth guard. “Thanks for coming over.”

Leon’s not sure what he should say, so he settles for nodding and opening the door. “See you around, Matthew.”

 

 

Their flight to Phoenix is early the next morning, and Leon’s put the night before out of his mind until he gets a text from Matthew.

 

Matthew Tkachuk

Try not to let the Yotes crush y’all again

Leon

Fuck you

Matthew Tkachuk

🤷♂️

 

Matthew texting reminds Leon of Matthew’s reaction to his father being mentioned, and he opens up his search function and seeks out information on Matthew and his father as the plane takes off. He finds a plethora of interviews and videos, and he spends almost half of the flight studying the Tkachuks. At the end of it all, the only thing Leon can settle on is that if he was Keith Tkachuk’s son he probably wouldn’t speak to him. He seems nicer to Brady, overall, but is unfairly harsh and critical of Matthew. They have their differences, but Leon can’t imagine his dad ever telling an interviewer that his son has a ‘punchable face.’ It makes something dark and angry and uncomfortable swirl in his stomach, gives him a sense of being oddly protective of Matthew. He’s not sure how that makes him feel.

 

 

Leon almost assumes that will be the end of his tentative….friendship, or whatever, with Matthew. They buried the hatchet, they even shared a meal together (twice!). Leon expects that they’ll be friendly enough from here on out, whenever they play against each other or run into one another during NHL events. However, Leon’s surprised to find that Matt’s an avid texter, pretty entertaining even, and they keep up a steady stream of conversation as they get into the most intense part of the season.

They both share what they hear through the NHL rumor mill as news of the pandemic gets worse and worse. Leon thinks it’s inevitable that it will affect them, affect the season. They’re in the middle of a homestand when the NBA pauses their season, and Leon knows that it’s only a matter of time until the NHL does the same. Connor texts him before it’s officially announced, and then that’s it. While officially they’re only paused for two weeks, Connor admits that it’s probably going to be longer. And, just like that, their season is on hold for god knows how long.

Leon texts his sister, and then almost immediately his mother’s face comes up on his phone.

Hi, Mama.” He greets in German.

They’ve paused the season?”

Yes, hopefully we'll be able to start up again soon.”

This is going to get worse before it gets better, honey. Everything here is starting to shut down.”

It’s the same here.”

You should come home.” His mom sounds scared, and it makes Leon’s heart hurt because he wants to reassure her. And he does want to go home, be with his family.

It may only be a few weeks, Mama. I can’t leave.”

It’s not going to be a few weeks.”

Leon sighs and leans back against the back of the couch. “You don’t know that.”

It’s a pandemic, Leon.” His mother snaps. “What if you wait too long and then you can’t come home at all?”

I…” Leon rubs his eyes. “It’s my job, Mama. I can’t leave.”

She’s silent on the line for a long moment, before she finally sighs. “Okay. I know, I just…I worry. I want my children home with me.”

I know, Mama. I’ll try to come soon. Look, I have to work on some team stuff with Connor, but I’ll call you soon, okay?”

Okay. I love you. Your papa says hello.”

I love you too.” Leon hangs up.

He does a few things around the house for the next few hours, writing up a grocery list, working out in his home gym, anything to keep himself busy. If this is going to go on for weeks, he thinks, he’s probably going to go stir crazy in the house alone. Maybe he should go back to Germany, at least then this mother could keep him busy with chores.

He’s just stepping out of the bathroom, freshly showered, when he hears his phone buzzing on the nightstand. He leans down to see Matthew Tkachuk on the display requesting a video call, and he hesitates only for a moment before accepting the call.

The first thing he sees are Matt’s mass of curls as he apparently shuffles around before settling on his couch.

“Hey!” He greets, finally bringing his face into the frame.

“Hey, Matthew,” Leon responds, flopping down onto the bed. “What’s up?”

“Wanted to see what’s going on with you, with the pause and all.”

“Not sure.” Leon sighs. “My mother called earlier, she wants me to come back to Germany.”

“Yeah, my mom wants me to come to St. Louis.”

“Is Brady going?”

“Yeah, he already booked his flight for this weekend.”

“Are you going to go?” Matthew looks away from the screen, bites his lip, and Leon’s suddenly reminded of all of the articles about Keith Tkachuk.

“I don’t know,” Matthew finally settles on. “I don’t want to go back to the States and then get stuck there.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m not going back to Germany.”

“I also…” Matthew starts but drifts off. “I don’t want…”

“I get it,” Leon tells him, because he does. They don’t know how long things will be like this, and Leon only has his suspicions about Matthew’s family life, but he doesn’t think he’d want to be stuck in a house with Keith Tkachuk for weeks on end either.

“So you’re staying in Edmonton?” Matthew finally asks and Leon nods. “That’s cool.”

“You’re going to stay in Calgary?”

“Guess so. I’ll probably go nuts in this apartment, but yeah.”

“You could come up here.” The words leave Leon’s mouth before they’re even fully formed in his brain. Matthew stares at him through the screen, raising an eyebrow.

“Seriously?”

“Sure.” Leon shrugs, trying his best to appear nonchalant. They’re definitely not enemies anymore, but Leon doesn’t think they’re the kind of friends who ride out a pandemic together either. Still, he’s not totally averse to the idea of having someone around while he’s stuck at home, even if he’d never imagined it being Matthew Tkachuk. “If you want.”

Matthew chews on his lip for a long moment, staring at something in the distance. “Can I think about it?”

“Sure. Just let me know.”

“Okay. I’ll text you.”

“Cool.”

“Okay, bye.”

“Bye.” Leon replies and ends the call. He stares at it after the screen goes dark, wondering what, exactly, possessed him to invite Matthew to Edmonton.

When he doesn’t hear from Matthew again, Leon assumes that that’s the end of it. He sticks close to home, works out, and is already starting to feel stir crazy when his phone buzzes with a text from Matthew a few days later.

 

Matthew Tkachuk

does the offer still stand?

Leon

sure

Matthew Tkachuk

cool, I’ll head that way tomorrow, going crazy here

Leon

see you then

 

He hasn’t had guests in his house since his parents came to visit at the start of the season, so he trudges upstairs and works on the guest bedroom. The cleaning service keeps it tidy and dust free, but he’s not sure the last time the bedding was changed so he digs out new sheets and makes sure that there’s clean towels in the en suite bathroom. It makes him feel like an actual adult, and also gives him something to do aside from working out and binging Netflix. He also adds to his grocery order, knowing that he’s going to be feeding two hockey players instead of one.

Matthew arrives early the next afternoon, bags in hand as he walks past Leon and into the living room.

“Nice,” he proclaims, and Leon rolls his eyes and nudges him toward the stairs.

“Your room is the second door on the right, asshole.” Matthew grins back but disappears into the guest room while Leon heads down to the basement gym. It’s nothing elaborate – a treadmill, some weight machines, and a space for stretching, but it’s enough and Leon’s just finished warming up when he hears Matthew coming down the stairs. He collapses next to Leon on the mats and starts stretching. Leon tries not to watch, but Matthew’s surprisingly limber.

Leon had been planning on jogging on the treadmill, but instead he finds himself starting his favorite yoga poses. Matthew copies him, dropping into increasingly difficult positions with ease. When Leon catches the smirk on his face, he fights the urge to knock the competitive asshole over, and instead raises an eyebrow. Matthew’s smirk grows wider, and he twists himself into a position that Leon can only just barely match. It starts to feel like some demented version of Twister, but Leon is a professional athlete which means he’s not going to give up without a fight.

Still, when Matthew ends up in a pose where he’s basically standing on his head with one leg in the air and the other tucked underneath him, Leon collapses on the floor in a heap.

“Fuck,” he murmurs as he stares up at the ceiling. He watches out of the corner of his eye as Matthew unfolds himself and sits next to him.

“Namaste, bro,” he chirps, and Leon raises an arm to slap his shoulder.

“Shut the fuck up,” he tells him, but there’s no heat. He pushes himself off the mat and heads over to the treadmill. “Where did you even learn how to do that?”

“Taryn’s super into yoga; she always drags me with her when I’m home. And…I don’t know, I like it. It calms me, so I started going myself when I moved to Calgary.”

“If this is you calm, I’d hate to have seen you in juniors.”

“Whatever, dickface.” Matthew continues stretching, and Leon pretends like he’s not watching as he starts the treadmill.

They work out in silence, Leon on the treadmill while Matthew does what appears to be some mix between yoga and pilates. He stops to spot Leon when he moves to the weights, and Leon returns the favor. They work well together, smoother than Leon ever could have predicted. They’re both sweaty, disgusting messes when they’re done and trudge back upstairs to shower and change. Leon’s in the middle of throwing together lunch when Matthew re-appears in a Flames hoodie, his curls dripping.

“Don’t get water all over my floor.” Leon warns, but Matthew only grins and moves closer, shaking his hair like a dog until droplets land on Leon’s skin.

“What the hell, Tkachuk?” Leon snaps, and Matthew freezes. Leon doesn’t claim to know Matthew very well, but when he looks in his eyes Leon is sure that he sees panic. He looks like he’s scared, curling in on himself, and Leon has the sudden need to fix whatever’s wrong.

There’s a half-drunk water bottle on the counter, and Leon doesn’t think twice before grabbing it and squeezing, sending water flying into Matthew’s chest. Matthew stares down at the wet spot, then back up at Leon, and Leon doubles over at the look on his face.

“You asshole!” Matthew snaps, but when Leon looks up Matt’s smiling. Leon looks away as Matthew strips out of the wet hoodie. 

“You started it,” he points out, then hands a plate of quinoa and vegetables to him.

Leon

is it okay if I bring someone tomorrow

Davo

Sure. Who is it?

Leon

matthew tkachuk

Davo

Chucky’s in town?

Leon

yeah he’s staying with me

Davo

didn’t know you were friends like that

but sure bring him

“Davo wants to work out tomorrow,” Leon tells Matthew later that night, thumbing through his phone while Matthew tries to find something on Netflix. Bowie has joined them, ignoring Leon in favor of curling up in Matthew’s lap.

“Oh, okay. Have fun.”

Leon looks up from his phone to the side of Matthew’s head, and nudges him with his foot.

“You want to come?” he asks, and Matthew turns to look at him.

“Am I invited?”

“Sure. Didn’t you and Connor skate together last offseason?”

“Yeah, but that’s…I don’t want to interrupt, like, Oilers bonding time.”

“It’s just us and Nursey.” Matthew’s chewing his bottom lip, still looking unsure, and Leon sighs. “You should come.”

Matthew turns back to the TV, selects some dumb comedy, and relaxes into the couch. “Okay.”

 

 

They have to get up at a frankly obscene hour, because Connor really is a hockey robot for whom things like sleep mean little. Matthew grumbles his way through getting ready, taking a protein shake from Leon with a grunt of thanks and following him slowly out to the car.

“It’s too early to be awake,” he complains once he’s halfway through his shake, staring out at the Edmonton scenery.

“I know,” Leon agrees, trying to fight a smile at how grumpy Matthew’s being. “This is…just how Davo is.”

“Gio would never make me get up this early.” Matthew sinks further into the seat, his hoodie bunching up over his curls, and Leon smiles.

The rink is eerily quiet when they walk in. There’s no trainers, no coaches, just them. It’s weird, but also nice. It reminds Leon of when he was a kid and would come into the arena in Cologne with his dad before anyone else got there. He leads Matthew through the tunnels leading to the team’s locker room, where Connor and Darnell are already half-dressed. They look up when they walk in, Darnell reaching out to fist bump Leon when he passes.

“You know Matthew,” he tells Darnell, who rolls his eyes and holds out his fist to Matthew.

“Yeah, we’ve met. What’s up, Tkachuk.”

“Hey.” Matthew returns the fist bump.

“Matthew’s mad at Davo for making us get up this early.”

“Aren’t we all?” Darnell chirps, and Connor rolls his eyes.

“If we skate early, we have enough time for a cool down and light workout before lunch.”

“You are the worst,” Darnell complains. Leon leads Matthew over to his stall and gestures for Matthew to take Klef’s spot.

Leon’s momentarily worried that it will get weird, once they’re out on the ice. That instinct will take over and he and Matthew will pester and poke each other like they always do. Instead, he watches as Matthew does a wide loop of the rink, just skating.

He’s got this look on his face, like he’s finally settling into his skin now that he’s sailing across a sheet of ice. Leon’s a legacy, he thinks he knows something of what it’s like, but Matthew is Keith Tkachuk’s son and he’s always wondered how much of Matthew being a hockey player is love of the game and how much of it is trying to live up to his father’s reputation. Now, watching Matthew skate, he can see the pure love there that they all have but is sometimes beaten out of them by the grind of the season. Matthew loves skating, and it’s clear on his face as he slows to a stop in front of where Leon’s supposed to be stick handling.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” Matthew grins, and Leon knows that if he had a mouthguard right now he’d be chewing on it.

“I was just hoping that I would get to see you fall down.”

“I was born into this, bud, I was made to be on the ice.”

“Were you made to ever shut up?”

“Nope.” Matthew pokes Leon’s shin with his stick and pulls the puck away. “Catch me if you can!”

He takes off, and Leon doesn’t hesitate before chasing after him.

“We’re supposed to be running drills!” Connor complains.

“Come on McJesus, me and you against Drat and Nurse,” Matthew calls, sweeping closer to Connor, who rolls his eyes but takes the pass that Matthew sends his way and takes off down the ice.

“Oh, it’s on!” Darnell follows after him, and Leon sticks close to Matthew as they start two-on-two.

They don’t go full throttle, but once they settle on first to five their competitive nature kicks in. Leon never lets up on Matthew, checking him into the boards as gently as he can at every opportunity. Matthew never stops smiling, and watching him and Connor together makes Leon wonder what could’ve been if Matthew had been drafted by the Oilers instead of the Flames. He remembers hearing rumors that it was close, that the Jackets passing on Puljujarvi was the only reason Matthew is now on the other side of the Battle of Alberta.

Leon practically throws himself into the net, but Matthew still manages to get the fifth puck past him.

“Woo!” Matthew hollers, throwing himself at Connor. Their celly is ridiculous, but Leon doesn’t think that he’s seen Connor smile so much during hockey in a long time.

They get to the drills after that, and Leon’s reminded just how talented Matthew is in his own right. He finds himself watching Matthew more than doing the drills, and only notices when Darnell elbows him in the side.

“Stop watching your boy and run the drill.” He’s smirking when Leon looks up.

“It’s not like that.”

“Sure.” Darnell shrugs and skates away.

By the time they’re done, Leon’s exhausted but feels better than he has in weeks. His body wants to be on the ice, has missed it in the weeks since their last game. He feels more settled as he showers and changes into street clothes. Matthew’s waiting for him in his borrowed stall when he’s done, both of their gear bags packed up and waiting at Matthew’s feet.

“Thanks,” he tells him as he grabs his bag, and Matthew shrugs.

Kim calls him that night, and Leon heads into the living room to answer the FaceTime call, leaving Matthew to continue working on the stir fry in the kitchen.

Mom is mad at you,” she greets, and Leon rolls his eyes.

I know,” he replies in German.

You should have come home.”

I couldn’t. We don’t know how long the pause is for.”

It’s getting bad, Leon. They’re shutting everything down. Do you really want to be trapped in Edmonton?”

My job is here. My life is here.” Leon rubs his hand over his face.

Your family is here.”

I’m a leader on this team, I need to be here in case something happens. What if they bring us back in a few weeks and then I’m in Germany and they won’t let me travel back?”

Kim sighs. “I guess. I just hate that you’re alone there.”

I’m not.”

I know, I know, you’ve got your team-“

Before Leon can interrupt her, Matthew comes around the corner. “Hey, Leon, do you have any – oh, shit, sorry.”

Hold on,” he tells Kim, then turns to look over the back of the couch to where Matthew’s standing. “What do you need?”

“Uh, ginger.” Matthew looks suddenly uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot.

“Check the pantry.”

“Okay, thanks.”

Who’s that?” Kim asks, raising an eyebrow.

Matthew, he’s a friend. He’s staying with me for a while.”

I see why you don’t want to come home now.” She smirks, raising an eyebrow.

Oh, my god.” Leon rolls his eyes. “It’s not like that. We’re just friends.”

“Uh-huh.”

How’s Mom?” he asks, and Kim thankfully lets the subject drop.

They chat for a few more minutes, and by the time they finish Matthew’s just wrapping up dinner as Leon walks back into the kitchen. He sets down the spoon he’s using when he spots Leon and turns to face him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were on the phone or I wouldn’t have barged in.”

“It’s fine, it was just my sister.” Leon leans over to inspect the wok. “Smells good.”

“I just…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you…If you don’t want people to know that I’m here…”

“Matthew. I don’t care if people know that you’re here. Why would I care?”

“Well, I just…I guess…”

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Leon asks, and Matthew looks at him for a long moment before shrugging. “So, what does it matter? You skated with us today. If I really cared, would I have invited you?”

“I guess not.”

“Exactly. So, is dinner ready?” Matthew smiles and goes to pull a couple of bowls out of the cabinet.

Leon puts the incident out of his mind, until a couple of days later when Matthew lights up, staring down at his laptop as they hang out in Leon’s living room.

“Hey, Taryn!” he greets.

“I’m here too, you know,” another voice calls from the screen, and Leon watches as Matt rolls his eyes.

“Yes, hello Brady.”

“Where are you?” Taryn interrupts. “That doesn’t look like your apartment.”

“I’m staying with a friend.” Matt looks up quickly at Leon, who smiles.

“I still wish you would’ve come home,” Taryn complains. “It sucks here with just Brady. He doesn’t do the TikTok dances right.”

“Hey!” Brady sounds offended, and Leon chuckles at the sound of scuffling on the other side. Taryn must come out victorious, because she comes back onto the call a moment later.

“It’s boring!”

“Why would I come home if it’s boring?” Matthew points out, but Leon notes how soft his smile is as he talks to his sister.

“I just miss you. We all do. I don’t understand-“ Something shifts in Matthew’s face, he crumbles a little, and Leon’s chest aches slightly.

“You know why I couldn’t come home, Tare.”

“Matty, c’mon, you know-“

“Taryn.” Matthew’s voice is sharp, the warning clear. Leon doesn’t look up from his phone, but he can feel Matthew’s eyes flick to him then back to the screen.

“Okay, okay.” She concedes. “So, how are you?”

“Fine. Not like I’m going anywhere. I skated with some of the guys the other day.”

“Oh, that’s good! So does that mean you think you’ll be back soon?”

“I don’t know. They don’t really tell us anything. I doubt it, though.” They’ve been watching the news, and to Leon it seems like things are just getting worse instead of better. At this rate, there’s no telling when life will go back to normal. Leon listens vaguely as Matthew’s conversation with his siblings meanders through a number of subjects – Ottawa, Taryn’s senior year – but Leon notices that Matthew never asks about his parents. He’s about to get up and get started on lunch when he hears a scramble from Matthew’s laptop and watches as he tenses.

“Who are you talking to?” he hears a new voice ask, and Matthew’s frozen across the couch from him.

“Uh-“ Taryn starts.

“It’s Matty.” Brady supplies, but his voice sounds different from how he’d been during their call up until now.

“Finally find time to call his family, eh?” The man – who Leon can only presume is Keith Tkachuk – says, his voice dripping with condescension.

“Hey, Dad,” Matthew finally says, his voice trembling, and Leon looks down to see Matthew’s fist tight against his thigh.

“Too busy to call your family?” Keith asks, and Matthew shakes his head.

“No, it’s just-“

“Probably too busy being a fucking faggot,” he snarls, but it sounds distant, like he’s walking away. Leon didn’t think Matthew could grow any tenser, but he’s staring at the screen, his breaths growing faster, his eyes on the screen.

“Dad, what the fuck?” Brady’s voice sounds distant, too, as if he’s chasing after Keith and away from Taryn’s computer.

“Matty?” Taryn’s voice comes through the speaker. “Matty, are you okay?”

“Matthew?” Leon asks, softly, but he doesn’t respond.

“Matty, are you alone?” Taryn sounds desperate, and Matthew’s eyes are closed now, his breath coming in frantic pants. Leon decides to take a chance, and pulls the laptop from Matthew. Taryn looks terrified, her eyes shiny with tears, but they widen when Leon comes across the screen.

“He’s not alone,” Leon tells her. “I’ll take care of him, and have him call you back later, okay?”

“Okay, okay. Thank you. I’m sorry, I thought he wasn’t here,” she says, and Leon’s not sure what that means, but he nods and ends the call. He sets the laptop aside and when he looks back at Matthew he doesn’t even have time to say anything before Matthew jumps up and practically runs up the stairs, the door to the guest bedroom slamming closed. Leon considers following him, but decides it’s probably better to wait him out. He’s been on Matthew Tkachuk’s bad side, and he’s not keen to do it again.

Instead, he heads into the kitchen to start lunch. He’d planned on a salad with chicken, meal plan approved, but instead he pulls out the frozen pizza he’d stashed in the freezer for cheat day and turns the oven on. He still makes the salad, but soon the kitchen’s filled with the smell of baking bread. It’s comforting, and he hopes the smell will reach upstairs and draw Matthew out of his room.

It must do the trick, because he hears Matthew come into the kitchen as he’s pulling the pizza out of the oven. Leon smiles gently at him, but says nothing as he plates their food and pushes one of them across the island to Matthew.

“Thanks,” he says softly, his voice rough, and Leon can finally get a good look at him. His curls are even more disheveled than normal, his eyes red-rimmed, and Leon hurts for his friend. They eat in silence, and Matthew says nothing as he takes both of their plates to the sink. Leon waits until he’s done rinsing them off and loading them in the dishwasher, waits until Matthew turns and leans against the sink, crossing his arms over his chest and staring down at the floor.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks, and Matthew tenses. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“I didn’t…” Matthew starts, then sighs, something shaky and raw. “I didn’t want to go home because of my dad.”

“Okay.”

“I’m gay.” It seems forced out, like Matthew almost hadn’t meant to say it. Leon doesn’t reply, waits to see if Matthew’s going to continue. “I’m gay, and I came out to my family when I was home for the All Star Game. Taryn already knew, but no one else did. My dad…he didn’t take it well.”

“Who knows?”

“The team. Marns, Matts.”

“What did…” Leon hesitates, but he feels like maybe Matthew needs to talk to someone about this, and maybe he’ll talk to Leon. “What did your dad do?”

“Nothing.” Matthew shakes his head, stares down at the floor again. “He’s not…he’s not violent. He’s never hit any of us.”

“But he said something.” Matt shrugs. “Matt…”

“He said that I couldn’t be a fag and play hockey. That the league wouldn’t accept a gay player, that I’d be even more hated than I already am.”

“That’s not true.”

“Maybe.” Matthew sniffles, rubs the sleeve of his hoodie across his face.

“What else did he say?”

Matthew’s responding chuckle is dark. “That he wasn’t going to have people knowing that he has a son who’s a cocksucker. That I couldn’t tell anyone, couldn’t come out, ever.”

“He can’t control that,” Leon tells him, pushing off from the island and into Matthew’s space. “You’re the only person who gets to decide when and if you come out. No one else gets to decide that, not even your father.”

“How would you know?” Matthew snaps, and Leon wraps a hand around Matthew’s wrist. Matthew doesn’t pull away, and Leon squeezes in what he hopes is a reassuring gesture.

“I know because I’m bisexual.” Matthew’s eyes snap up to his.

“Really?”

“Yeah.” Leon shrugs. “I’m out to the people who matter, too. It’s just not something I offer up to everyone that I meet.”

Leon’s not sure what he’s expecting, but it’s definitely not for Matthew to burst into tears. It’s like a dam breaking, great heaving sobs racking his body, and Leon doesn’t hesitate to pull Matthew against him. He’s prepared for some resistance, but Matthew sags against him, letting Leon wrap his arms around him as he presses his face into Leon’s neck. His tears make Leon’s skin and shirt damp, but Leon just holds him in the middle of his kitchen. Matthew eventually wraps his arms around Leon’s waist and holds on. Leon cards a hand through Matthew’s curls, a move that makes Matthew exhale a shaky breath against his skin.

He’s not sure how long they stand there like that, but eventually Matthew pulls away. He looks exhausted, his skin pale and his eyes swollen. Leon runs his thumb across Matthew’s cheek before he can think about it, but Matthew just smiles sadly at him.

“You okay, Matthew?”

“Matty,” he corrects. “My friends call me Matty.”

 

 

They have another workout scheduled with the boys the next day, so Leon just grabs two protein shakes out of the refrigerator and sets one on the counter for Matty. When he finally comes downstairs, he looks calmer than yesterday. There’s dark circles under his eyes, but he doesn’t seem as fragile as he did when he went to bed early.

“Thanks,” he tells Leon softly, taking the shake.

“No problem.” Leon fiddles with the lid of his own drink. “We don’t have to go today, if you don’t want to. We can just hang out here.”

“No, it’s fine. I need something to distract me.” Leon nods and moves around the island so he can leave the kitchen, but stops when Matty wraps a hand around his bicep. “I’m sorry, about yesterday. I didn’t mean to drag you into all my…” He trails off and makes a vague gesture with his free hand.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Leon assures him. “It’s what friends are for.”

Matty smiles, something genuine, and lets him go. Leon ignores the way it feels like his skin is tingling where Matty touched him.

They’re not skating today, but when Leon pulls up at the park, he wants to groan. It’s one of Connor’s favorites – full of long, winding trails that leave Leon feeling wrung out after.

“I hate him,” he grumbles, and Matty chuckles.

“No, you don’t,” he replies before hopping out of the car.

Leon joins them, fist bumping Connor and Darnell in greeting, and drops down next to Matty to stretch and warm up. It’s familiar after so many days of working out together, and they fall into sync easily. Matty chirps him gently when he struggles on a particular stretch, and squawks when Leon shoves him over in retaliation.

Connor, thankfully, chooses one of the easier trails and they start out at a more sedate jog. Leon stays up front with Matty, leaving Connor and Darnell to keep up behind them. Once they get going, they don’t really talk, but Matty’s a steady presence beside him as the trail ebbs and flows. There’s nothing but the sounds of nature and each other around them, the trails thankfully devoid of other humans at such an early hour.

“Take this last hill at a sprint and then we can break,” Connor commands, and Leon rolls his eyes at Matty with a smile but takes off. Matty catches up easily, and soon enough they’re racing to the top. Matty only just beats him, and Leon collapses onto the ground, great heaving breaths leaving his lungs.

“Getting soft?” Matty asks, and Leon reaches up to smack him in the chest with the back of his hand. “Here.” He shoves a water bottle into Leon’s hand.

“Thanks.” Leon takes a deep swig before handing it back to Matty. Before he can speak again, Matty fishes his vibrating phone out of his pocket.

“Oh, it’s Taryn.”

“You okay?” Leon drops a hand on Matty’s thigh and squeezes.

“Yeah, I just forgot to call her last night. I’ll be right back.” Matty pushes off the ground, and Leon lets his hand slip from his leg. “Hey, Tare.”

Leon watches Matty wander off, then stares up at the morning sky until Connor replaces Matty in his spot.

“So…” Connor trails off, and Leon looks over at him with a raised eyebrow.

“So?”

“So, when were you going to tell me that you’re dating the enemy?”

Leon chokes on nothing. “What?”

“I mean, I was kind of suspicious when you brought him skating, but I didn’t want to say anything. But now, I mean, how long has this been going on?”

“There’s nothing going on. We’re just friends.” When Leon looks up, Connor looks completely unconvinced. “I swear.”

“You guys have been flirting since you got here.”

“No, we haven’t.” Leon feels petulant as he crosses his arms over his chest.

“You just had your hand on his leg, Drat.”

“We’re friends.” Leon insists. “He’s Matthew Tkachuk.”

“Yeah, okay, but he’s staying at your house. You’re spending all of your time together and…”

“And what?”

“He makes you smile.” Connor shrugs.

You make me smile, and I don’t want to fuck you.” Leon points out, and Connor shoves him.

“Don’t be gross. It would be like fucking my brother.”

“Look,” Connor continues after Leon doesn’t respond. “I’m just saying, if you’re into each other, why not go for it?”

“He’s not…” Leon starts, then stops. It’s not his place to out Matty to anyone, but he doesn’t want to lie to his best friend, either. “It’s not like that.”

“But you want it to be.”

“No,” Leon snaps, then stands up as he watches Matty approach them. “Are we ready?”

Leon doesn’t say anything, but he does watch Matty throughout the rest of the day. Watches as he moves easily in Leon’s house, in Leon’s life, like he’s always been there. He seems lighter after his call with Taryn, but Leon doesn’t push him for information. They do a quick workout in Leon’s gym, then Matty forces him into one of the stools on the kitchen island so he can watch Matty cook dinner.

“Are you sure you don’t need help?”

“It’s steak and potatoes. I think I can handle it.”

“Okay, okay.” Leon throws his hands up, and when Matty smiles at him, Leon feels his stomach twist pleasantly.

Oh.

Oh, fuck.

He silently curses Connor McDavid, because he could’ve gone weeks – months – without noticing if he hadn’t pointed out the fact that Leon was fucking falling for Matthew Tkachuk. He expects panic, after the realization, but instead he just stares at Matty as he cooks in Leon’s kitchen, and it just makes something settle in his chest. He likes Matty, probably has for a long time, and now all that’s left is for Leon to do something about it.

“Can I ask you something?” Matty interrupts his thoughts. “Something kind of personal?”

“Sure.”

Matty chews his bottom lip as he chops a potato. “Have you ever dated a guy?”

“Not…not in a long time, no. Not since I made the show.”

“But you have? Before?”

“Yeah.” Leon shrugs. “Why?”

“I just…I dated a girl, in high school. Before I realized I was gay. But then it was just hockey, y’know? I didn’t have time for anything like that, and then there’s always the fear. That they’ll out me, or whatever, if I hook up.”

“Hmm.” Leon hums in agreement. It’s always been easier to date women, so he has, and he realizes now how lucky he is that he has always had that option.

“So, I’m twenty-two, and I’ve never really dated anyone. No one’s going to want to date someone like me, that has no experience. That’s pathetic.”

“No, it’s not,” Leon insists. “You’re not pathetic because you haven’t found someone worth dating.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t even tried. I have no clue what it’s like to date anyone. What if I’m, like, terrible at it?”

“You won’t be terrible at it.”

“Not that it matters anyway. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s not like a boyfriend is just going to fall into my lap.”

“No, I guess not,” Leon concedes. “But that doesn’t mean you’re going to be bad at it when you get a chance.”

“I guess.” Matty shrugs and turns back to the boiling pasta water, and drops the subject.

The conversation stays with Leon through dinner, through cleanup, and halfway through the stupid Ryan Reynolds action movie Matty had picked. They’re sitting on the couch together, close but still a few inches between them, and Leon finds himself watching Matty more than the movie. He’s not sure when it happened, but there’s no denying that somewhere in the last few months he’s developed feelings for the man. He’s annoying as fuck, sometimes, but Connor was right when he’d told him that Matty had a good heart. He’s an asshole, but he has a heart of gold that’s clear to see once he lets you in. And he’d let Leon in, confided in him, came out to him, and Leon…

Well, Leon likes him.

“Do I have something on my face?” Matty finally asks, turning his head to smirk at Leon.

“What?” Leon replies intelligently.

“You keep staring at me.”

“I was just thinking.”

“About?”

“Date me,” Leon blurts out, and Matty’s eyes grow wide as he stays silent. “I mean…fake date me.”

“Fake…date you?”

“Yeah.” Leon pauses the movie and twists to face Matty. “You said you don’t have any experience dating a guy, right? And you won’t really have an opportunity to meet anyone until all this is over. So, practice on me. With me, whatever.”

Matty doesn’t say anything, just chews on his bottom lip and stares at the couch. Leon feels himself start to squirm, wondering if he’d said the exact wrong thing.

“I mean…no pressure, but I just thought-“

“Okay,” Matty interrupts. “But, what would it involve, exactly?”

“Whatever you want.” Leon shrugs.

“So, like…sex?”

“Sure.”

“You want to have sex with me?”

“Obviously,” Leon drawls. “Do you want to have sex with me?”

Leon can feel Matty’s gaze rake down his body, and yeah, he knows he’s attractive, but he still wants to shy away from it.

“Yeah,” Matty finally admits, his voice rough.

“And, you know, when this is over, and you find someone that you want to date for real, you’ll have experience.”

“Uh-huh,” Matty agrees, and Leon watches as he inches closer, closing the gap between them. “When can we start?”

Leon smiles, wraps his hand around the back of Matty’s neck, and pulls his mouth to Leon’s. His lips are a little chapped, and his stubble tickles against Leon’s own, and it’s an awkward first kiss. It’s not the most mind-blowing kiss of Leon’s life, but Matty slowly opens up against him, and they find a rhythm, and it’s…nice, is the only word Leon can find. Comfortable, almost familiar, like they’ve been heading toward this since the start of their tentative friendship.

Leon eventually moves to pull away, and Matty whimpers and throws himself into Leon’s lap. His weight settles easily on Leon, and he rests his hands on Matty’s hips as he clutches Leon’s face, controlling the kiss as he slips his tongue into Leon’s mouth. They make out slowly, lazily, until Leon’s lips feel raw. Matty pulls away to bite his way across Leon’s jaw and down his neck, sucking a mark into his skin.

“Fuck,” Leon groans.

“Yeah,” Matty agrees, his voice vibrating against Leon’s neck.

“Bedroom.” Leon pushes against Matty’s chest. “I’m not fucking you on the couch.”

“Who said you’re fucking me?” Matty pulls away from Leon, raising an eyebrow.

“We don’t have to. I can…I’m flexible.”

“Nah, it’s cool. I’m into both, too. C’mon.” He climbs off of Leon’s lap, which Leon doesn’t like, but he grabs Leon’s hand and tugs him toward the stairs, which Leon does like. He lets Matty lead them, lets him set the pace as they step into Leon’s bedroom, lets Matty stare at the bed for a long moment. He wraps an arm around Matty’s waist and kisses the back of his neck.

“We don’t have to.”

“No, I want to.” Matty turns in Leon’s arms and kisses him again. “I’ve just never…in a bed.”

Leon’s heart hurts, wonders at what Matty’s experienced. He’s suddenly determined to make this good for him, a good memory. He cradles Matty’s face in his hands and kisses him, holds him close as he guides them blindly to the bed. Matty falls back when his knees hit the mattress, and Leon follows, bracing his arms on either side of Matty’s head to keep himself from collapsing on top of the other man. Matty smiles at him, and Leon has to kiss it. He can feel Matty hard underneath him, and they both groan when Leon presses his own dick against Matty’s.

“Up, c’mon,” Leon orders, pushing until Matty gets the idea and scoots up to the middle of the mattress. Leon leans over and grabs a bottle of lube and a condom from the nightstand and tosses them onto the bed before crawling back over Matty. He kisses him again, something hot and searing, and Matty bucks up against him.

“We’re wearing too many clothes,” Matty complains, and Leon sits up to pull his shirt and sweats off while Matty wiggles out of his own clothes until he’s only in his boxers. Matty’s all lean, corded muscle that Leon wants to bite. Matty gasps when Leon cups him through his boxers, arches up for more.

“Please,” he begs, and Leon leans down to bite across Matty’s collarbone.

“I’ve got you,” Leon assures him, sliding down to take a nipple into his mouth. Matty’s breath catches, and Leon bites down to make him do it again.

“Fuck yes.” Matty groans when Leon slips his hand down his boxers and wraps his hand around his cock. It’s not particularly long, but it feels thick in Leon’s hand and his mouth waters at the thought of wrapping his lips around it.

He moves down Matty’s body, stroking his cock slowly and with just enough pressure to keep Matty squirming.

“Dude, fuck, c’mon.”

“Patience is a virtue,” Leon chides, and looks up from between Matty’s legs to watch him roll his eyes.

“Not right now, it isn’t,” he snaps, and Leon smiles. He stops stroking so he can peel his boxers off, Matty arching his hips to help him in a move that has his dick smacking Leon in the face. “Sorry,” he mumbles, and Leon just smiles and kisses his hip as he settles down against the bed again.

Matty gasps again when Leon wraps his hand around the base of his cock, and Leon doesn’t hesitate before licking a strip on the underside from base to tip. His tongue circles the head, precome bursting on his tongue, and Matty sounds like he’s been punched when Leon slowly sinks down, taking him into his mouth.

Matty feels heavy on his tongue, wide enough that it’s a stretch to take him further in, only just stopping himself from gagging on it. He feels Matty reach down and grab at the short hairs on the back of Leon’s head.

“Shit, Leon, your mouth.” Leon groans and has to pop off when Matty’s hips buck up and almost choke him. “I’m sorry, fuck, sorry bro.”

“Don’t call me bro when I’m sucking your dick.”

“Would you prefer bud? Pal? Comrade?” Matty’s blissed out, his eyes glazed over, but he still smirks and Leon rolls his eyes. He climbs back over Matty and kisses him as he grabs the bottle of lube.

“You’re so fucking annoying,” Leon complains, but he smiles and kisses him again before moving back down his body.

Matty seems to know Leon’s goal, spreading his legs further as Leon settles again between his legs. He pops open the lube and spreads some on his fingers, getting his index finger coated before circling Matty’s hole.

Matty bucks again. “That’s fucking cold.”

“Give it a minute.” Matty listens, and soon enough he’s pressing against Leon’s finger.

“C’mon, dude, put it in me already.”

Leon wants to argue, but he’s growing more and more desperate, so he slips his finger in to the first knuckle. Matty gasps, clenches, and Leon uses his free hand to rub small circles on Matty’s stomach.

“Relax,” he tells him, and stays as still as possible as he presses in a little further. He can see Matty forcing his body to relax, his eyes slammed shut and his breath coming in fast pants. “Is this okay? We can stop.”

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Matty warns, opening his eyes to stare down at Leon. “Keep going, I can take it.”

Leon pulls out long enough to get more lube before pushing in with two fingers. Matty groans, but holds still and does his best to relax. Leon can see the moment he brushes against his prostate, Matty’s eyes shooting open as he bears down on his fingers.

“Fuck, like that,” he moans, and Leon scissors inside of him, spreading him open and finding his prostate every few strokes. It turns Matty into a writhing mess, and by the time Leon gets a third finger inside of him he’s pressing the side of his face into the pillow, whining and moaning and it’s so hot that Leon has wrap his hand around the base of his cock and squeeze to stop himself from coming at the sight.

“Please, Leon, c’mon I’m ready.” Leon nods, and takes the condom that Matty presses into his hand. He gestures until Matty gets the idea and flips over onto his stomach before climbing up onto his hands and knees. He’s practically presenting for Leon, and Leon has to spread him open so he can see his hole, wet and ready for him. He pours more lube into his hand and slicks up his dick before lining the head against Matty’s entrance.

He rests a hand on the small of Matty’s back, and waits until he feels Matty’s muscles relax before pressing forward. He pushes past the resistance at Matty’s rim, groaning at the hot, wet heat that surrounds the head of his dick as he finally gets inside of him.

“Wait,” Matty tells him, and Leon freezes.

“Do you want me to pull out?” Leon goes to move, but Matty reaches back and wraps a hand around Leon’s wrist.

“No, just…give me a minute.”

“Okay, let me know when you’re ready.” Leon holds his body as still as possible, and after a minute he groans as he feels Matty press back, forcing him further inside. “Fuck.”

“Goddamn.” Matty groans, dropping his head to the pillow. “Okay, more, let’s go.”

“You’re sure?”

“Get your fucking dick inside me, asshole.” Leon wants to chirp him, but instead he slides his hand up to Matty’s shoulder and slides the rest of the way in. He leans over and presses his forehead to the space between Matty’s shoulder blades as he bottoms out. It feels amazing, and Leon doesn’t know if it’s the fact that he hasn’t done this in years, or the fact that it’s Matty but it feels unbelievable.

He pulls away from Matty and slides out until only his head is still inside of Matty, and he can tell that Matty’s about to complain, so he slams back in a way that has whatever Matty was going to say choking off.

They find a rhythm, and Leon’s happy to do most of the work if it gets him all of the beautiful, ridiculous sounds that Matty makes as he fucks into him. He thought that Matty would be a talker, but instead it’s mostly gasps and moans and grunts that have Leon curious what other noises he can get him to make.

His thrusts grow more erratic as he feels his orgasm building, and he has to brace his hands on the headboard as he slams into Matty over and over. He feels frantic, desperate, and he thinks vaguely about Matty’s own orgasm but Matty swats his hand away when he tries to get it on his cock.

“I’m close,” Leon tells him, and Matty nods against the pillow.

“C’mon, please.” Matty sounds desperate, and it’s that that sends Leon over the edge, groaning as he empties himself into the condom. He collapses on top of Matty in a heap, breathing heavily against the back of his neck.

Matty lets him stay there, still and quiet as Leon comes down from his high. When he pulls out, ties off the condom, and rolls off of Matty he follows Leon. Leon feels his still hard dick press against his leg, and he reaches over and wraps a hand around Matty’s dick. Matty responds immediately, pressing his face into Leon’s shoulder as he makes small thrusts into his hand.

“Okay Matty,” Leon says into his curls, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “You did so good, you’re so good, c’mon.”

Matty whines high in his throat, biting his teeth into Leon’s skin. “Come for me,” Leon encourages, and Matty lets go, coming in spurts onto Leon’s hand and his own stomach. Leon strokes him through it, breathing into Matty’s hair until Matty pushes his hand away. He still stays close, mouth open and pressed to Leon’s shoulder.

“Fuck.” Matty breathes eventually, and Leon huffs out a laugh.

“Yeah,” he agrees, then pulls away to climb out of the bed. Matty clings to him, holding him in place, and Leon instinctively runs a hand through his curls. “I’ll be right back, I just need to get something to clean us up.”

Matty nods and lets him go, but Leon can feel his eyes on him as he steps into the en suite and wets a washcloth. He wipes off the few drops of Matty’s come that had made it onto his side, tosses the condom, then heads back into the bedroom. Matty’s moved onto his back, staring up at the ceiling, but he turns to look at Leon again as he climbs back into the bed. He doesn’t say anything as Leon cleans him up, wiping up his stomach and then gently between his legs before tossing the washcloth in the direction of the bathroom.

“Should I…” Matty starts, his brow furrowing. “Should I go back to my room?”

“Well, this is supposed to be practice for dating, right?” Matty nods. “Well, you’d stay with a…a boyfriend. So, no. You don’t have to leave unless you want to.”

Matty chews his bottom lip, doesn’t look at Leon, but eventually he nods and climbs under the blankets. Leon smiles, turns off the light, and stares at Matty’s back until he falls asleep.

 

When Leon wakes up the next morning, he’s momentarily thrown off by the warmth along his side. He remembers, slowly, the night before. How it had felt to kiss Matty, to slide inside of him, the way he’d looked as his orgasm overtook him. It’s so different to what he sees now, Matty sleeping peacefully next to him. He’s not touching Leon, but he’s close enough that he feels like a solid presence next to him. His face is relaxed in sleep, his curls wild, and Leon just…he really likes him.

Soon, his need to pee and eat overtake his desire to lay there and watch Matty sleep. He grabs the makings for omelets from the refrigerator and gets to work, chopping veggies as the coffee brews. He hears Matty before he sees him, then watches him walk in. He’s shirtless, sweats hanging low on his hips as he yawns and scratches his stomach.

“Morning,” he grumbles, and heads straight for the coffee maker.

“Morning,” Leon echoes, dumping the ingredients into the pan.

“Here,” Matty tells him, pressing a cup of coffee into his hand. He hovers in Leon’s space for a long moment, standing behind him.

“Thanks.” Leon takes a sip, and it’s exactly how he likes it. He smiles over his shoulder at Matty, who smiles back and steps away. Leon watches him settle at the kitchen island and start scrolling through his phone. He still looks sleep-rumbled, and well fucked, and Leon really wants to kiss him. But, Matty isn’t acting any different than he had been before they’d fucked, and Leon doesn’t want to make him uncomfortable. Instead, he waits until breakfast is done cooking and plates it for both of them, sliding into the seat next to Matty.

“Taryn’s going to Skype in a bit, we were going to do yoga together,” Matty eventually tells him. “If you want to join us.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your time together.”

“No, it’s cool. Unless you don’t want to.” Matty shrugs, shoveling the last of his food into his mouth.

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, then. I’m not doing any of those crazy poses you pull, though.”

“Well, you can’t be as awesome as me, obviously.” Matty grins, and Leon leans in and kisses the smile off of his face before he can stop himself. It’s quick, just a peck, but Matty’s eyes are wide when he pulls away.

“Was that okay?” Leon asks softly, and Matty nods.

“Yeah, it was…it was okay.” Matty’s smile is small and soft, and then it’s his turn to lean in and kiss Leon. It’s deeper than before, enough that Leon groans and grips at Matty’s hip.

Taryn calls just as they’re finishing warmup stretches, and if she’s surprised to see Leon she doesn’t vocalize it. Leon’s not sure what he expected, but it only takes fifteen minutes for Taryn and Matty to get competitive, completely ignoring Leon in favor of one-upping each other. Leon abandons them in favor of some weight lifting, but he leaves his headphones on the table so he can continue listening to Matty and his sister. He hasn’t heard Matty sound so light since the night Keith interrupted his Skype call, and it makes his heart clench in his chest when he hears Matty’s bright laugh.

“Sorry,” Matty tells him sheepishly when he ends the call and moves over the treadmill.

“It’s fine.”

“I just…”

“You miss her.”

“Yeah.” Matty sighs. “I mean, Brady and I are close, but she’s my best friend.”

“I think that’s great.”

“Are you and your sister close?”

“I guess.” Leon shrugs. “Not like you two.”

“It must be hard. I mean, we’re a country away but you’re an entire ocean away.”

“Yeah, our lives are just very separate. But I love her.”

Matty doesn’t say anything for a long time, the gym silent as they cool down and then turn the treadmills off. Leon’s just finished toweling off the worst of the sweat when Matty tosses a red Gatorade from the minifridge at him.

“Do you ever…” Matty chews his lip, and Leon vaguely wonders if he’ll actually break the skin one day from how often he bites his lip. “Do you ever regret it?”

“What? Hockey?” Matty nods. “No, not really. It gave me everything I have. It sucks to be away from family for so long, but…no, I don’t regret it. And I’ve grown used to being away from them, now.”

“Hey, you’ve got me,” Matty jokes, and Leon feels a lump grow in his throat.

“Yeah,” he replies absently, and follows Matty up the stairs.

That night, when they settle on the couch, Bowie on the other side of Matty because he’s a traitor, Leon doesn’t miss that Matty sits closer than ever. When Leon raises an eyebrow at having Matty’s thigh practically against his own, the other man shrugs.

“Boyfriends cuddle, right?” He asks, and Leon feels like he’s been punched in the chest.

“Yeah, sure.” Leon stretches his arm around Matty’s shoulders, and Matty sinks against his side instantly. Leon tugs him as close as he can get him, and it feels natural to have him there, pressed against Leon as they watch a show that Leon’s honestly not even paying attention to – especially when Matty turns his head and drops a kiss to Leon’s neck.

Leon tips his head to the side, and Matty takes it as the invitation it is and licks his way across the expanse of skin. Leon grunts when Matty finds a spot he likes in particular, sucking hard until Leon’s squirming in his seat.

“Matty…” He groans.

“Can I suck your dick?” Matty asks, like that’s something Leon’s ever going to say no to.

Leon nods and he gets to watch Matty slide off of the couch and go to his knees between Leon’s spread legs. He’s half-hard already, but he can feel himself thickening in his pants at the sight, and he’s grateful when Bowie seems to get an idea of what’s going on and leaves the living room. He lets his head fall back on the couch as Matty mouths his dick through his pants. His mouth is light, teasing, not near enough, but he lets Matty control the pace.

He feels Matty reach for the waistband of his sweats, and lifts his ass up to help Matty slip his pants and underwear off in one smooth move. He feels a little silly in just a ratty old Oilers t-shirt, but then he looks at Matty and all he can focus on is how intently the other man is staring at his dick.

“Fuck,” Matty whispers, and before Leon can chirp him, he leans forward and licks a stripe from Leon’s balls to the head of his dick, swirling around before taking him into his mouth.

Leon has to force himself to not buck his hips up, to not fuck into Matty’s mouth. The visual of Matty’s lips stretching around his cock is filthy, something ingrained in his brain that he’ll never be able to forget. He reaches down to run his fingers through Matty’s curls, and the resulting groan that erupts from Matty’s mouth, vibrating around Leon’s cock, has a breath escaping him like he’s been punched in the chest.

Matty,” Leon pleads, for what he’s not sure, but he immediately regrets it when it makes Matty lift off of him with a pornographic ‘pop.’

“Yes?” He asks, his lips twisting into a smirk as he slowly strokes Leon, as if he has all the time in the world.”

“Bastard.” Leon complains, bucking his hips up. “C’mon.”

“What’s the magic word?”

Now.” Leon collapses back and stares up at the ceiling as Matty’s strokes slow even further.

“I don’t think that’s it.” Leon seriously considers throwing something at him, then grabs one of the throw pillows his decorator insisted on and smacks him on the side of the head.

“Wow, rude.” Matty’s laughing, though, and bending down again to run his tongue along the head of his dick, lapping at the precome there.

Please.”

“There you go.” Matty preens, but he puts Leon’s dick back in his mouth, so he doesn’t say anything further.

Matty bobs up and down as he takes Leon in as far as he can. It’s not the greatest blowjob of Leon’s life – Matty’s clearly inexperienced, but he makes up for lack of skill in enthusiasm. It’s sloppy, but Matty’s very obviously into it, and that in turn heightens Leon’s arousal. He gets his hand back in Matty’s curls, and this time Matty lets him guide his mouth slowly, lets him hold him in place as Leon gently thrusts up into Matty’s mouth. He’s careful not to go too deep, and Matty is pliant in a way that makes Leon want to drag him upstairs to bed and take him apart, hold him down and have Matty let him do whatever he wanted.

Instead, he feels his orgasm growing closer so he tugs on Matty’s curls and tries to pull him off. Matty shakes his head minutely, and Leon groans.

“Matty, I’m close,” he warns, but Matty still doesn’t move and Leon feels himself tip over the edge and empty himself into Matty’s mouth. He takes most of it, but pulls off a moment too soon and the last of Leon’s come lands on his chin.

When Leon comes back to himself, he looks down and stares at Matty. He’s still on his knees, his lips red and puffy, and Leon has to drag him up and kiss him or he might die. Matty still has come on his chin, though, so Leon wipes it off with his thumb. He moves to pull away from Matty’s face and the other man wraps his fingers around Leon’s wrist, guiding Leon’s thumb into his mouth. He licks him clean, and the moment he releases his thumb Leon smashes his lips against Matty’s. He swallows Matty’s whimper, pushing his tongue into Matty’s mouth and turning the kiss filthy. He can taste himself on Matty’s tongue, and it makes him reach frantically for where he can feel Matty hard against his stomach.

Matty gasps into his mouth when he slips his hand into his sweats and wraps his hand around Matty’s dick. He bucks into Leon’s touch, breaking away from Leon’s kiss to press his face into Leon’s neck. The angle is awkward, but they manage to find a rhythm that has Matty whimpering against him. Leon teases him, brings him to the edge before loosening his grip, slowing down his strokes. He expects Matty to get aggravated, to chirp him, but instead he grows pliant, seemingly letting Leon do as he pleases with him.

Leon gets him going again, quickens his pace until Matty’s biting at his neck.

“Please...” he eventually says into Leon’s skin. “Can you…”

Leon turns his head and presses his mouth against Matty’s ear. “What do you need?”

“Can you tell me…like before…” Leon rifles through his memories of the night before, trying to decipher what Matty’s asking for, and finally lands on the words that had sent Matty over the edge. He wraps his free hand around Matty, running his blunt nails down Matty’s spine through his t-shirt.

“You’re doing so good,” he croons into Matty’s ear, and Matty keens in response. “So good for me. Do you want to come?”

Yes,” Matty whimpers, and it sounds so good to Leon’s ears that he feels his dick twitch in a valiant effort to get hard again.

“Okay. You earned it, you did so well, you can come Matty.”

Matty shudders against him, bites down on the skin of his neck hard enough to hurt, and comes between them. Matty all but collapses against him, and Leon releases his dick so he can wrap both arms around him and keep him close.

Matty’s practically doubled over in his arms, shaking as he comes down, and Leon decides that can’t possibly be comfortable. He shifts them, keeping his arms around Matty as he stretches out against the back of the couch. Matty sluggishly follows his lead, tangling their legs as he shuffles down enough that he can rest his head against Leon’s chest. Leon idly runs his fingers along Matty’s back, his shoulders, then up and into his curls. Leon does his best to ignore how good it feels to have Matty snuggled against him, the way his heart clenches in his chest when he feels Matty move against him.

“I need to change clothes,” Matty mumbles against his chest.

“Hmm,” Leon hums, but lets go when Matty pulls away and heads upstairs. He didn’t say anything about whether or not he was coming back, but Leon stays where he’s at as he grabs the remote and rewinds the episode they were watching to the last thing he remembers.

It’s only been a few minutes when he hears Matty coming back down the stairs, changed into a red Flames t-shirt and new sweats. He seems to hesitate near the couch, and Leon doesn’t look at him, but he smiles when Matty climbs into Leon’s arms again, twisting until he can see the screen too, his back to Leon’s chest. Leon drops an arm across Matty’s waist, and lets Matty tug it up until it’s resting across his chest.

They make it through two episodes before Leon feels himself being lulled to sleep by exhaustion and the warmth of Matty against him. He nudges against Matty’s shoulder and turns the TV off, only realizing Matty had been asleep when he blinks blearily over his shoulder at Leon.

“We should go to bed. Don’t you have media stuff tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” Matty pushes off of the couch, stretches, and then smiles down at Leon. “Night, Leon.”

Leon hesitates as he stands up. He had assumed that Matty would be following him to his bed, but apparently Matty has other plans.

“Yeah, goodnight.” He tells him, and watches as Matty heads upstairs. He turns off all of the lights downstairs, still hoping that he’ll find Matty in his bed when he goes to his room.

He tries to tamp down his disappointment when he finds his bed empty.

 

 

Matty’s still asleep when he wakes up the next morning, or at least he’s still in his room. He thinks about going in to check on him, maybe kiss him goodbye, but then he reminds himself that if Matty wanted that he would have slept in Leon’s room last night.

It’s just him and Connor this morning, and his captain’s already waiting for him at the entrance to the trail Leon had chosen. It’s a little more strenuous than the one they had taken with Darnell and Matty, steep peaks and a long loop around a small manmade lake.

Connor doesn’t say anything when Leon slips his headphones in, lets them stretch and then jog in silence next to one another. They pass a few other people, but thanks to social distancing, if they recognize them they don’t come close. Leon loses himself in the music and the burn in his lungs, the stretch of his muscles as they push themselves up the highest peak on the route.

Connor comes to a stop, crouching down and pulling out his water as they stare out at the early morning view. Leon pulls out his headphones and takes a swig of his own water, checking his phone and finding a have fun working out with the hockey robot! text from Matty. He chuckles and slips his phone back in his pocket without responding.

“Are you going to talk about it?” Connor asks, eyebrow raised.

“Talk about what?”

“Whatever’s got you so distracted.” Leon seriously considers brushing it off, or lying, but Connor’s one of his best friends, and, well…

“I had sex with Matty,” he admits. “Uh, twice.”

“What happened to ‘we’re just friends, Davo’? ‘It’s not like that, Davo’?”

“Shut up,” Leon laughs. “It just sort of…happened.”

“So, what? Are you guys dating now?”

“Uh…”

Leon.” Leon doesn’t miss the admonishment in Connor’s tone.

“He’s never dated a guy before. He’s in the closet, obviously, and he wanted to know what it’s like without the risk.”

“But you have feelings for him.”

“Fuck you, no I don’t,” Leon lies.

“Leon, I’ve known you for years. I know what you look like when you’re into someone. And you’re definitely into him.”

Leon sighs, stares up at the sky, and takes another swig from his water.

“Look, I know…I know what this is, to him. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get my heart broken over Matthew fucking Tkachuk.”

“If you’re sure…” Connor trails off, but Leon knows he doesn’t believe him. He’s not sure he believes himself.

Matty’s in the rarely-used dining room when he gets back, clad in a Flames hoodie and laughing at something one of the journalists asks him. His eyes flick up quickly to Leon, and he winks before turning back to the screen. Leon skirts around the room, moving into the kitchen to grab a Gatorade and waits Matty out. He scrolls through Instagram, replies to a few e-mails, and shoots off a text to Kim assuring her that he hasn’t died of the plague yet.

Matty slips by him, grabs a drink for himself, then presses himself against Leon’s side.

“How was the run?”

“Better without you complaining about Oilers trying to murder you.”

“You’re all health conscious weirdos who should be studied for scientific purposes.”

“What, because we’re so fit? So hot?” Leon flirts, his grin growing wider when Matty pushes into Leon’s space and wraps his arms around his waist.

“Yeah, exactly,” Matty replies, leaning in and kissing Leon’s smile. “Not because you’re freaks of nature who are allergic to fun and sugar or anything.”

“You like me,” Leon shoots back without thinking, and feels his gut clench when Matty’s face momentarily softens.

“Yeah, I do.” He agrees, and Leon kisses him.

 

 

Days turn into weeks, and Leon’s starting to wonder if this quarantine thing is ever going to end.

With Matty there, Leon begins to wonder if he ever wants it to end.

Matty’s more affectionate than Leon ever would have imagined. Once he’s comfortable, he doesn’t hesitate to insert himself into Leon’s space. He can be cooking in the kitchen, and Matty will plaster himself to his back. They can be watching something in the living room, and Matty will scoot closer to Leon until Leon wraps an arm around his shoulders and tugs him in the rest of the way.

The first time Matty tries to hold his hand, it seems like an accident. They’re out walking Bowie, bundled up against the chill Edmonton morning, and Leon can feel Matty’s gloved hand brush his three separate times. Leon looks over at Matty, who’s steadfastly staring down at Bowie in front of them, and he rolls his eyes before slipping his hand around Matty’s. He watches out of the corner of his eye as Matty’s cheeks go even pinker, but he doesn’t let go of Leon’s hand until they get back to the house.

It all feels so…real, and easy, the way they are together. It doesn’t help that Matty spends more nights in Leon’s bed than his own, that they act like they’re a real couple. And Leon knows that that was the point, he does, because how can Matty learn what it’s like to date a guy if they don’t act like they’re dating, but he can’t help but think that there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be real.

He likes Matty, maybe even….maybe even. Despite himself, despite how much of a pest Matty can be – even off the ice – he finds himself proud when he can get the other man to laugh. When he can get Matty to get that soft look on his face, when he falls into Leon’s arms easily, it makes Leon proud that he can make Matty happy, after he’s obviously been through so much.

He knows this is the point where he should stop this, put some space between them, tell Matty that he can’t pretend for him anymore. But he knows he won’t. He’s in too deep at this point, and having Matty this way is better than not having him at all.

Fuck, he hates when Connor’s right.

Matty’s quiet one morning, poking at the eggs and bacon made, but not really eating them. Leon watches him, tries to wait him out, but when he pushes his eggs around for the fourth time he sighs and sets down his own fork.

“What’s the matter?” Matty stares at him, runs his hands through his unruly curls.

“Gio texted me this morning. They want us back in Calgary by the end of the week. We have to quarantine before training camp starts.”

Leon reaches for his own phone, finds an unread text from Connor in the team group chat that tells him and the rest of the guys basically the same thing.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.” Matty sighs. “I just…I didn’t think…”

“Yeah.” Leon echoes. “So, when are you leaving?”

“I guess…it’s a little easier for me. I just have to drive. I could stay until Friday, or I could leave tomorrow-“

“Friday’s good,” Leon blurts out before he can stop himself, and he has to stare down at his plate because he knows his cheeks are probably burning.

He feels Matty wrap his ankle around Leon’s under the table before finally starting to eat his breakfast.

They seem frantic, after that, apparently on a mission to have sex on every surface of Leon’s house before Matty leaves. Matty goes to his knees in the kitchen after they do the dishes one morning. Leon bends him over in the gym and fingers Matty until he cries later that day. They christen the bathrooms, both guest rooms, even the backyard once Leon convinces Matty that his privacy fence means no one will see them.

They don’t talk about the fact that he and Matty are on a time limit. Leon wants to ask if their…experiment…will continue once Matty leaves. Leon doesn’t think so, and he’s too afraid to ask. He’s afraid because, if Matty says no, then it really was just that for him – when for Leon it was so much more.

Thursday night comes, and they still don’t talk about it. Leon knows that Matty’s got his bags packed and stacked by the door, can see them when he walks by and pointedly ignores them. He should be excited, he knows. Matty going back to Calgary means that they’re getting hockey back, that soon he’ll be back on the ice with his whole team and not just Davo and Darnell and Matty, but he can’t help but mourn for this little life that he and Matty have built the past few months. He…he’ll miss him, simple as that.

He’ll miss Matty.

Because he loves Matty.

He’s in love with Matty.

He did exactly what he told Connor he wasn’t going to do, he went ahead and lost his last brain cell and let himself fall in love with Matthew Tkachuk of all people. Despite knowing that it didn’t mean anything to Matty, that it wasn’t real, he let himself fall fast and hard and now Matty’s leaving and it’s going to be over and Leon’s going to be left alone to pick up the pieces when he’s gone.

That night, Leon grills a couple of steaks on his back porch, and Matty works on a salad and vegetables in the kitchen. He nurses the same beer the whole night, not wanting alcohol to put him in a haze that might make him forget anything about their last night together.

They eat outside, and the hanging lights his decorator insisted on make Matty glow when he looks over at him. He catches Leon looking, and he smiles back at Leon, but there’s something like sadness tinged in his eyes that has Leon reaching across the table for his hand. Matty tangles their fingers together, familiar and warm against Leon’s hand. Handholding is clearly Matty’s favorite thing to do, and Leon’s spent weeks with his hand wrapped around Matty’s whenever Matty can manage it. Leon squeezes his fingers and brings their joined hands up to his lips. He can see Matty’s breath catch when he presses a kiss to the back of Matty’s hand, and he keeps Matty’s hand in his and pulls them both up.

Matty lets him pull and push until Leon can press him against the wall of his house. He kisses him deep, firm, thoroughly until Matty’s limp and pliant in his arms.

“Please,” Matty says against his lips, and Leon moves to kiss along his jaw. “I need…”

“I know.” Leon kisses him again, wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him flush against him. “C’mon.”

They leave their plates behind, and Leon does his best to keep his hands on Matty as they stumble through the living room, up the stairs and toward Leon’s room. It’s become more and more Leon and Matty’s room as time has gone on, and Leon’s only reminded of that when he spots Matty’s phone charging on the nightstand by his side of the bed, a watch resting next to it, and Leon’s heart feels tight in his chest when he remembers that it will all be gone tomorrow.

“Hey.” Matty’s voice interrupts his thoughts, and he lets Matty grasp him by the chin and pull until Leon’s looking at him instead. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Leon lies, and his voice sounds rough, but Matty doesn’t protest when he presses their lips together. He just wants to keep kissing Matty, because if he’s kissing him, if he has him in his bed, then that means he’s still here, and he can still pretend that he belongs to Leon.

He doesn’t want to break away, doesn’t want to stop kissing Matty, but he forces himself to move away and sink onto the bed. He tugs until Matty gets the idea and climbs into his lap, thighs bracketing Leon, and lets Matty cup his jaw and guide his mouth up to meet Matty’s once again. He licks inside, and it’s familiar and Leon tries his best to memorize the shape and feel of Matty’s mouth, the way he whimpers when Leon tightens his grip on his hips, the way he clings to Leon like a lifeline as they kiss and kiss and kiss.

He knows he’s hard in his pants, can feel Matty’s erection against his stomach, but it feels distant, unimportant. He wants to get off, but it feels more important to draw this out as long as possible. He slides his hands underneath Matty’s shirt, runs his flat palms along Matty’s back, pressing along the corded muscle there. Matty stays still as Leon pulls the shirt off and tosses it aside. His mouth is parallel to Matty’s collarbone, and Leon gives into his instinct and presses his mouth there, biting gently along the bone as Matty gasps.

“Leon…” he whispers, and Leon groans when his hand slips into Leon’s hair. He drops kisses and bites across Matty’s chest, hands resting on his sides. Matty lets him, just holds him as he maps his torso with his lips, seemingly in no hurry either. Leon needs to get at more of him, and he swallows Matthew’s gasp of surprise as he slips his hands over Matty’s ass and twists them until Matty’s under him, his legs falling open further to welcome Leon.

Leon doesn’t hesitate, just slides down Matty’s body, licks and kisses along his sternum and then down his belly. He can hear Matty’s breaths turn into sharp pants, can feel him making little thrusts with his hips underneath him. He carefully avoids his dick as he pops open the button on Matty’s pants and slides the rest of his clothes off. He’s got miles of naked skin in front of him now, and Leon presses a soft kiss to Matty’s hip that has him whimpering. He spreads his lips and starts sucking a mark into Matty’s skin. He knows it won’t last, but it feels like he’s staking his claim here, marking Matty up like he belongs to Leon.

It’s a nice mark, Leon thinks as he pulls away enough to look, will look even better when it purples up. He thinks that Matty will go home and every time he sees the mark, he’ll be able to press down on it, hiss at the pain and remember that it was Leon who put it there. He wishes he could make it stay there forever, a permanent tattoo so everyone who comes after him will know that Leon had Matty first.

He pulls away, and Matty looks confused until Leon nudges at his hip and Matty gets the idea, flips over onto his stomach. Leon climbs back up, hovers over Matty, and starts kissing along his shoulders. Matty sinks further into the mattress, seemingly content to let Leon do what he wants. They’ve fucked a dozen different ways since they started this, but it’s never been like this. They’ve never gone slow, soft, and if this is their last time Leon wants to pour every bit of feeling that he can’t articulate into the way he maps Matty’s body. Matty doesn’t know what it means, as he memorizes his body with his lips, doesn’t understand that this is Leon trying to let go, just breathes into the pillow as Leon takes his time.

Leon works him open slowly, first with his tongue and then his fingers, lets Matty devolve into a quivering mess underneath him. He uses too much lube, makes sure he’s wet and ready when he taps his hip again.

“Wha?” Matty mumbles intelligently.

“Turn over,” Leon tells him. Matty grumbles and Leon leans over and takes his ear between his teeth. He nibbles gently until Matty squirms. “I want to see you.”

When Matty still doesn’t move Leon starts to feel desperate. “Please,” he begs, and Matty finally opens his eyes and looks at him. Leon’s not sure what he sees there, but it gets him to roll over and let Leon slide a pillow under his hips. Leon grabs a condom from the nightstand, never looks away from Matty as he slides it on and situates himself between Matty’s legs. He slides in slowly, locks eyes with Matty and takes in every twinge and gasp as he moves into him. He feels Matty’s hands grip his forearms as he bottoms out, his eyes dropping closed and Leon watches it all.

He keeps his thrusts slow and deep, grinding against Matty more than anything. He braces himself with hands on either side of Matty’s head, drops down to kiss him until Matty’s whining against him.

“God, Leon, fuck,” Matty groans out when Leon pulls away to kiss down his neck. “So fucking good.”

“Mmm.” Leon hums against his neck, then bites his way back up until he’s kissing along his jaw. He pulls away enough to look down at Matty, finds him watching back with wide eyes, as if he can’t believe that Leon’s there. He raises a hand to trace along Matty’s cheekbone with his thumb, along the bridge of his nose, then over his closed eyelids. It feels like Matty isn’t breathing, but then his eyes open again and he looks concerned, his brow furrowing as he reaches up and brushes his own hand across Leon’s face.

“Leon?” he asks, and when he pulls his fingers away they’re wet. “Are you-“

“Don’t,” Leon gasps out, and smashes his lips to Matty’s.

His thrusts grow harder, faster, and when he pulls away from Matty’s lips he refuses to look him in the eye again.

Matty comes first, groaning out Leon’s name as he strokes himself until he’s coming over his stomach. Leon leans up enough to grasp his hips, fucks into him until he empties into the condom and collapses on top of Matty, pressing his face into his neck. He doesn’t move, and Matty doesn’t seem in a hurry to push him off. He feels Matty’s fingers running up and down his back, registers his breath against Leon’s ear. It’s peaceful, and Leon doesn’t want the moment to end.

“Leon…” Matty’s voice is soft, something like hesitancy in his tone. Leon ignores him, slides out of him slowly, throws himself out of bed to get rid of the condom and get a wet washcloth to clean them both up. He doesn’t meet Matty’s eyes as he wipes him down gently and tosses the fabric toward the bathroom.

When he slides into bed, though, Matty forces himself into Leon’s space. Leon opens his arms automatically, lets Matty rest his head on Leon’s chest. The ugly feeling in his chest dissipates as Matty presses a kiss to his skin and slips a thigh between Leon’s, touches him tenderly as he fights drifting off.

“Go to sleep,” Leon tells him, pressing a kiss to his head.

“Don’t wanna,” Matty mumbles, and Leon jostles him when he laughs.

“You have to rest before you drive.”

“Mmm, you do care.” Matty’s half-asleep, and Leon wants to cry again but he manages to control himself.

“Yeah,” He kisses his curls again and holds the other man tighter. “I do.”

I have to tell him, he thinks, as he starts drifting off himself. Tomorrow, I’ll tell him tomorrow.

The sun is filtering through the windows when Leon slowly awakens. His body feels heavy, his mind foggy, and he reaches toward the other side of the bed on instinct. Matty will usually fall asleep in Leon’s arms, but once he’s asleep he tends to migrate to his own side of the bed. Leon, on the other hand, is a morning cuddler and Matty will usually accommodate him. When he reaches, though, instead of Matty he only finds cold, empty sheets.

He opens his eyes, confirming that he’s alone in the bed. He turns toward the bathroom, but there’s no sign of the shower running. He sits up in the bed and reaches for his phone as he wipes away the last of his sleep. He swipes away a few social media notifications, an e-mail from his agent, and a text from Kim. There’s only one from Matty, and Leon’s stomach drops.

Wanted to get on the road early. Talk soon.

Leon huffs out a breath and fights the urge to throw his phone across the room. He knew this was going to happen, that Matty was going to leave and Leon…well, Leon was going to be left with the broken heart. They’d made it clear what this meant, and Leon was the one who had screwed up, who had caught feelings. He thinks back to the fact that he fucking cried during sex last night, and it’s really no wonder that Matty had hightailed it out of there to avoid the awkward ‘sorry you caught feelings bro’ conversation.

Leon throws himself across the bed and smashes his face into the pillow – the pillow that still smells like Matty – and screams out his frustration.

 

 

Matty texts him when he gets back to Calgary. And that evening, and the next day.

Leon doesn’t respond to any of them.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to. He does, he desperately does, but he’s still feeling hurt by Matty ditching him with a text after they spent months together. He knows he shouldn’t treat it like a breakup because they were never really together, but it feels like a breakup, and Leon’s heart aches in his chest every time he thinks about Matty for too long.

Instead, he focuses on training camp, pushes everything away and puts all of his energy into hockey. He knows that it’s not the healthiest of coping mechanisms, but they have a chance – a real chance – to win the Cup in their city, and Leon’s wanted that from the moment he was drafted by Edmonton. He might be nursing a broken heart, but he’s not going to let that stop him from giving his all to this team.

Connor only brings Matty up twice, the first time as they’re warming up on the first day of training camp, twelve days after Matty left.

“Have you talked to him?” Davo asks, and Leon focuses on the puck he’s handling.

“Who?”

“Matty.” Leon doesn’t look up, but he knows if he does Connor will have that confused, frustrated puppy dog look he’s perfected.

“No,” Leon finally replies, and skates off to take a shot on Smithy.

Leon should have known that wouldn’t be the end of it, but he’s still surprised when he finds Connor waiting at his car.

“Don’t you have your own car?”

“Lauren dropped me off.” Connor shrugs, and Leon seriously considers leaving him there, but then unlocks the doors.

“What happened?” Connor asks once they’ve left that arena and pulled onto the highway.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Drai, come on. I thought it was casual-“

“It was,” Leon grinds out, and he spots his knuckles turning white around the steering wheel.

“But not for you.”

Leon wants to argue, wants to lie, but he can’t. “No.”

“Did you tell him?”

“No point.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“He didn’t – he can’t – It wasn’t real.”

“Seemed pretty real to me.”

“Well, it wasn’t,” Leon snaps, taking the exit for Connor’s house. They’re silent until Leon pulls into Connor’s driveway, when Connor just holds his bag in his arms and stays in his seat.

“I saw the way you looked at him,” Connor finally tells him. “But, I also saw the way he looked at you. I think you’re wrong, I think it was real for him, Leon.”

Leon doesn’t respond, just stares forward at the door of Connor’s garage. He can’t think like that, can’t think that Matty might have felt the same, can’t give himself that kind of hope.

“Okay, well, I’m…it’ll be okay, Leon.”

“Yeah.” Leon sags against the seat, and tries to give Connor a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

 

Training camp flies by in a haze of ice and drills and workouts. Leon’s not crazy about the idea of going into the bubble, but he is excited at the prospect of playing hockey again. That is, until the schedule comes out and he sees that their exhibition game will be against Calgary. He’s sure someone higher up thought it was hilarious to set up another Battle of Alberta to welcome hockey back, but Leon just feels a lead weight in the pit of his stomach. Playing Calgary is always exhausting, emotionally and physically, and he doubts that it’s going to be any different just because it’s an exhibition game. And now, on top of everything else, he has to face Matty on the ice.

Matty gave up on texting him after a few days of Leon ignoring him, a final okay message received making Leon want to throw his phone across the room.

He’s just finished throwing a final pair of sweats into his suitcase when his laptop trills from across the room. It’s probably Kim, or maybe his mom, he assumes. When he clicks on Skype and finds taryntkachuk21 pops up on his screen. He considers rejecting the call, but if Taryn’s calling him…what if something’s wrong with Matty? He can’t take the chance, so he clicks accept.

Taryn’s face fills the screen a moment later. He’s seen pictures of her before, caught glances during Matty’s calls with her, but he’s struck by just how similar she looks to Matty.

“Taryn?” he asks, and he watches as she gives him a small smile. “How did you-“

“I stole your info from Matty’s account.”

“Is he okay?”

Taryn sighs and sags back into her chair. “Yeah. I mean, I guess it depends on your definition of ‘okay.’ Like, physically, he’s fine.”

“But?”

“But…Leon, he’s miserable. I’ve never seen him like this.” Taryn tugs at her ponytail, just like how Matty tugs at his curls when he’s frustrated, and it makes a sharp pain stab through his chest. “Ever since he got back to Calgary, he hasn’t been himself. He’s quiet, he’s withdrawn, he’s…he’s sad, Leon.”

Leon bites his lip, looks away, fights the instinct that’s screaming at him to drive to Calgary, to find Matty, to make him okay. But, he reminds himself, that’s not his job, not his place. They’re not together, they never were, and Matty’s not his to take care of – not his to love.

“Why are you calling me?”

“Because I think you’re the reason he’s like this.”

“You think it’s my fault Matty’s sad?”

“Not your fault, necessarily. But I think…something changed in Edmonton, didn’t it?”

Leon knows that Matty’s out to his family, that his sister accepts him, but he’s not sure how much of his personal life he wants her to know. Still, it must show on his face because she just sighs and rests her face in her hands.

“It did, didn’t it?” When she drops her hands, there’s something like a smile on her face when she looks back at Leon. “I knew it. The way he talked about you…”

“Yeah,” Leon finally admits. “But it doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s…” It wasn’t real, he wants to say, but the words get stuck in his throat. “It’s over.”

“Did you end it?” Taryn’s tone is sharp, and Leon suddenly fears the girl on the other side of the screen.

“No. No, it…there wasn’t anything to end, not really.”

“Leon.” Taryn sighs. “Do you have feelings for him?”

Leon stares down at his lap. He can only just admit his feelings to himself, to Connor, he doesn’t think he can be so vulnerable with Matty’s sister.

“You have to understand, Leon. My dad, he’s not...he doesn’t know how to deal with something like that. He’s spent years talking about gay people…I mean, you know, you grew up in hockey too.”

“Yeah.”

“Matty grew up listening to that crap. Then, when Matty came out a few months ago, it…it wasn’t good. I guess he hoped – we all did – that it being his son would change something, but it didn’t. He can’t disown Matty, it’s too public for that, but if he could he would.”

Leon thinks about Matty, about the call with Taryn that night that Keith interrupted, how wrecked Matty had been just from that.

“I’ve never seen him talk about anyone the way he talked about you,” Taryn continues. “I don’t know what he told you, but my dad has spent Matty’s entire life making him feel like he’s lesser than, that he doesn’t deserve to be happy. But he was happy with you, I think, or something close to it. If you feel the same way, please don’t let my father take that from both of you.”

Leon stares through the screen at Taryn, feels a lump in his throat as his eyes burn. He can’t let himself think, can’t let himself hope, but he’s pretty sure there’s no one in the world who knows Matty better than Taryn.

“I’ll think about it,” Leon concedes, and Taryn nods.

“Thank you. And good luck in the bubble.”

 

 

Leon looks for Matty as they arrive at the hotel, as they wait through checkpoint after checkpoint, getting tested and their keys and information about the bubble in general. It’s not until he notices that there aren’t any Flames around that he asks a worker.

“The Flames? They’re at Sutton Place, down the road.” She tells him with a smile.

So they’re in separate hotels. Any hope Leon might have held about finding Matty, trying to talk to him, dissipate. The hotels are luxurious, tons of amenities and activities if the brochure in his hands is anything to go by, but they aren’t allowed to leave except for ‘team outings.’ He has no chance of sneaking off to the other hotel, which means he won’t see Matty until they’re on the ice for their exhibition game.

He thinks about just texting him, maybe even calling, but he had ignored Matty’s texts and calls, had practically ghosted him because of his hurt feelings, and he deserves an actual face-to-face conversation – they both do.

So he waits, and soon enough they’re suiting up for the game. It feels like a preseason game in a lot of ways, but at the same time there’s an excitement there that’s usually lacking when the game doesn’t ‘count.’ Maybe it’s because they’ve been gone for months, maybe it’s because it’s the start of playoff hockey. Maybe, Leon thinks, it’s exciting just for him because he knows he’ll see Matty.

They skate out, and the arena is eerily silent. They’re playing the typical warmup music, but there’s an energy that’s lacking without the crowds there. Leon keeps his head down as he does a few laps of their end of the ice, but soon enough he finds himself looking for Matty across the ice.

He’s easy enough to spot, curls poking out from under his helmet as he stickhandles with Johnny Gaudreau. He’s smiling, joking, and Leon feels something swirl in his gut. Want, longing, maybe even a hint of jealousy that Matty’s smiling at someone who’s not him, which is ridiculous. He must stare for a beat too long, because Matty looks his way and freezes, the smile slipping off of his face. Leon looks away first, because the last thing he’s ever wanted since they became friends is to make Matty sad, to be the cause of any more hurt.

He takes a few shots, passes the puck to Davo and Nuge and Nursey, before he idles toward the middle of the rink. He doesn’t realize he’s doing it until he’s skating along center ice, tapping his stick and trying not to look at the Flames end.

Matty never meets him in the middle.

He gives up, skating toward the bench as they get ready for the game to start.

They win 4-1, Davo nabbing two goals, while Yam and Russy get one each. It’s a solid showing, something promising for their chances at making a deep run. Leon’s not foolish enough to think that they could go all the way this year, but the thought of raising the Cup here, in their home…it’s a tempting one.

Leon rushes through his shower, throws on his street clothes before half the team are even out of the showers, and slips out of the locker room. The halls are fairly deserted – it really is a skeleton crew where the league can get away with it. It makes his goal that much easier, and he’s halfway to the visitor’s locker room when a security guard in a mask stops him. Leon flashes his badge, and the guard shakes his head.

“Sorry, only Flames players and staff are allowed back here.”

“I just need a minute.” Leon pleads, gesturing to his own mask. “I’ll wear it the whole time, I promise. I just need to talk to someone.”

“Rules are rules.”

Leon sighs, stares up at the ceiling and counts to five. “I was just on the ice with them, shoving them around. We couldn’t get any closer if we tried.”

“Sorry, Mr. Draisaitl.”

Leon nods, turns back the way he came, and gives up on speaking to Matty.

 

 

They lose their first game against the Hawks, despite scoring four goals, and Leon’s in his room licking his wounds when the Flames-Jets game starts. He shouldn’t watch, should focus on his own game, but he compromises by promising himself he’ll only watch the first period.

It’s only about five minutes in when it happens.

It looks like a normal hit, from the angle, but Scheifele doesn’t get up. He thrashes on the ice, clutching his leg, and the game comes to a standstill. Leon watches as a trainer makes his way across the ice, tries to settle Scheifele as the announcers wring their hands about the obvious injury. Leon tries to focus on Scheifele, but he finds himself looking for Matty anywhere on screen.

After a few minutes, two trainers get Scheifele on his feet – well, one foot, it doesn’t look like he’s putting any weight on his injured leg – and both teams slam their sticks on the boards as they get him off. It’s then that Leon gets a good look at Matty, as he speaks quickly to Scheifele. Leon likes to think that he knows Matty fairly well at this point, and he may look indifferent as they speak, but Leon can see the truth. Can see the fear, worry, and hurt that crosses his features as Scheifele is moved past him.

He sees it coming, but it’s only a few minutes before one of the Jets picks a fight with Matty. It’s the captain, Wheeler, and it’s only to be expected – revenge for injuring one of their star players. Matty drops his stick, then his gloves, and they go at it. Leon’s never been much of a fighter – has never even had a fight in the NHL – has never really seen the point of it, and he fights the urge to roll his eyes as Wheeler and Matty go at it.

It only lasts a few seconds, and even if he doesn’t like fighting Leon can’t stop the small swell of pride when Matty takes Wheeler to the ice with just a few punches. The refs pull him off of Wheeler quickly and send them both to the box. He gets a brief glimpse of Matty, and he looks wound tight, obviously still shaken by Scheifele’s injury.

Calgary wipes the floor with the Jets, getting four unanswered goals, but all Leon can think about is Matty. He’s half-convinced to attempt sneaking into the other hotel when his phone buzzes where it’s resting on the nightstand.

Matthew Tkachuk the display reads, and Leon snatches it up and answers it.

“Matty,” he breathes. Any anger or hurt he was still harboring dissipates at the muffled sniffling he hears on the other end of the line. “Matty,” he repeats, and Matty lets out a shaky breath.

“I didn’t mean to.” Matty’s voice is rough, harsh. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. God, Leon, you gotta know, I-“

“I know,” Leon interrupts him, and a sob that sounds forced out of Matty’s chest makes Leon’s heart ache.

“They’re saying that I’m a dirty player. The coach, he’s saying I did it on purpose, and everyone already thinks I’m a dirty player, that I’d injure someone like Scheifs, but that’s not me, I swear it’s not-“

“I know.”

“It’s not Leon, I wouldn’t do that. Scheifs is my friend, and I wouldn’t try to end someone’s career on fucking purpose. Oh, god, what if I ended his career, Leon? What if it’s over for him and it’s my fault-“

“It’s not. Matty, it’s not your fault. I saw the hit, he turned at the last second, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was an injury, bad hits happen, but it wasn’t your fault.”

“Leon.” Matty sobs, and Leon revisits his plan to sneak into the other hotel, consequences be damned. “I’m sorry.”

“I know. I know you didn’t do it on purpose, Scheifele does too.”

“No, I’m sorry for…for leaving without saying anything. I was just…I’m just fucking sorry.”

Matty’s crying again, and Leon feels tears burning in his own eyes. “It’s okay, baby. You’re okay,” he soothes, which only seems to make Matty cry harder.

He stays on the line, lets Matty cry himself out, but they don’t say anything until Matty’s breaths even out. Leon stretches out on the bed, propped up on the headboard.

“I wish you were here,” Matty says eventually, voice quiet and rough.

“Me too,” Leon admits. “Maybe, after…”

“Yeah?” There’s hope there that has Leon smiling, burrowing under the blankets.

“Yeah. If you want.”

“Yeah.” Matty echoes, sounding like he’s drifting off. “I want.”

 

 

Four days later, it’s over for Leon.

They only managed to win one game against the Hawks, and Leon watches as Davo breaks his stick in the fucking visitor’s room of their own arena. Leon didn’t think they’d make a deep run, but he thought that they would at least qualify. But, once again, they’re going home and their season is over.

Leon’s just finished packing his hotel room when his phone buzzes, Matty’s name splashed across his screen. He’s in a piss poor mood, doesn’t want to take it out on Matty, but he also wants to talk to him more than anyone else.

“Hey,” he greets, collapsing in a heap on the end of his bed.

“Hey,” Matty replies. “I-are you…?”

“Don’t ask me how I am,” Leon shoots back.

“Yeah, sorry.”

“It’s okay. It is what it is.”

“Y’all deserved a deeper run.”

“Rooting for the enemy?”

“Rooting for you.” Leon’s heart feels too big for his chest at Matty’s response, and he lets himself fall back on the bed.  

“I’m not the enemy anymore?”

“You haven’t been for a long time.”

Leon smiles and fights the urge to hide his face despite the fact that no one can see him.

“I mean,” Matty continues, and Leon can practically see the smirk on his face. “I’m not about to dress up in fucking blue and orange, but you’re pretty okay.”

Leon’s momentarily hung up on the thought of Matty in his team’s colors, Leon’s name and number splashed across his back as he cheers them on. It’s a good visual, makes Leon feel like Matty’s more, an important and steady fixture in his life. Then he thinks of himself in the same situation, decked out in Flames red sporting Tkachuk like he…like he belongs to Matty.

“You’d look terrible in blue,” Leon finally concedes.

“Fuck you, I’d look great.”

“Hmmm.”

“You’re leaving in the morning?”

“Yeah, they’re making us take a bus out of the bubble to the practice rink.” Leon rolls his eyes. At this point, he just wants to go home, doesn’t want to deal with bubble bullshit a moment longer than necessary.

“Are you going to stay in Edmonton for a while?”

“I’m not sure.” Leon sits up. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“If you…if you do…”

“Yeah. I’ll, uh, I’ll let you know?”

“Okay,” Matty sighs. “Good.”

“And, you know, I’ll be rooting for you.”

Matty’s answering chuckle settles something in Leon’s chest.

 

 

Leon goes home, and instead of preparing to leave as soon as possible like he has in years past, he settles back in. He finds one of Matty’s t-shirts stuffed in the back of a drawer on his second night, one of a myriad of things that he finds around his house that reminds him of Matty. He throws the shirt on and takes a selfie, sending it to Matty.

Matthew Tkachuk

You gotta be fucking kidding me, Matty shoots back. You look good in Flames red

Leon decides to push the envelope, pulling off the shirt and taking another selfie.

Leon Draisaitl

This better?

Matthew Tkachuk

I really hate you

Leon Draisaitl

No you don’t.

Matthew Tkachuk

No

Later that night, it’s late but he’s up watching the Flames’ second game against Dallas. Matty already went down the tunnel in the first period after Benn hit him, but Leon watches as Matty’s sandwiched between Benn and Oleksiak in the third. Matty’s not a small guy, but both Jamies are broad and large, and Leon can’t help but wince at the hit. He thinks about the different ways he can chirp Matty over this hit until he sees him slowly make his way to the bench, clearly unsteady on his feet.

He watches as Matty goes straight for the tunnel, disappearing into the darkness. Concussion protocol rings through Leon’s head, and he feels his panic grow as the game finishes – the Flames lose 5-4 – and Matty doesn’t reappear.

He reaches for his phone, forces himself to calm down as he finds Matty’s contact and hits ‘dial.’ It rings and rings and rings before going to voicemail. He tries again and gets the same result. He then moves on to pacing his living room, checking his phone every ten seconds for a text, a call, anything.

He’s wearing a hole in his rug when his phone vibrates and he almost drops it in his hurry to answer.

“Matty?” He asks without looking at the screen.

“No, it’s Taryn.” Matty’s sister’s familiar voice comes down the line and he feels the panic grow even more.

“Taryn-“

“He’s okay,” she assures him, her voice calm and steady.

“He is?”

“Yeah. They think he has a concussion, so they only let him make one phone call, and he asked me to call you.”

“Oh.”

“They’re going to let him go back to the hotel, Johnny’s going to stay with him through the night and keep an eye on him.”

“Okay.” Leon deflates and sits back on the couch, running his free hand through his hair. “Good.”

“I know he wishes it was you there instead,” Taryn tells him, and Leon doesn’t know what to say.

“He doesn’t – we’re not-“

“I thought you two idiots finally worked stuff out.” Taryn huffs, irritated, and she sounds so much like Matty that it makes Leon’s chest ache.

“We haven’t really had a chance. But, I mean, we will.”

“He really cares about you, Leon. Don’t let him talk himself into anything different. Don’t let yourself do it, either.”

“Okay.” Leon feels dumb, and like his life will be easier if he just learns to do what Taryn Tkachuk tells him.

“They won’t let me into Canada, or I’d come and knock some sense into both of you,” she snaps, but there’s no heat behind it. “Anyway, he said they should let him have his phone back tomorrow or the next day, so I’m sure he’ll call you then.”

“Thank you, Taryn.”

“No problem. I’ll talk to you soon,” she replies, then ends the call.

Leon sleeps fitfully all night, reaching across the empty space on what he’d come to think of as Matty’s side of the bed. He wants him here, with him, where he can see him and touch him and know that he’s being cared for. Leon’s not sure where they’ll end up, but he can’t help but hope that maybe Matty actually wants the same thing that he does. But, for now, it doesn’t matter if Matty doesn’t feel the same – Leon just wants him there.

Leon doesn’t usually walk around with his phone, but the next day it’s practically attached to his hand. He wanders the house, trying to find anything to keep him busy. He works out in the gym, even tries one of Matty’s yoga routines, but that only makes him think of Matty and worry more. He cleans the kitchen, both bathrooms, and sweeps the entryway despite the fact that the cleaning service had come by right before he’d left the bubble. Nothing gets his mind off of worrying about Matty, of wanting some kind of reassurance that he’s okay despite Taryn telling him that he would be fine.

He’s just finished loading the dishes from dinner when his phone buzzes in his pocket. He fishes it out and Matty’s name flashes across the screen.

“Hey,” he breathes, and hears rustling on the other side.

“Hi,” Matty replies, his voice rough.

“How are you?”

“Head hurts.”

“What are they saying?”

“Concussion, for sure. They think I’ll be fine but I’m definitely out for the series, at least.”

Leon doesn’t know what to say to that, knows how he would feel if he were in Matty’s position. To not be able to help your team, to be stuck in a hotel room or press box while your team fights for their place in the playoffs, and you can’t do anything but watch.

“I’m sorry,” Leon finally settles on. It’s lame, but he knows there’s nothing else he can really say.

“Yeah,” is all Matty says in return, and they sit there in silence. Leon listens to Matty breathing, wishing for the dozenth time that he didn’t have to settle for listening to it through a phone line. That Matty was back in his bed, breathing into his neck while they sleep.

“You’ll be ready for the next round.”

“Maybe.” Matty’s voice turns soft, and the rustling returns as he shifts in bed. “Tare called you?”

“Yeah. I was worried.”

“You were?” There’s a hint of surprise in Matty’s tone, and that cuts Leon to the bone.

“Of course. You…you’re important, Matty. To me.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath on the other line, and Matty doesn’t say anything, but it doesn’t feel like a rejection. Instead they settle into a comfortable silence, just listening to each other be present, until Matty huffs out a breath.

“I’m so bored, I’ve never wanted to watch TV so badly in my life.”

Leon laughs, and Matty laughs too, and Leon feels a little lighter.

 

 

The Flames win the game that night, a shutout that has Matty sounding perkier when he calls him the next afternoon. Then, Leon watches as they drop the next three, and just like that it’s over. The camera cuts to Matty in the press box during the last game, losing his mind as the Stars score goal after goal after goal after Calgary scored three in the first period. Gurianov gets four on his own, seven unanswered goals in total, and it’s ugly.

Leon turns the game off as soon as it’s over, doesn’t even try to contact Matty, resolves instead to call him in the morning. Getting knocked out of the playoffs is never easy, and he can’t imagine the frustration Matty will be feeling knowing he couldn’t help, couldn’t battle it out with his teammates.

He closes up everything downstairs, is heading toward the stairs when his doorbell rings. Visitors are few and far between these days, especially at almost two in the morning. He flips on the camera on the front porch, his stomach flipping at the sight of familiar curls.

“Matty?” he greets when he opens the door, and Matty turns to him with a tentative, nervous gaze. “What are you doing here?”

“I didn’t…I couldn’t…I couldn’t be there anymore. I’m on IR, I didn’t really need to stay until tomorrow.” Leon glances down and watches Matty worry the sleeve of his hoodie between his fingers. “So, I thought…I don’t know.”

“Come in.” Leon wraps a hand around Matty’s elbow and tugs, dragging him inside and closing the door behind him. “Do you want something? To drink?”

Matty shakes his head, his curls going wild. “No, I, uh…”

Matty looks so unsure, and Leon gives into instinct and pulls him in with the hand still on his arm. Matty follows easily, letting Leon wrap his arms around him, sinking into Leon’s chest. He feels Matty’s arms go around his waist, sliding up Leon’s back until he’s fisting his hands in the soft fabric of Leon’s shirt. He expels a deep breath, and Leon clings tighter as he moves his head from Leon’s shoulder to press his face into Leon’s neck. His scraggly beard tickles Leon’s sensitive skin, and he can’t stop a shudder when Matty’s nose brushes along his skin, the ghost of lips there. It’s intimate, familiar, and so close to everything Leon’s wanted for months.

The energy changes when Matty tilts his head, scrapes his teeth along a vein in a way that has Leon gasping, tilting his head so Matty can have access to more of his skin. It feels so good, especially when Matty presses him against the wall in his entryway and slips a thigh between Leon’s legs, his mouth turning from soft bites to sucking a mark into his skin. Leon writhes against him, feels himself growing hard in his pants. He wants to take it further, to drag Matty upstairs and get him back in his bed, but Matty’s almost frantic with it, and Leon had promised himself that they’d actually talk before fucking again. It takes everything in him to grab Matty’s shoulders and push him away, especially when Matty just clings tighter.

“Matty, wait-“ Leon tries, but Matty presses closer, tugging at the hem of Leon’s shirt.

“No, c’mon.” Leon wraps a hand around Matty’s wrist and pulls his hand away from his shirt. Matty yanks it out of his grasp, pulling away and glaring at Leon.

“What the fuck? What’s the problem?”

“We need to talk.” Matty rolls his eyes, and Leon feels a flash of anger.

“Why? What do we have to talk about?” Matty moves closer, back into Leon’s space. “Don’t you want to fuck me?”

“That’s not the point. You’re upset, you’re injured, and you just fell out of the playoffs.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” Matty’s tone is harsh, cutting, but he’s still only inches from Leon.

“I just mean-“

“I know what you mean.” Matty leans in and licks a long stripe up Leon’s neck. “Don’t you want me?”

“You know I do.” Leon gasps, rests a hand on Matty’s hip on instinct. “That’s not the point.”

“Yes, it is.” Matty tugs on Leon’s shirt again, slips his hand down and cups Leon’s half-hard dick through his sweats. “C’mon, Leon, want you to fuck me. Make me forget.”

“No.” Leon turns his voice firm, throws Matty’s hand off of him and shoves until he’s on the other side of the entryway from Leon. “Stop, Matty.”

Leon watches as Matty’s face goes from shocked to hurt to angry. He shakes his head, his curls bouncing, before staring down at the ground.

“Why don’t you want me?” Matty’s voice is harsh. “Don’t you want to fuck me? It’s what I’m good for, c’mon Leon. It’s all I’m good for.”

“What?” Leon pushes off of the wall, but when he steps toward Matty he freezes as Matty flinches.

“Don’t.”

“Do you really believe that?” he asks, and Matty shrugs.

“I let my team down, let my family down, let you down. I’m just a disappointment, a failure. A useless fag who’s only good for getting fucked.”

“Matty…” Leon feels his heart crack in his chest.

“So, come on.” Matty’s still not looking at him, but his voice sounds wet. “Fuck me then leave me, it’s what I deserve.”

“Who the fuck told you that?” Leon moves slowly, slowly closer, doing his best not to spook Matty.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It does, because whoever made you believe that doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. You deserve everything, Matty, anything you want.”

“No.” Matty shakes his head, finally seems to notice that Leon’s close when Leon reaches down and cups his chin, pulls gently until Matty’s looking at him.

“Was it your father?” Leon asks gently, and watches as Matty fishes his phone out of his pocket and presses it into Leon’s hands as he unlocks it.

Leon takes it, finds it open to a text thread with Dad, and feels his stomach clench before he even reads the texts. His eyes flash over to Matty, who’s back to staring at the ground.

You’ve let your team down the earliest text reads after Leon scrolls up.

Can’t shake off a hit, you never would have made it in my day

That’s why they don’t allow fags into the league

Queers like you don’t belong

You’re an embarrassment

I can’t believe you’re my son

There’s no replies from Matt, and Leon can’t even finish reading the thread before shutting off Matty’s phone and tossing it on the entry table and pulling Matty back into his arms. Matty fights him, trying to pull away, but Leon doesn’t let him. Eventually, Matty gives up and sags against him.

“He’s wrong about you. He doesn’t know the first fucking thing about you,” Leon tells him fiercely.

Matty shudders in his arms, his breath coming in gasps as he obviously tries to hold back tears.

“How do you know?”

“Because I know you.” Leon pulls at Matty until he can look him in the eye, cradle his face to make sure that Matty hears him. “Because I love you.”

“No.” Matty shakes his head, and Leon tightens his grip.

Yes. I love you, I have for months. I want to be with you Matty, for real. I always have.”

“Leon, you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not worth it,” he insists, and Leon’s heart cracks in his chest because he can see that Matty really believes that he can’t be loved.

“Matty,” Leon breathes, dropping his forehead against Matty’s. “You’re worth everything. Please, let me in. Let me take care of you.”

A sob escapes Matty’s throat, and he collapses into Leon once again. He’s not sure how long they stand there, but eventually he’s able to coax Matty upstairs. He stands by the bed and lets Leon strip him of his coat, his shoes, his shirt and pants. Once he’s down to his boxers, Leon gets him under the covers and then slides into bed next to him. He gets close enough that Matty can feel his body heat, but doesn’t touch him. He watches as Matty stares up at the ceiling. He’s not crying anymore, but his eyes are rimmed in red and his cheeks are splotchy. Leon supposes it should look unattractive, but his heart only aches over the fact that the man he loves is hurting, and he can’t help but still find him beautiful.

Leon’s starting to doze off despite his best efforts when he feels Matty thread their fingers together between them, squeezing. Leon takes that as permission to lean over and kiss Matty’s bare shoulder.

“I want to. Let you in,” Matty whispers, and Leon kisses Matty’s skin again.

“I know.”

“I’ll try.”

“I know,” Leon echoes. “I love you.”

Matty sinks into the mattress even more, and squeezes Leon’s hand again. He turns and locks eyes with Leon, and he doesn’t need to say it.

Leon knows.

 

 

“Come on, Brady wants to take the boat out before it gets too hot!” Taryn’s voice echoes through the house, and Leon reluctantly separates from Matty. “You two better not be making out in the kitchen again.”

“We’re not!” Matty shoots back.

“You were!” Emma tosses in unhelpfully as she passes by the kitchen, Brady’s girlfriend laden down with towels to take down to the boat.

“Grab some drinks you pervs.” Taryn pops her head around the corner. “And some snacks.”

“Sure thing.” Leon nods, turning away from Matty to grab the supplies.

“Thanks Leon!”

“No problem, Tare.”

“Suck up,” Matty mutters, but he still comes up behind Leon to wrap his arms around his waist.

“I can’t help it that I’m your sister’s favorite.”

“Absolutely not, I’m her favorite.”

“Sure.” Leon pulls out of Matty’s arms so he can shove a six pack of beer and a bottle of wine into his hands. “Take this.”

“Yes, dear.”

Leon rolls his eyes but grabs the sandwiches Chantal had prepared earlier and tosses them into the basket she’d also helpfully set on the counter.

By the time he and Matty make their way down to the dock, Matty’s family is waiting, already boarded. Leon watches as Matty climbs onboard and immediately starts arguing with Brady over who’s going to drive. Leon just stows the food and drinks away and finds a seat next to Taryn, leaving the brothers to it.

“I don’t know how you grew up with that,” he tells her, and she smiles fondly at her brothers.

“Eh, they’re idiots, but they’re my idiots, you know?”

“Yeah.” Leon watches Matty, and flinches when Taryn slaps his arm. “Ow!”

“I don’t want to watch you make hearteyes at by brother.”

Before Leon can respond, Matty seemingly gives up and stomps away from Brady. Instead of taking the seat next to Leon like a normal person, however, he collapses onto Leon’s lap.

“Fuck, get off, you’re heavy,” Leon complains, but Matty just smiles and wraps his arms around his neck as Leon’s come up to hold him by his waist.

“You love it.”

“Sure, babe.” Leon smiles when Matty leans down to kiss the corner of his mouth.

“Ugh, y’all are gross. I’m going to go sit with Mom while y’all make out. Again.”

The boat pulls away from the dock and Leon watches as Taryn goes to sit with Chantal and Emma. She looks better than Leon’s seen her in months, her shoulders lighter. He can still spot the band of lighter skin around her finger where her wedding rings used to be. He thinks of Matty, in his arms and unable to sleep as he blamed himself for the destruction of his parent’s marriage. Of how Chantal had finally traveled to Edmonton weeks after she had filed for divorce, and disappeared into a guest bedroom with Matty for two hours. Matty had stopped blaming himself after that, and for that Leon was grateful.

I’m glad my son has you,” she told him later that night, cradling his face in her hands in a way that had made him miss his own mother.

“I’m glad I have him,” Leon replied, and she’d smiled at him, a small thing tinged with sadness.

“My husband did quite a number on him. I’m only sorry I didn’t stand up for him sooner.”

“You have now, that’s all that matters.”

“You’re a good man, Leon.” She’d patted his cheek and then shooed him out of the kitchen so she could cook dinner for them.

When Brady had suggested a family vacation, Leon had been surprised when Matty had invited him along. He had assumed that, despite their newly official relationship, they would go their separate ways in the offseason – Matty back to the US and Leon to Germany. Matty couldn’t come with him, but he could stay with Matty, and when he asked, Leon had accepted without hesitation. Now, they were a week in and being with a supportive family was clearly doing wonders for Matty. It warmed Leon’s heart every time he saw Taryn or Brady praise Matty, or tease him gently but then dogpile on the couch with him. He and Emma would watch on with exasperated fondness as the three Tkachuk siblings wrestled it out, Taryn screeching as the boys ganged up on her. She’d huff and act mad, but when she and Emma would check later, they’d still be cuddled together on the couch, Taryn trapped between Brady and Matty as they watched tv.

It had given Leon the chance to see a new side to Matty, one that only made him love him more. To watch others love Matty, to pour love all over him, made it all the sweeter when Matty openly shows him affection. They aren’t out, aren’t public yet – it’s not something either of them are ready for – but to know that Matty now felt comfortable to hold his hand, wrap an arm around his waist, or simply press up against him when they’re with the people closest to them is more than Leon had ever dreamed.

“Love you,” he murmurs into Matty’s ear as the boat cruises along the lake. He can’t ever say it enough, and Matty melts every time.

“Love you,” Matty echoes, twisting until he can rest his head on Leon’s shoulder.

Once he settles, Leon just holds on tighter.