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It all starts really going wrong in the preseason, which is an insane thing to say given the way everything actually went wrong last year. But, in Tyson’s opinion, that just shows the gravity of the situation.

Erik’s pre-training camp, All You Can Eat and Drink Before Fitness Evals Party is in full swing, and Tyson is becoming one with the earth. He’s riding a sugar high from two cupcakes, a brownie, and some kind of alcoholic popsicle. He’s also tipsy from sangria slushies, which might explain why he's laying on the ground on the far side of EJ’s massive backyard. Somewhere, the rookies are yelling at Gabe to get in the pool, but they sound an ocean away. 

Anyway, that’s not important because Tyson feels so good and loose, he’s melting into the grass. Erik probably has pretentious horse grass like fescue. No, Kentucky bluegrass. Horrible losing seasons don’t matter to bluegrass. He rips out a few tufts of grass and sprinkles them on himself, just to speed up the metamorphosis. 

Suddenly, Gabe sounds so close, calling Tyson’s name. How did he cross the 5,000 nautical miles from the pool to get here? Did he swim? Tyson’s so distracted thinking about Gabe all ocean wet, his heart doesn’t even jumpstart like it usually does when Gabe says his name. 

“Tyson?” Hmm, his heart might’ve flipped a little that time. 

Tyson hums out an affirmative, just to show he’s himself and not 100% bluegrass yet. And there’s Gabe looking down at him all bronze and beautiful. His eyes are soft and his lips are quirked up like something’s funny. Wow, is it a good look.

“What are you doing?” Gabe asks, like it isn’t obvious. 

Still, he knows Gabe can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, maybe because of how far the thoughts have to travel in his huge head, so Tyson answers, “Melting. Obviously.”  

Then Gabe is sprawling out next to Tyson, so close he can feel the grass fan out as that big Norse god body crushes it. Is it bad to want to be that grass? But no, the bluegrass thing is totally over, because Tyson is going to melt into Gabe instead. There’s maybe two inches between them. Tyson can feel the late August heat radiating from Gabe’s body. He would only have to melt a little, and they’d be skin to skin, warmth to warmth, close as lovers. 

After a minute or two, the grass rustles a little as Gabe turns that big, stupidly attractive head to look over at him. Tyson wouldn’t even have to melt for their lips to brush. If he concentrates, he might be able to feel the air move when Gabe breathes. There’s too much sugar and sun and soft grass for the longing that wells up in his gut to feel jagged the way it sometimes does. Tyson lets it settle in him, the wanting, and melts just a little so their arms touch, bicep to elbow. Becoming one with the earth was a noble goal but becoming one with Gabe sounds much better. 

Tyson maybe said that last bit out loud, because now Gabe is propped up on an elbow leaning over him. He can’t even panic, too distracted by Gabe’s knee pressing into his thigh. Tyson’s not sure, what with the knee and the sangria and the bluegrass, but Gabe’s eyes seem a little wide. Startled maybe? Still so soft though, and Tyson gets a little lost in them, melts a little more. Maybe the wanting can be kind of like having today.

“Tys…” Gabe starts, and stalls out. And oh, his voice is low, like it's just for Tyson. Yeah, that feels like having

“Tyson,” quiet because their faces are still just inches apart. 

Kissing Gabe is never really an option, realistically speaking. But from here, Tyson could count every single flaxen hair on Gabe’s head instead, and that would probably be enough. If Gabe would just stay pressed close and still long enough.

“Are you—”

But then Josty and Kerfy come crashing over with the puppyish enthusiasm of rookies, and Gabe stops looking all gooey eyed and sits up. Their legs are definitely not touching anymore, which Tyson takes as a personal insult.

“What?” Gabe snaps, and oh, that’s his pissy captain voice. Kerfy looks mildly intimidated. 

Tyson Jr. just starts talking, not even a little cowed by what Tyson sees is also Gabe’s pissy captain face. His namesake learned from the best. “Gabe! JT’s got all the tequila pops and he won’t give them back until you come play chicken! He says Erik’s sabotaging their team, and only the captain can settle this.” 

“He’s threatening to eat all of them!” Kerfy adds, expression appropriately horrified. He’s heard the cautionary tale of the 16/17 Cinco de Mayo fiasco. 

Gabe sighs, deep like probably only fathers of five and team captains do and looks at Tyson, who is feeling less melty all the time. Can the mere presence of rookies cause sobriety? He might even have to sit up now. 

“Don’t dad sigh at me, Gabriel. That’s not even my rookie!” If there’s a little extra emphasis in that statement, well, Compher earned it hoarding pops and whining and making Tyson stop melting into Gabe. Two more minutes and maybe he could’ve been pressed shoulder to ankle with Gabe, touching his hair. That’s like third base in some cultures, probably. 

Just to be difficult, Gabe sighs again, deeper. “No, but your rookie is here, crying to me about it.” 

The soft eyes are gone, but the sharp grin cutting across Gabe’s face makes Tyson want in a whole different way. If he focuses on those little details and not the full shape of his desire, Tyson can just about manage it. 

He stores away the intimacy of Gabe’s low voice, the brief feeling of having, and musters up some indignance. “Tyson Jr. is trying to avert a tequila crisis! That’s responsible behavior. He got that from me!”

Gabe locks eyes with him, grin widening like he’s about to really sink his teeth into the bickering. “Responsible behavior! Tyson, last week Nate hid your helmet, and instead of talking to the equipment manager, you wore a toque out for warm-ups!” 

“Yeah, a very serious, responsible toque with an Avs logo on it and everything. You’re just jealous they don’t knit them big enough to fit your head! It’s ok Gabe, maybe the team can special order one for you.” And if Tyson leans in to pat his enormous blonde head, well, no one can tell if he’s doing it to feel Gabe’s silky hair or to be condescending. 

For a second, it seems like Gabe moves into the touch, but then he jerks back, squinting with annoyance. “It had a pom-pom! And leave my head out of this. It’s totally normal.” 

“Uh huh, so normal you probably use a 10 quart mixing bowl as a helmet. Do you even own a hat that fits, Landesnerd?” This time Tyson is the one doing the grinning. He loves Gabe a little annoyed. But he just loves Gabe, so. 

Gabe narrows his eyes and leans in, “Maybe I just choose not to wear hats, because I don’t need to hide the mess on my head. Combs exist, Brutes.”

One of the rookies starts fidgeting in the background, and Tyson decides maybe it’s time to look at someone who is not Gabe. 

“We’re still here.” Kerfy nods his head towards the pool questioningly, “So Comphy? Tequila pops?”

Josty elbows him, “Shh, mom and dad are fighting!” He lowers his voice, “I think it’s a foreplay thing.”

Gabe yells, “Jost!”  

At the same time, Tyson hisses out a scandalized, “Tyson Jr.!”  Why is the sun so hot? His face is definitely getting sunburnt, not blushing. 

Tyson regrets looking at the rookies already. He’s probably mom. “Children, stop bothering us. Gabe will get your popsicles back in a minute.” 

He hears Gabe snort and takes that as agreement, but keeps glaring at the rookies until they start heading back towards the pool. JT appears to be using a float as a shield to protect the tequila pops from Nate and Big Z, while Mikko yells encouragement. There might be two popsicles in his mouth. 

It’s distracting, so Tyson can be excused for jumping when he feels Gabe’s hand unexpectedly grazing his curls. He accidentally kicks Gabe a little. 

“Uh, sorry! So...were you overcome with the need to caress my perfect hair? Regret slandering it already, huh?” 

Oh, there’s that mean little grin again. Tyson feels his face heating up just a bit, but that’s probably the sun again? The August sun. Not Tyson reacting to Gabe’s 'I’m about to be a bastard' face. 

“Aw Tys, you know I think your hair is impressive.” He preens for a second, until Gabe finishes, “Like some wild animal that can’t be tamed. By a brush. Ever.” 

Gabe’s expression rounds out a little then, the edges dropping out of his smile. Tyson wants to trace the gentle curve of his lips. “You had grass in your hair.”

“Oh yeah, from the bluegrass transformation,” Tyson nods once, definite. 

Gabe slowly nods back, looking kind of bemused but also kind of charmed. Which is the sweet spot for Tyson, really. It’s where he does his best work. Clearly, because Gabe reaches in to brush over Tyson’s curls again. There may or may not be more grass in his hair. Tyson can’t see it, so he’s going with not, for personal reasons. 

He doesn’t even realize he’s smiling, until Gabe’s smiling back, doing the whole soft eyes thing again. Is it some kind of facial tick? Gabe drops his hand back down to the grass, so near to Tyson’s their pinky fingers overlap. The longing coils in Tyson’s stomach again, and there’s too little sangria buzz left to cushion it now. This feeling needs to be shoved back into its box before he says something else stupid. Fuck, the thing about becoming one really got said. Out loud to Gabe. That’ll be a goldmine of embarrassment for at least a decade. 

But Tyson would say it again, if he could only loop back to 5 minutes ago when Gabe was leaning over him, their bodies curled close. Melting into the grass and Gabe and the blur of wanting versus and having. 

Instead, he sighs and puts energy he doesn’t feel into urging, “You should go rescue the tequila pops. We don’t want Compher throwing up in the pool again. Or in Erik’s racing trophy. He gave the entire team the silent treatment for like a week after that.”  He pauses, “Maybe we need to stop letting the rookies near tequila, actually.” 

Gabe tilts his head, considering, “It could be a finable offense.” He stands up, shadow lingering over Tyson. “Are you coming?” 

Tyson makes a show of stretching, pretending he’s not staring at Gabe’s broad shoulders backlit by the sun, hair a blinding gold. Yeah. He’s going to stay right here until the in love with Gabe thing is back under control. So, probably forever. Nate might bring him more sangria slushies, if Tyson looks pathetic enough. 

“Not yet. Gotta finish communing with nature. I’m really bonding with EJ’s yard. Hey, remind me to ask him if this is bluegrass!” Tyson looks down, and the sight of Gabe’s bare feet in the grass makes something tender swell in his chest. Control, right.

Gabe just chuckles, starts moving towards the pool where a frankly worrisome amount of splashing is happening. “Sure, Tys. Dutchy’s wife brought those cheesecake squares you love. I saved you one, but I can’t keep it hidden from the guys forever, so don’t wait too long.”  

Tyson just watches him walk away, heart humming. That’s? That’s exactly why Tyson is sitting here feeling bruised inside, like the day after a bad hit, instead of eating cheesecake magic. God. He flops back down and considers trying to become Kentucky bluegrass again. Or fescue. Or whatever it is. 

Beside him, the grass is flattened into Gabe’s shape. Tyson lets himself curl towards the indent, just a little. Lets his hand rest at its center, just for a second. Closes his eyes against the memory of Gabe sun-warm and kiss-close, whole face awash with something like affection. Lets himself ache with it for 30 indulgent seconds, and then shoves all the love-longing-want-have back into the box labeled ‘Gabe Feelings: DO NOT OPEN.’ 

Maybe Gabe doesn’t love him, but he hid a piece of decadent dessert especially for Tyson. A dessert Gabe knows he pined over for weeks after Ashley wouldn’t reveal her family recipe. In Tyson’s rotating list of priorities, that might actually be more important than love right now. 

That thought gets him upright and heading towards the commotion by the pool. He can’t cede his cheesecake square to those animals. 

EJ is yelling about tequila ruining the chlorine levels in the water while the rookies cower behind Nate and a wall of pool floats. Oh, and Gabe is soaking wet. Once he tears his gaze from the drops of water rolling down Gabe’s chest, he realizes the throbbing vein in their captain’s forehead is visible from across the patio. Tyson winks exaggeratedly at him, and Gabe’s jaw unclenches at least 50%. 

His hair is also drying funny with tufts sticking up in weird ways, far from its usual perfection. Tyson files that memory for use the next time Gabe makes fun of his curls. He’s feeling charitable in the face of Gabe’s hair misfortune, so when he eats his cheesecake square, Tyson saves Gabe a bite. 

 

Hours later, with the clarity of renewed sobriety, Tyson knows he should keep a safe distance from Gabe if he wants to avoid another verbal calamity like the ‘becoming one’ slip up. But as the party winds down, Tyson clings close to Gabe as they cut across Erik’s yard to leave through the side gate. 

Tyson one hundred percent thinks he parked over there, ok? He isn’t trying to brush hands with Gabe or look at their spot in the grass or anything dumb like that. 

Stopping at his SUV, Gabe turns to raise his eyebrows at Tyson, who is definitely nowhere near his own vehicle. 

“Um.” Tyson looks around like maybe his car will spontaneously appear.

Gabe smirks and leans against the passenger side door. He really can go from zero to jerk in 0.5 seconds. It might be attractive. “Lose something, there, Tys?”

“No! Nate probably moved it as a prank or something! We haven’t had T-Beauty and Nate Dogg time in like three days, so he’s probably acting out for attention. He’s needy!” 

Tyson is already backing away towards the gate, because he cannot keep looking at Gabe leaning all long and lax against that car, expression somehow smug and fond. He backs into the fence, missing the opening by a few feet. The length of Gabe’s throat when he throws his head back to laugh at Tyson is a very specific type of temptation. He cannot be responsible for himself if he’s exposed to it a second longer. He might shove his face into Gabe’s neck and lick. 

“Goodnight, Gabriel!” Tyson turns and flings the gate open. He’s not running away. It’s a strategic exit.

Gabe’s laughter follows Tyson as he backtracks to the front of the house where his car is actually located. He feels the warmth of it like Gabe’s still leaning close in the afternoon sun. If Tyson briefly lingers in a certain spot as he passes through the yard again, well, no one has to know. 

He drives home thinking about how the twin shapes of their bodies are still indented into the grass, like the ground wants to keep the memory, too. 

 

In bed that night, Tyson packs the memory away, and commits to reigning in his emotions. He always gets a little sloppy in the off season. Gets less careful with his feelings when Gabe is an ocean away, safely out of reach. Now, it’s time to buckle down again. Tyson fought through salary arbitration and the worst season ever, so he’s confident he can fight a few dusty old Gabe Feelings. 

It’s all under control.


 

By the time he gets through training camp, physicals, and the first few preseason games, Tyson feels mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to conquer the division and his own unruly heart. 

Tyson has survived a lot, ok? Managing his feelings is not easy, but he’s a champ. For the past three years, he’s dealt with every stupid, unwitting thing Gabe’s done to make Tyson fall for him. If you could win the Norris for defending your heart from a sustained, unintentional assault on the emotions, Tyson would make a killing at the NHL Awards. Erik Karlsson would be crying into his own Gucci lapels for three years running. Point is, every day Tyson shows strength, endurance, and restraint.

His best defensive positioning is the perception that Tyson flirts with everyone. He doesn’t. He’s just a people person, an enthusiastic listener, and a fan of casual touches. Combine all that and people tend to mistake his default behavior for flirting like 70% of the time. It also helps that he’s been acting like an idiot around Gabe since day one, because he’s always been insanely attracted to him. So Gabe thinks any flirty, cringey, thirsty thing Tyson does is normal—he’s never known any different. 

What this really means is Gabe never realizes when Tyson is actually, intentionally flirting with him. He never takes anything Tyson says seriously. It’s a little insulting. But honestly, Tyson is grateful. Because literally any time he’s asked about Gabe, something hideously embarrassing and transparent comes out of his mouth. The Altitude TV crew basically cut their checks on Tyson’s lack of filter. 

After the rolling disaster that is his response to Altitude’s latest Ask Avs bit—Best dressed? Like that’s anything but a trap for Tyson to fall into—he hightails it to the locker room. It’s still early preseason, so he isn’t playing in the game tonight, but Gabe set up an informal mid-morning skate. Tyson needs that ASAP. Getting on ice might be the only thing that can stop his face from literally catching fire right now. He just hopes they edit down his comments on Gabe’s tailoring. 

Of course, a shirtless Gabe is the first thing Tyson sees when he enters the room. And Tyson’s still a little off-kilter from all the self-humiliation, so he walks right into the stall next to the locker room door. His breath leaves him in an undignified woosh and he flails a little, shins stinging. 

When Tyson stabilizes, Gabe is watching him and the smirk spreading across his stupid, Viking face tugs at the masochistic part of Tyson that likes Gabe’s teasing. He runs a hand through his ridiculous, luscious hair, “Oh, were you blinded by my bronze, beautiful hair again?”

Oh god, of course Gabe would bring up one of his other Altitude disasters now. The universe is just that cruel. Tyson doesn’t start blushing, simply because his face has been burning nonstop since filming. “No, you know what, I take it back. You don’t deserve bronze. Next time Lauren asks me about your hair, I’m downgrading you to strawberry blonde!”

“What? No. That’s what you call little girls with freckles!” Gabe retorts, lips shifting into an offended moue. Now that’s just excellent, because the pouting really adds weight to Tyson’s argument.

“Yeah, I don’t see the issue. Oh! I can call you Strawberry Shortcake!”

“I’m taller than you! And you do not wanna give me a cartoon nickname, Four. I will retaliate, and it will be painful.”

Tyson closes the distance between them to poke Gabe in the chest. “Is that a challenge, Landesnerd?”

“You’re basically a Disney cartoon animal as it is, Tys. You do not want to start this.” 

“Disney animals are cute as hell. You just called me cute!” Tyson crows, leaning in a little, victorious. He pokes Gabe again for emphasis and tries valiantly to ignore how firm his pecs are. 

“I—? No! No, that’s not—,” Gabe splutters. 

“No take backs! You think I’m cute.” Is Gabe...blushing? Wow. Incidentally, Tyson’s hand is still kind of resting on his left pec. Oops. 

Face hot, Tyson jerks his hand back before he starts, like, caressing Gabe’s chest. Or nuzzling it. Humiliating himself that much twice in twenty minutes might cause all the blood vessels in his face to rupture. How would he explain that one to the trainers? 

Gabe lets out a slow breath and seems to regain confidence, which is just great, really. Just what Tyson needs. Because he’s realizing they’re standing way too close for comfort, and the want threading through Tyson’s pulse is threatening to pull him towards Gabe like a magnet.

“Fine. Maybe I do,” Gabe says. And oh, his tone is kind of rich and dark and what

“What?”

Gabe shifts a little closer. At this point, it feels like his broad body is filling Tyson’s entire frame of vision. He shrugs, “Maybe you’re cute.” Then, then he wraps his long fingers around Tysons wrist. Oh god, what is happening?

“Maybe?” he echoes faintly. Is that a compliment or a dig? Both probably, because it’s Gabe and it’s Tyson.

“T-Bear!” Nate yells, bursting into the room. Erik follows a second behind him. Gabe and Tyson jump apart, both a little red. Maybe Tyson’s condition is catching. “Oh, shit. Did I miss a moment?” 

Nate loops an arm around Tyson’s shoulders and the contact is steadying. Erik continues to his stall, but the look he’s sending their way is uncomfortably knowing. Tyson shakes his head, maybe a little too vehemently, “Nope! Just a little banter between me and Landy.”

“Sure. Banter…” Nate drawls, skeptical. Across the room, Erik scoffs.

But Nate changes the subject to their afternoon video game plans, which is why the Dogg is Tyson’s favorite. Gabe is still looking at him, and Tyson feels a blush coming on, yet again. No way. He refuses to blush just because Gabe’s eyes are on him. If he lets that happen, he really will burst a capillary by the end of the day. 

Tyson edges out from under Nate’s arm, moving towards his stall. “Better get changed! Can’t make the captain late for his own unofficial morning skate. How would the rookies respect him ever again?” 

Gabe ‘hahs’ and turns away. Slumping into his stall, Tyson breathes out, relieved. Nate nudges him, checking in, but Tyson just shakes his head and starts gearing up. 

His wrist still feels hot where Gabe’s fingers encircled it, and the want want want is still thumping with his heartbeat. What was Gabe even doing? Messing with Tyson probably. Maybe he’s decided to start flirting back, as a joke? Because Tyson’s flirting is just a friendly joke. That tracks. 

The familiar repetitiveness of taping up his socks relaxes Tyson, and he takes a moment to get the Gabe Feelings tamped down. Wanting is whatever. Wanting is old news. Just to be thorough, because Tyson is great at self-denial—contrary to what some people think about his Dairy Queen habits—he reminds himself: you can want Gabe. You cannot have Gabe. Period. Exclamation point. The tape around his calves might be cutting off circulation. 

No matter what, time on the ice is always a good distraction, and recenters him. When Gabe, laughing, pins him to the boards during a keep away drill, Tyson doesn’t let himself linger. When they part ways leaving the Pepsi Center, and Gabe tugs on that wrist, fingers skimming the pulse point, Tyson’s face definitely isn’t full of longing or anything. 

On their way home, Nate buys him a large cookie dough blizzard with extra cookie dough for absolutely no reason at all.

Fine, maybe Tyson isn’t ready to conquer his emotions, but he will be soon. He’s got this.

 

During their MarioKart marathon that afternoon, every time he turns around Nate and EJ are whispering and giving him loaded looks. Loaded with pity, Tyson assumes based on the way they’re feeding him Kahlua milkshakes. With his head in Erik’s lap, Tyson tipsily swears he won’t pine after Gabe this year. Seeing EJ’s mocking, jack-o-lantern grin, Tyson pats his cheek and vows to get over Gabe. The two blonds exchange glances over his head while Tyson sips the dregs of his shake, oblivious.

Incidentally, this is when it all really, actually starts going wrong.


 

It starts small.

Two weeks into the season the Avs have won four of their first five games and the mood in the locker room is downright giddy. To top off the three game win streak, they’re having celebratory team drinks at Tavern, and Erik is trying to goad Gabe into getting laid. He and Big Z keep pointing out any girl who gives Gabe even the slightest look, which means they’re spoiled for choice because Gabe, but their captain keeps blandly denying interest.  

Erik also keeps shooting weird glances at Tyson, and it’s making him suspicious. Maybe the get-Gabe-laid thing is a diversion for a prank. He sniffs warily at his strawberry margarita and jabs his straw around looking for any foreign objects in the glass. Then Tyson tries to subtly feel under the booth for a glitter bomb or a thong with his face printed on it, anything. 

But when Z suggests a short woman in a Wild shirt, it breaks through the growing paranoia. 

“Zadarov, you can’t send Gabe home with a Wild fan! She’ll shave his head or kneecap him or something!” 

“He might be into that,” Erik leers across the table at them. 

Gabe points at him, “EJ, I can and will fine you. A lot.” Then he turns to point at Tyson, sitting innocently next to him, “And thanks for suggesting I can’t fight off a 5’2” Minnesotan, Tys. Love your faith in me.”

“I’m just looking out for you, so you don’t become a victim of sabotage! She could be a plant sent by the Wild,” Tyson protests. 

“Yeah, it’s so sneaky how she’s wearing their merch. I’d never suspect,” Gabe says sarcastically.

“Whatever. No sleeping with the enemy, Landy.”  He gestures at Erik and Z dismissively, “They clearly can’t be trusted with this, so I’ll help.”

“What?” Gabe coughs, surprise clear on his face.

On his other side, Nate sounds like he’s choking on his drink, so Tyson thumps him on the back a few times without looking. He doubles down, mostly because he knows Gabe really isn’t going to pick up tonight. He almost never does when it’s a team bonding night. It’s a responsibility thing.

Tyson looks around and spots a pretty brunette on the tail end of giving Gabe the once-over. He nods his head towards her, “Ok, what about her? Nice smile, looks interested, won’t hamstring you for a shot at the conference title.” 

“No,” Gabe says, a little too forcefully, in Tyson’s opinion. She’s got great teeth. 

Big Z points out another potential hook-up, who thankfully isn’t wearing any rival team logos, so Tyson adds his endorsement. 

Now both Erik and Nate are sending him funny looks. And raising their eyebrows at each other. Nate wouldn’t help prank Tyson, would he? They’re besties! 

A woman with long, shiny blonde hair and even longer legs slides into the booth opposite theirs and Tyson says, “What about—” before he can stop himself. His voice dies, because shit, she’s flawless in that same sort of Scandinavian department store catalog way as Gabe. What if he’s actually interested

Of course, Tyson knows Gabe dates and hooks up. He’s witnessed him picking up more than a few times, and anyway, he’s not exactly a monk himself. But actually setting Gabe up with someone? Oh, fuck no. That’s a level of emotional self-sabotage even Tyson has to draw the line at. 

EJ follows his gaze, then locks eyes with Tyson and smiles predatorily, like a shark scenting blood. “Her,” he says tilting his head towards the fucking gorgeous blonde across from them. Gabe glances over.

Panicking, Tyson tries to act chill, and overshoots it by a mile. “Yeah! You two would have beautiful, Nordic babies. IKEA babies! You should go, uh, do that?” 

Nate’s choking again, but he’ll have to Heimlich maneuver himself. Tyson’s got his hands full not dying of his own fatal stupidity. 

Gabe looks at Erik, who’s still grinning evilly at Tyson, and then ducks a little to catch Tyson’s eye. He takes a slow breath, “I should go have babies with that total stranger over there?”

God, his eyes are incredibly blue even in Tavern’s dumb mood lighting, but Tyson can’t read his expression. Is he amused? Is he considering it?

At this point, Tyson might actually have the nervous sweats, and his face is flaming. He looks around the table like someone else is going to provide the answer. Now even the rookies are watching, obviously bemused. Josty’s forehead is all scrunched up. 

Tyson returns Gabe’s searching gaze and, because it’s stage 4 stupidity, he blurts, “Yes?” His voice is helium high, “Your kids’ hair will be freakishly perfect! Like shampoo commercials in Sweden, perfect!”  Erik cackles. So does Nate, that traitor. 

He facepalms and waits for death or brutal mockery or, worst of all, for Gabe to go charm that lovely woman. Mercifully, Gabe just shifts Tyson’s hand down and searches his face again. Whatever he sees there amidst the wreck of panic and humiliation makes his lips quirk up. 

Gabe wordlessly drapes an arm around his shoulders, and Tyson slumps back into it needily, because he’s weak. And also, he might be experiencing an adrenaline crash. 

“Nah, I’m good here.” Gabe smiles and pets Tyson’s bicep with his thumb once, twice. His heart flutters so hard, he feels it like a chest pain, like a pre-heart attack. Gabe doesn’t pick up on team nights. It’s a known fact. He isn’t choosing Tyson. But that doesn’t stop the joy and relief from spreading through his body like wildfire. 

Gabe hands Tyson his poor, forgotten margarita and thumbs his shoulder one more time. It's soothing. Nate is leering knowingly at them, and the rookies seem oddly relieved. 

He feels Gabe shrug a little, “Anyway, you assholes need too much babysitting as it is. EJ’s still potty training.” 

The guys all burst out laughing, nearly drowning out Erik’s indignant, “Fuck you, Landy!”

Gabe leaves his arm around Tyson even as EJ kicks him in retaliation, and they start a shin-bruising game of footsie under the table. It stays there, warm, weighty, and totally distracting, until Yaki and the kids make everyone scoot out of the booth, so they can embarrass themselves on the dance floor.  

 

The rookies corner him on his way back from the bathroom. They’re sweaty and red-faced from dancing, and they clearly want something. Yakipov is conspicuously absent. 

Tyson sighs, “If you guys are trying to hook me up now, I’ll dump bar peanuts in your drinks.” 

They all start talking at once. 

“Hook you up?” 

“Bro, you and Landy are, like, bae for life! We wouldn’t do that!” 

“Nah, we don’t mess with mom and dad!”

Tyson is not choking on his own saliva. He’s not. He’s just breathing creatively, ok. Mom and dad? Bae? They think—?

“Um, what?” he coughs, hoping he’s hearing things. If not, what the hell does he say to the kids? It feels like explaining a divorce. He really is mom. Shit.

“Flirt to roast ratio is on point!” Comphy yells drunkenly. Kerfy and Josty both fistbump him. 

“Honestly, we want tips. You guys are goals!” Josty, Tyson Jr., his very own rookie, believes Gabe is happily, goal-worthily in a relationship Tyson. What the fuck?

“Tips?” Tyson is possibly having a stroke or an aneurysm or something. The rookies think he and Gabe are boyfriends. They want tips. From Tyson, who is hopelessly pining, just tried to set Gabe up with a perfect 10, and might be in a long term relationship with his right hand. 

Yeah, Tyson hasn’t dated in a while, and now he’s questioning the taste and sanity of all Denverites, because, ok, Gabe hasn’t either, but? The two of them dating each other? What are the rookies even thinking?

Didn’t anyone, like, give them an introductory warning? It should be in the Avs’ Welcome to the Team packet: Tyson Barrie, number 4, has a giant, embarrassing crush on your captain, number 96, Swedish model Gabriel Landeskog. They flirt and ignore personal space, because Tyson can’t stop himself, and Gabe thinks it’s funny. Please ignore, and do not contact HR. 

“Um? Gabe and I aren’t—we don’t—,” he stutters.

“We get it. It’s on the DL. Secret’s safe with us,” Kerfy promises. The rookies all nod solemnly, and Josty pats him on the back. 

Tyson would be touched by their support for his and Gabe's secret relationship, if he wasn’t freaking out over them thinking he and Gabe are in a secret relationship. What have they even said to Gabe about this? Tyson shudders. 

“Uh, but we actually wanted to ask if we could crash at your place? Kerfy can’t find the keys.” JT says sheepishly. Kerfoot, that little baby idiot, refuses to meet Tyson’s disappointed stare.  

Tyson sighs and sighs all the way back to the booth. He wordlessly chugs his margarita, ignoring Nate’s raised eyebrows, and goes to lead the rookies in a search for their damn house keys. How do they live together and survive? They need supervision. 

Thankfully, Josty finds the keys in the bathroom. Tyson shoves all three of them into an Uber, shaking his head at their protests. Rookies who drunkenly lose their keys lose their bar privileges. 

Gabe has a margarita waiting when Tyson gets back to the booth, and he chugs half of that one too, while Erik whoops encouragingly. 

“Damn, Brutes is letting loose tonight!”

“Ugh, can we stop taking the rookies places with alcohol? They’re underage.” He slumps into Nate’s side. “Also, don’t listen to anything they say, ever.”

Gabe snorts, “Only one of them is underage, Tys.”

“I don’t care! They’re all underage until they’re not idiots anymore!” 

“That seems a little harsh. I think Jost might not grow out of it,” Gabe says. Tyson just played involuntary I-Spy in a bar bathroom. He’s allowed to call them idiots.

“Yeah,” Erik points out, “some people never grow out of it. You should know.” He gives Tyson a toothless smile. Where is the D-Man loyalty? The blue line brothership? Tyson flicks margarita salt at him. Some of it gets in EJ’s eye, because karma is real. 

“Hey, T-Bear isn’t an idiot!” Nate defends. He is the best best friend in the NHL. There should be an award.

He hears Erik say, “He told Gabe to go have IKEA babies...” But Tyson’s already tuning them out and turning back to Gabe. He’s got points to make. He wavers a little, two margs in twenty minutes hitting him hard, and plants a hand on Gabe’s leg to steady himself. 

“Maybe I’m harsh, because someone has to keep discipline around here, dad!” 

Gabe’s eyebrows shoot up, “Did you just call me dad? You’re older than me.” 

“It’s a rookie thing, whatever.” Tyson waves his hand airily, “And I’m younger in spirit.”

Erik interjects, “Is that code for immature?”  They both ignore him.

Gabe leans in, making Tyson’s hand slide up his thigh a little, and oh, Tyson’s hand is on his thigh. “Hate to break it to you, Tys, but body is what counts. With all that DQ, you probably have high cholesterol like a seventy year old.” 

Oh, really? Tyson tries to punch his arm and tipsily overbalances, so he kind of ends up with his forearm on Gabe’s shoulder. He moves closer, putting weight on it just to annoy him. 

“Leave the blizzards out of this, Gabriel! I saw that NHLPA quiz!” He tilts in a little more, tapping Gabe’s collarbone for emphasis, “You said you love ice cream! You wa—”

Nate grabs Tyson’s shirt and tugs him back, “No! Stop the leaning thing!”

“Or get a room?”  Erik heckles.

“No room! This is just a friendly argument,” Gabe snaps, running a hand through his hair.

“Yeah, I'm afraid you're about to friendly argue by smashing your faces together and sucking tongue.” What is with Erik tonight? He has it out for Tyson. The world has it out for Tyson. First the pick up disaster, then the rookies, and now Erik with the tongue sucking insinuations? Tyson signals the waitress for another drink. 

“Please stop. You’ll scar Willy,” Nate adds. And oh, Colin has been sitting in the corner the whole time? He probably hasn’t gotten the welcome packet either. Tyson scoots closer to Nate and tries to look less like he wants to suck Gabe’s dick and fold his laundry. Yes, it’s obvious, but it’d be nice if at least one of the new guys didn’t immediately pick up on his crush. 

But really, as long as no one besides Nate and EJ realizes it’s Gabe Feelings not just a crush, well, the rest is gravy. 

Tyson waves, “Uh, hi Colin, buddy! Ignore them, they’re not funny.” Then he drags Willy into a conversation about music—it turns out they have a lot in common there—slowly sips his margarita, and resolves not to look at Gabe at all. 

Gabe and Erik get into a whispered discussion full of hand gestures Tyson definitely does not see, because he isn’t looking. He’s too busy talking about The Lumineers and getting to know his new teammate. Yeah.

At one point, he hears Gabe exclaim, “Fuck, again?” and EJ shushing him. Then EJ thumping his hand on the table and whisper yelling about timelines, followed by more shushing? And are they hugging now? 

Apparently, whatever they just talked out warrants shots for the whole table. Tyson’s glad he sent the rookies home, because he has a feeling things are about to get undignified, which by Avs standards is truly sloppy. 

 

He ends up collapsed against the bar with Erik. Partly because they lost the will to move after paying the tab, and partly because Mikko emerged from whatever corner he’d been hiding in. Now, he and Gabe are teaching each other their national anthems in a heartfelt show of Swedish-Finnish solidarity. They’re doing it with admirable volume control, but the singing still sounds awful. Gabe exudes wholesome, Nordic happiness though, and Tyson can’t look away from his eye crinkles. 

“Ugh, stop staring.” 

“Shit, sorry,” Tyson refocuses on his bar buddy. 

EJ gives him the fiftieth weird look of the night and slurs, “It’s ok. Got a plan.”

Tyson slurps his drink and vaguely remembers the paranoia he felt earlier. “Plan? Is a thong involved?”

“Shh, it's a secret.” Erik pats him on the head, reassuring.

‘Oh,” Tyson says. Then a memory hits him. “Oh! The rookies think me and Gabe are secret lovers.” 

Erik’s face lights up, clearly excited, “Are you?”

“No,” Tyson pouts. 

“Aw, no,” Erik’s pouting, too. 

“I’m not crazy. He’s a stallion and I’m…a pony?  We’re not dating, ever.”

“You could be!” Erik says, and it’s not clear if he means Tyson could be crazy, could be a pony, or could be dating Gabe, but Tyson nods anyway.

Their conversation stops there, because Nate staggers over and flings himself at Tyson. “T-Beauty! Help! They want me to sing the anthem. All I’ve got so far is ‘O, Canada! Our, um, shit...home?” 

“Oh, god.”

“I think I need a Gatorade,” Nate mumbles mournfully into Tyson’s hair. 

“I think we all do, NateMac.” That seems like the cue to go, if only so they can stop at CVS for an electrolyte boost. Tyson throws back the dregs of his last marg for strength. 

Eventually, they round up the Scandinavians, Zadarov, and poor Colin Wilson, who’s probably regretting everything, and trek out to the sidewalk to wait for their Uber SUVs.  

Tyson wobbles on the sidewalk next to Gabe. “I remember the Canadian anthem!” he brags, trying to sound impressive. 

Gabe’s face brightens, “Nice! We should celebrate! Do you want a chocolate l—” 

Erik slaps a hand over his mouth and yells, “Not now!”

“Ugh, fine,” Gabe says, muffled by EJ’s hand. Tyson glares at them both because, yes, he does want a chocolate something or other. 

It all works out, because Tyson gets some peanut M&M’s when they stop for Gatorade, and he eats them sitting nearly on top of Gabe in the Uber. It’s an excellent combo.

 

The next morning he wakes up at EJ’s place, sprawled on the huge sectional next to Nate and...an open plastic container of lime wedges? He stares blankly at them. Eventually, flashes of memory emerge of helping Nate steal them from the bar to keep him alive until they got the lemon-lime Gatorade he wanted. Tyson makes a mental note to call Tavern and apologize. Getting banned would be a full-scale catastrophe the team cannot handle at this delicate point in the season.

By the time he figures out Erik’s overly complex coffee maker, any suspicious behavior from the night before is barely even a memory. 


 

Tyson doesn’t even notice in the beginning.

Not long after team night at the bar, Gabe invites him to the zoo, since the weather is still enjoyably crisp for late October in Denver. They meet by the entrance, and he looks around for Tyson Jr. and the other two peas in the pod. No Mikko either.

“Where are the rookies?” When Gabe invited him to go see the baby giraffe last season, Tyson brought the new kids along, thinking it was the sort of responsible mentor thing Gabe would want. He assumed the kids would be tagging along this year, too to make a tradition out of it. 

Fuck, the mom and dad thing is making more and more sense. 

Gabe looks at him like he’s got two heads, before pinching the bridge of his nose and saying, “They couldn’t make it.”

“None of them?”

“Uh...no,” Gabe says slowly, and Tyson’s starting to wonder if maybe he was supposed to be the one to invite them again. Oops? “Come on, I’ll buy your ticket.”

“That’s ok, I already got mine online.” As team captain, Gabe should appreciate Tyson's preparedness and pre-planning, but his shoulders fall minutely, and he frowns a little, studying Tyson’s face.

He rubs the back of his neck, feeling inexplicably sheepish. “Sorry, I didn’t know it was captain’s treat.”

“It’s fine,” Gabe sighs.

“You can buy me zoo snacks instead! Remember those great pesto truffle fries?” 

“Those are definitely not on the nutrition plan.” 

“Why not? Give me one good reason, Gabriel! Potatoes are a vegetable, and the cheese is dairy! That’s healthy,” Tyson protests, preparing to mount a full defense. 

That sparks an argument about which zoo food offerings are Avs nutritionist approved, dispelling any awkwardness. They bicker all the way through the ticket line and the mongoose and wild dog habitats, before the lions draw their full attention. They’re napping very majestically. 

When Tyson looks over at Gabe, he’s subtly posing. Typical. “Yes, yes, I know. You and the lions are spirit brothers. You have a bond. Now stop tossing your hair and trying to look regal. Uncle.”

“Trying?” Gabe asks, mock offended.

“Fine, looking regal,” Tyson rolls his eyes. “Now come on, let’s go figure out what animal I am. “

Gabe smirks.

“If you say chipmunk or something like that, I will push you into the gorilla enclosure. And I will make it look like an accident.”  

“Mountain cottontail?” Tyson shoves him. Gabe has to dodge and weave to avoid a stroller; it’s very satisfying.

They head to the next big cat habitat. “Ooh, maybe a cheetah?”

“Tyson, you don’t even own a treadmill. You’re an NHL player without a treadmill. Just no.”

Tyson doesn’t dignify that with a response. He’s in great shape without owning a glorified conveyor belt, thanks. Instead, he drags Gabe over to the zebras before he starts nitpicking Tyson’s home gym.

Denver, for all that the fanbase is amazing, is also a pretty relaxed hockey city, so they make it through a long stop to coo at Dobby the baby giraffe, then past the tigers, the seals, and the red pandas without being recognized. Tyson apparently doesn’t fight enough to be a tiger—fuck you, Gabe—but finishes checks too hard to be a red panda. Really, what are Gabe’s criteria here?

At the elephant enclosure, a lady with an adorable little girl recognizes them and quietly asks for an autograph for her husband. While Tyson’s scrawling his name on her zoo map, he covertly spies on Gabe interacting with the giggling preschooler. If he adds a heart to the end of his signature like an 8th grade girl, it’s because the scene he’s witnessing is melting his actual heart, ok? 

Done signing, he chitchats with the mom, Anna, as they both watch the duo in front of them. Gabe’s crouched down, little hand tucked in his, nodding seriously as the kid points at the elephants. He throws his head back to laugh at something she said, and Tyson’s sunglasses slip right out of his hand. 

The clatter draws Gabe’s attention, and he leads the little girl back to her mother, pointing to Tyson, “Hey, Lucy, what animal do you think my friend looks like?” 

She looks at him for like 0.5 seconds before squealing, “Peter Rabbit! Mommy, look!” Seriously? Was Gabe over there coaching that four year old to chirp Tyson? 

Gabe cackles, while Anna looks helplessly amused.  

Tyson bends to Lucy’s level, “Um, thank you. You like Peter?” 

She nods, “He’s funny!” After that proclamation, an elephant playing with a ball snags her attention, and she skips back to the viewing area. 

Tyson straightens up and punches Gabe in the shoulder, hissing, “Are you bribing children now? Have you no dignity?”

“I had nothing to do with it! Kids just speak the truth,” he responds, voice wavering with suppressed laughter. 

Anna shrugs at them, “Don’t take it too seriously.” She gestures at Tyson’s torso, “Lucy thinks everyone in a jean jacket is dressing like Peter Rabbit. She loves that movie.” 

“Thank you, ma’am!” Tyson exclaims gratefully. He glares at Gabe, trying to cut this off before it balloons into a new, terrible team nickname. “See, it means nothing.” He is not getting called little Peter Cottontail on ice. 

Ignoring the evidence, Gabe smugly says, “Nah, that settles it.”  Tyson throws his hands up in disgust.

They quickly say goodbye to Anna and Lucy, moving on incase someone noticed them signing things. 

As they start down the walkway, Gabe says, “Alright, Petey, why don’t we get a snack?” Laughing, he dodges the balled-up map Tyson throws at him. “If you’re a rabbit, does that mean you’ll finally eat a salad?”

“You better stay far away from the gorillas, Landeskog! I’m not even kidding.”

Gabe just grins. 

“You won’t be smiling when a gorilla rips your face off,” Tyson grumbles. 

Tyson endures Gabe calling him Petey and Cottontail, mostly because Gabe drapes an arm over his shoulder and offers to buy him kettle corn, which they’d landed on as a semi-healthy zoo snack. Tyson doesn’t even bring up the fries. He’s got bigger battles to fight now. 

 

On their way to the snack stand, a zoo employee is doing a demonstration with the penguins, so they pause to watch, leaning against the railing overlooking the habitat. She’s talking about the mated pair of macaroni penguins she’s feeding.

Gabe points at the penguins, who are now flinging fish at their two fluffy offspring, “They look like us buying lunch for the rookies.” 

Tyson gawks at him, wondering hazily if Gabe knows he just compared them to a duo of animals who are mated for life. But Gabe is looking towards the habitat, expression surprisingly serious. His face is set in the nervous but determined look he used to wear before meeting with Sakic during the worst part of last season, when their GM had the whole team on the chopping block. 

Eyes flicking from the penguins to Gabe, Tyson thinks he gets it. Nate can’t even watch Happy Feet without his Sidney Crosby hero worship/inferiority complex kicking in. Fucking Pittsburgh going back-to-back when the Avs couldn’t even make the playoffs. 

Tyson gently bumps Gabe’s shoulder with his own, “Thinking about last season?”

“No,” Gabe says, surprise flickering over his expression. A brief pause, then, “But those trade rumors about you were bullshit! You outscored like seventy-five percent of the team.”

“No, the rumors about you were the real steaming pile of bullshit! Like you and duct tape weren't the only things holding us together last winter.” That’s when Tyson really knew he was in deep. When rumors about Gabe getting traded hurt and infuriated him more than anything he heard about himself. 

“Well, we’re still here. You and me. And this season is going to be better.” Gabe bumps their shoulders together again.

“You and me,” Tyson echoes, heart twisting in his chest. He darts a look at Gabe, who for some reason is still wearing that ‘about to get called on the carpet’ look. 

“What’s with the face?”

Gabe sighs, “Will you do something for me?” His blue eyes bore into Tyson’s, who’s still off balance from the sudden mood swing the day has taken. 

Tyson intends to say something normal. Instead, with Gabe’s eyes on him and ‘you and me’ ringing in his head, he admits, “You could ask me to get a reverse mortgage and a geographically accurate tattoo of Sweden, and I’d probably do it.”

He can feel the blush coloring his cheeks, but Gabe’s intensity visibly drops down a notch, so at least Tyson’s verbal slip was worth something. Gabe’s face is still too tense when he says, “Noted. I’ll find a reliable tattoo artist. But for now, will you be really honest with me?”

“Uh, Gabe, as your friend, your teammate, and one of the few people aware of your pretty massive ego, it’s practically my job to be honest with you.” Tyson is trying to lift the mood or at least provoke some light bickering but apparently misstepped, because Gabe lets out another deep sigh and looks back at the penguins. 

Trying again, Tyson presses into Gabe so their arms touch reassuringly, “Buddy, whatever you want to say, ol’ T-Beauty will listen and tell you the hard truths.”

Gabe mouths the word ‘buddy,’ drags a harsh hand through his hair, then visibly shakes off the dark mood he fell into. Turning away from the enclosure, he says, “It’s not important.” A weak smile, “Come on, Cottontail, I promised you kettle corn.” 

The whole team has baggage from last season, so Tyson decides to let it go. Gabe will bring whatever it is up again when he’s ready.

 

They wander through the tropical section, sharing salty-sweet popcorn and bickering. Trying to inject some humor back into the day, Tyson steals Gabe’s snapback to compare its circumference to the model hippo skull in one of the kids' zones. Sensing an opportunity, he holds it hostage until Gabe promises to stop calling him any and all cartoon animal names. 

After making Gabe swear on Peter Forsberg he won’t say the word cottontail ever again, Tyson hands the hat over. Gabe immediately settles it backwards on Tyson’s head, carefully tightening the strap, hands brushing his forehead. He's near enough Tyson can count the few fading summer freckles still on his cheeks. Without a word, Gabe starts walking again, and Tyson scrambles to catch up. Pulse fluttering, Tyson doesn’t take the snapback off even though it slides around a bit, clearly oversized. He tries not to think how date-like it all is. How easy it would be to hold Gabe’s hand. 

He looks desperately for a distraction and notices Gabe’s shoe laces are untied. His brain must short circuit—he blames it on the hat—because Tyson says, “Wait, stop for a sec.” 

And then, drops to one knee to tie Gabe’s shoe. When he flicks a quick glance up, Gabe’s gaping, seemingly speechless. He desperately tries to avoid thinking about another, dirtier reason he'd have that same view up Gabe's body. Tyson hurriedly finishes the knot, determined to pretend everything he’s doing is incredibly normal, buddy behavior. 

Rising slowly, he realizes too late how close they’re standing. Gabe’s lips quirk and his gaze...his gaze drops down? To Tyson’s mouth? They both hang there suspended for a moment, until a running kid bumps into Tyson and knocks him out of Gabe’s orbit. And Gabe, ridiculously beautiful, probably straight, team captain Gabe shakes his head and steps back. 

“Fries. Let’s get you some fries!” he says forcefully, backpedaling on every point he made in the ticket queue. And apparently forgetting they just had a snack. Tyson studies him for a second, but doesn’t say anything, too busy slowing his jacked heart rate to figure out what Gabe’s thinking. 

Anyway, who is he to turn down pesto truffle fries? 

As he finds the café on the map, Tyson reminds himself that when it comes to Gabe, sometimes he imagines things, lets his feelings warp his perception. Whatever was about to happen there, it wasn’t a public make-out. Gabe’s never once indicated he wants Tyson. He isn’t going to start now, in front of assorted animals and shrieking children.

 

While Tyson finishes his fries, they circle back to the zoo entrance, stopping to look at the first few animals they ignored in favor of arguing.

“What about a mongoose?” Gabe asks. 

“A...mongoose? You’re saying I’m a mongoose?” Tyson looks skeptically at the little weaselly animals scurrying around, then looks at Gabe studiously reading the informational sign in front of the enclosure.  

“Yeah, on ice you’re smaller but a fierce competitor. And you always get the win when it counts.”

That’s...pretty flattering actually. 

“It says here they’re very social, and they don’t like to share their food! See the similarities?”

“It’s a rodent.” Tyson says, voice two-by-four flat.

“No, it's a, uh,” Gabe traces his finger along the text on the brightly colored panel, “Herpestidae. C’mon, they kill poisonous snakes!” He’s smiling teasingly, the cut of his cheekbones highlighted by the sun, and Tyson doesn’t have the strength to protest. 

Instead, he sighs a long, loud sigh, so Gabe knows he isn’t convinced. But at this point, he’ll take anything that isn’t a rodent or a bunny. Or a cartoon. Being a mongoose is a small price to pay for Gabe letting the Peter Rabbit thing go, really.

Gabe slings an arm over his shoulders and starts moving them both toward the gates, asking if he wants an ice cream for the road. Tyson just shakes his head, thinking about how Gabe is a lion, so of course Tyson is a mongoose. One is an apex predator and the other is basically a ferret. 

It’s fitting. A lion could totally rip a mongoose’s heart out and eat it. 

 

That night, EJ keeps texting him pictures of some weird, animated mongoose, because of course, Gabe told him. Tyson reverse image searches one, and it's from some ‘70s version of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Really, Gabe? 

He forwards one of EJ’s texts with the message: Still a cartoon animal! You double crossed me!

Gabe replies with a YouTube video of a mongoose chasing off four lions and a text: Even lions are intimidated by mongooses sometimes. 

Huh.


 

In Tyson’s defense, it really is subtle at first.

The first few months of the season pass in a blur. They’re playing well, which is such an incredible relief after last season, Tyson’s knees literally feel weak with it sometimes. But the Avs are still fighting just to contend and break in the rookies, while the Dutchy trade situation hangs over the team like a dark cloud. They go to Sweden for two games, and it’s amazing but exhausting. Then Gabe gets a four game suspension, and that’s exhausting in a whole different way.

There’s so much going on, the unruly emotions and odd moments with Gabe mostly fade into the background.

Before Tyson is ready, it's December, he’s behind on his shopping, and Christmas is coming up fast. They have a weeklong homestand mid-month, so the team takes advantage of the back to back off days to throw their annual Christmas party. Tyson’s sitting at the bar of the restaurant the Avalanche management rented out, wearing sparkly antlers and stressing about the present situation, when Gabe takes the stool beside him and orders a drink. 

Soon, Tyson’s in the middle of harmlessly flirting with Gabe—seriously, he just told the guy he looks like a Hallmark Christmas Prince, and Gabe doesn’t even blink. Maybe he’s just unimpressed. Gabe’s ego needs no help from Tyson, so he probably knows he’s like 3 chili peppers hotter than anyone the network casts. Even with a dumb Santa hat on, he’s well beyond Hallmark hot, because life is not fair.

Gabe clears his throat, “So, do you want help finding your mom a gift this year? I’m sure she’d appreciate the input of someone with actual taste.”

Tyson, who was gearing up to make a sexy St. Nicholas joke, changes tracks, squinting at Gabe suspiciously instead. “Um, no? And unless she wants a suit tailored to split at the seams if she breathes too deeply, I don’t think your taste is relevant.”

His brain is working overtime to figure out what Gabe is after. Who voluntarily shops for a Christmas present for someone else’s mom? Sure, they’d done that once a few years back, and it wasn’t awful. In fact, Gabe only complained like three times, bought Tyson Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites, and ended up finding the best gift for Mama Barrie. 

When Gabe held Tyson’s bags so he could eat, it felt so much like boyfriend behavior, Tyson almost intentionally choked on a pretzel just to stop himself from kissing Gabe’s cheek. Never again, he’d vowed then, and he still means it. Denver Pavilions is not where Tyson plans to die a self-inflicted snack-related death. 

“You love my suits. And she loved that scarf I picked out,” Gabe argues, self assurance dripping from every word.

“So you had one success. I have been knocking it out of the park for 20 years!” Scarves are boring anyway, Tyson doesn’t say, because his mom did love it.

“Tyson, last Christmas you panic bought her an evil eye wall sculpture after she mentioned wanting to go to Greece, like, once.”

“Yeah, and she loves it! She hung it in the basement to ward away whatever’s down there.” He’s not gonna let Gabe’s lack of creativity shake his gift-giving confidence. 

“Sure, that’s why,” Gabe says, disbelieving.

“The basement is creepy, Gabe. That gift was both practical and artistic!” 

“Ok, well, maybe she wants something for above basement level this year.”

Tyson smiles sweetly at him. “Again, she’s not trying to be the most fuckable guy in a J. Crew catalog, so I don’t think your ideas are relevant.” 

“Seriously, let me come shopping with you,” Gabe says, expression oddly solemn.

Tyson looks down, pretending to brush lint from his sleeve. Gabe’s eyes are his greatest weapon when he’s trying to be all serious and convincing, used to great effect on rookies in the locker room, but Tyson’s a pro and will not fall into the baby blue trap. 

“Nope. She also doesn’t need something from the Big & Tall hat section, so I’m all set.” 

Gabe frowns, “Can you take a break from chirping me for two seconds?” 

“Oh, please, I compliment you all the time. Technically, the J. Crew thing was a compliment. I know you’re pretty. You know you’re pretty. Let’s move on.”

“Say one good thing about me, for Christmas. I dare you,” Gabe squares his jaw challengingly, frown deepening. The fluff ball on his Santa hat flops to the front of his forehead. He looks so stupid. Stupidly hot in that dumb hat and expensive looking sweater. A Christmas prince. Why is this Tyson’s life?

“Oh Santa, you want me to be good?” He looks up through his lashes and bites his lip. Gabe just rolls his eyes, which proves Tyson might as well flirt with his own shoes. At least they’re coming home with him tonight.

In retaliation, Tyson rolls his eyes, too. “Someone has to keep your ego in check. Otherwise your head might get so big, it won’t fit through the locker room door. You’d have to—” 

“Hey,” Gabe protests, “my head and my ego are the perfect size!” Tyson graciously chooses to ignore the fact that Gabe, he of the supposedly small ego, just basically called himself perfect. 

“—you’d have to give all your motivational speeches from the hallway. I’m doing this for the team,” Tyson finishes. Gabe’s nostrils flare, and it’s almost unattractive, so Tyson calls it a win. 

They get caught up in a debate over whether Gabe could hold the room without his serious captain face and made-for-tv Viking looks, and luckily, by the time Nate drags Tyson off to do Christmas karaoke, his mom’s gift is totally forgotten. 

Tyson doesn’t really know why, but it feels like he dodged a bullet there. 

 

Two renditions of Jingle Bell Rock and three eggnogs later, Tyson grabs Gabe by the collar of his sweater as they wait outside for their respective Ubers. It's a really soft cable knit, and Gabe’s skin radiates summery heat in the Denver chill, so Tyson gets a little distracted. Gabe looks like he wants to say something, but just puts a big hand on Tyson’s shoulder. They both list in a little, just drunk enough to be unsteady, and Gabe’s breath smells like rum and nutmeg. 

Tyson tightens his grip on the sweater, slipping two fingers under its neckline to touch Gabe’s collarbone. Gabe lets out a shaky breath and slides his hand up to Tyson’s neck. His palm feels huge and hot against Tyson’s exposed throat, and he shivers. Heat is rising in his core, too, probably because of the rum. Yeah. 

The phone vibrating in his pocket nudges Tyson back to awareness, and he remembers his purpose here. 

He sways in a bit more and meets Gabe’s eyes, irises beautifully blue and thin around the pupils, to half-whisper, “You’re a really good leader. And you have a pretty smile.”  He pats Gabe on the chest with the hand not currently wrapped in cable knit. “There’s your good thing.”

“Thank you, Tys,” he breathes. Gabe’s smiling small and almost shy, and Tyson thinks maybe his cheeks are pink in the streetlight. He wants to get the exact dimensions of that smile and tattoo it life-size on his chest

Gabe sways in a bit, too. Just because of the rum, Tyson thinks faintly. “You’re my good thing,” he says nonsensically. Then he boops Tyson on the chin, finger resting perilously close to his lips. 

And then, Tyson’s Uber driver honks their horn obnoxiously. 

Tyson startles, yanking on Gabe’s collar so forcefully Gabe falls into him. Two peak performance athletes flailing, arms waving and hands clutching as they try to stay upright. They end up chest to chest with Gabe's arm around Tyson’s waist and Tyson gripping his biceps. After a pause, they both start laughing hysterically, and Gabe pushes his face into the crook of Tyson’s neck.

His lips keep grazing Tyson’s throat, and the humid puffs of breath are setting him on fire. He might actually burn and die and ascend to heaven. But no, because Tyson wants to stay in this exact spot forever, laughing into Gabe’s hair. It’ll make the whole hockey playing thing difficult, but maybe the Avs can build a rink here. And pioneer tandem helmet technology. It could work. 

When the driver beeps again, Gabe steps away, still chuckling, and the cold hits Tyson all of a sudden. The 12 inches between them is like a glacier, a terrible, heartbreaking glacier. At least Gabe’s hand is still resting warm on Tyson’s hip, a single ray of sun. 

“You better go before you get one-starred and lose all confidence,” Gabe says. 

Always ready to respond to a chirp, even when tipsy, cold, and pining, Tyson forces some indignation into his tone, “Hey, I take my Uber rating seriously. It’s about respect, Gabriel!”

But Gabe smiles softy at him and replies sincerely, “I know. You’re a considerate Canadian boy.” He uses the hand on Tyson’s hip to nudge him towards the Uber. “Go on.” 

So Tyson goes, apologizing profusely to the driver as he slides into the backseat of the car. For some reason, he smiles sappily the whole way home. 

Gabe doesn’t bring up gift shopping again. Tyson ends up buying his mom a fancy down coat and an air-fryer five days before Christmas. He gets Gabe an ABBA t-shirt and a case of Rekoderlig—partly as a joke and partly because Gabe secretly loves it. Two days later, he gets himself a broken hand making a dumbass block, and that pretty much takes care of December. 

 

2017 ends with a crushing 6-1 win over the Islanders that Tyson watches gleefully from the team box. Getting the W and kicking this shit year to the curb feels so good, Tyson isn’t even frustrated he’s not out there helping Nate and the boys. 

After the game, EJ bundles him off to the team New Year’s Eve party, which is being hosted at Zadarov’s place this year. Tyson can’t really drink because of the occasional prescription pain meds he’s taking, but he still follows EJ to the kitchen where a game of Thumper is about to start. It’s Big Z’s house, so of course they’re playing with vodka. Nate volunteers to take Tyson’s penalty drinks for him, because he’s ride or die. 

Tyson only has one functional hand, so he can’t really repeat the other players actions, and he keeps forgetting and thumping both hands on the tabletop. What this means is: Nate takes a lot of penalty sips, and Tyson pops a Vicodin—because, fuck, his hand is throbbing—so they’re both pretty out of it by 11. 

Somehow, they end up in the pantry sipping champagne, eating Doritos from the bag, and crying over Gabe and Vanessa, both so unkissable and so amazing. Their hair is so, so pretty! And their skin is so soft how? 

Then Gabe comes to collect them. His big blond head peeks through the cracked pantry door, blue eyes crinkling at the sight of Nate and Tyson propping each other up against Zadarov’s pasta shelf. 

“Gabe! Nate said Vanessa’s pores are smaller than yours, but don’t worry, I defended you!” Tyson tries to push off the shelf, but just ends up clutching Nate’s shirt. 

“Uh, thank you, Tyson. My pores are pretty small,” Gabe grins. 

Tyson nods solemnly at Nate, “See, told you.”

Nate shrugs and pats Tyson’s bicep, “That’s ok, Van’s hair is still longer.”

Before Tyson can think of a way to argue that point, Gabe cuts in, “Why are we comparing me to Nate’s off-again girlfriend?”

Because he still has some self-preservation, Tyson snaps, “That’s none of your business!”

“Yeah, nunya!” Nate barks, swinging his arm around Tyson’s shoulders. He almost elbows Tyson in the head, but whatever, Nate Dogg is the best. 

Gabe huffs, exasperated, “Ok, ok. Nate, wait for Erik to come get you. I’m taking Tyson home.”

“Oooh,” Nate exclaims, jostling Tyson and waggling his eyebrows suggestively. 

Tyson shakes his head forlornly and jostles Nate back. “No kissing,” he says, making a sad face.

“Yeah,” Nate sighs, “no kissing.” They’re both drooping a little after that exchange, so Gabe steps up, pushing Nate back to lean stably against the pasta boxes again while wrapping his other arm around Tyson. Because he’s capable and leaderly like that. 

“Let’s go, Tys. Nate, you stay!” And then he’s ushering Tyson away from Nate and the Doritos, back into the party. They navigate out of the house, Gabe grumbling the whole time about rookies and drinking games and responsibilities. Tyson nestles into his side and tries to nod understandingly. 

When they get to the car, Gabe gently buckles Tyson’s seatbelt, hands light on his waist. He’s still muttering about babysitting teammates and his shirt is half untucked and Tyson loves him. 

He’s still stuck on that thought when the car starts moving.

“And don’t think I didn’t notice that glass of champagne!”

Tyson doesn’t even need to look to know what face Gabe’s making. “Don’t give me the pissy captain face! It was one tiny glass, and I defended your pores’ honor, so give me a break!”

“Uh huh,” Gabe cocks his head skeptically. “So should we talk about the no kissing thing instead?” Why are Gabe’s natural talents leadership, puck handling, and latching onto the most embarrassing things Tyson says? The universe is punishing Tyson. That’s why.

Tyson studies him then, profile sculpturesque in the blue light of the dashboard. Unkissable, he remembers Nate agreeing. Tyson leans his head against the cold window. 

“No.” A little pathetically, “My hand hurts.”

“Yeah, I bet. Splints and Thumper do not mix. Not your brightest idea, Brutes.” 

Tyson is too tired and achy and buzzed to get scolded. “Whatever, Landesnerd.”

He must sound pitiful, because Gabe glances over and says, “Aw, Tys, we’ll get you fixed up at home, ok?” 

Tyson just nods. The last few minutes of the drive pass in comfortable silence, with Gabe focusing on the road and Tyson focusing on remembering which key opens the front door.

 

When they get inside, Gabe settles Tyson on the couch and then disappears into the kitchen or maybe the basement. The room’s spinning a little, so it’s hard to tell. Instead, he focuses all his attention on the tactical maneuver of getting the blanket off the back of the couch. It mostly ends up bunched on Tyson’s left arm and the side of his face. 

Gabe comes back with water and another Vicodin and turns on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year. Tyson scrunches up his face, squinting exaggeratedly, trying to read the countdown clock. A corner of the blanket is flopped over his left eye, so he tries blowing it out of the way.

Gabe chuckles, “Cute Tyson, so cute. This face should be on greeting cards.”

“You’re teasing, aren’t you?” Tyson accuses. 

“Yeah?” Gabe says, “It’s, like, our thing.”

Tyson sighs sadly as Gabe perches on the edge of the couch and tucks the blanket around him properly. His hip is touching Tyson’s side, and it’s like sunshine.

“It’s always just a joke. But I mean it. I always mean it,” Tyson whispers.

Gabe leans over him then, blocking the light and bringing their faces closer. He sounds kinda intense when he whispers back, “Mean what?” 

“Mean what, Tyson?” he repeats, hand coming to rest burning hot on Tyson’s sternum. 

Tyson feels loose and melty, and this is so familiar. With the overhead light gilding Gabe’s hair and the way he’s so warm and close, it’s almost like being back in Erik’s yard. 

So he answers, “Can I count your hair?”

Gabe laughs, but it doesn’t sound all the way happy. “Tyson—what? Why?”

Digging his good hand out from under the blanket, Tyson reaches up and twirls a lock of Gabe’s hair loosely around his pointer finger. Gabe sucks in a breath, but doesn’t move away.

“Never mind,” Tyson mumbles, untangling his finger and turning onto his side. Gabe will never stay still long enough, anyway. And Tyson still can’t kiss him. 

But oh, Tyson wants to.

Wait, kissing! Dick Clark is saying there’s 45 minutes to midnight, and Gabe has to go. Tyson tells him so.

“You want me to leave?”

“Should be at the party. Should get to kiss someone, Gabe! Someone you really, really think is cute!” That second pain pill is kicking in, and Tyson feels extra fuzzy.

Gabe’s looking at him all soft and gooey. Tyson wishes he’d quit doing that. It’s not good for his nervous system. One look and his stomach is fluttering—a risky combo with the room spins. 

“Hey, I said you were cute like a cartoon bunny. Don’t you remember?” Gabe says, smiling gently. Ugh. That was probably a chirp about Tyson’s teeth, which is just low. He’s a tipsy invalid and can’t defend himself.

“Maybe! You said maybe I’m cute!” Tyson tries to give the statement energy.  Formulating a comeback to the bunny thing is just too hard right now. Tyson’s sleepy. And sad Gabe never means the good parts, only the bunny teeth. He’s also too cozy and feels himself drifting off.

“Pretty sure I made it a definite statement,” Gabe retorts. He touches Tysons cheek, butterfly light and brief.

“Just a joke anyway. It’s mean, Gabe.” Distantly, Mariah Carey is singing about a vision of love, because of course she is. 

Gabe seems to be trying to make eye contact, but Tyson’s eyelids flutter shut every three seconds, so good luck with that, buddy. “You are cute. No joke.”

“Nuh-uh,” Tyson murmurs, snuggling into the throw pillow. “Go kiss a real cute person. Go away, I’m sleepy.”

Tyson’s eyes close, and he’s slipping under. He hardly notices when Gabe brushes the curls off his forehead and tucks the blanket up to his neck. Blearily, he thinks he hears Gabe sigh, “A real cute person. Great.” 

People are screaming the countdown when Tyson jolts awake later. Gabe’s gone, but there’s a fresh glass of water, a towel wrapped ice pack, and a bag of mini Reese’s cups on the coffee table. Tyson smiles, touched by Gabe’s mother-henning. 

Chest warm and head still fuzzy, he tries to sort out his goals for 2018 while the tv blares Auld Lang Syne. He doesn’t get far. All Tyson knows is he wants Gabe, and he wants the playoffs. He wants to have this year, dammit. Hopped up on painkillers and a tiny bit of champagne at midnight, it seems kinda possible. 

 

With a clearer head on January 1st, he revises his 2018 goals to: make the playoffs, get better at backchecking, and get over Gabe. It still seems only kinda possible, but that’s better than impossible.


 

But then, Gabe seemingly decides 2018 is the year to ruin Tyson’s life, not all at once, but inch by inch. 

At first, Tyson’s hopeful mood from New Year’s Eve carries over into the new year. The team is really clicking, high intensity like in ‘14 when they led the conference. They’re winning at home and on the road, and Tyson’s hand is healing fast. This year feels good. 

Until, less than a week into January as they're suiting up to play the Canucks, Gabe practically announces to the locker room that his resolution is to take it easy on Tyson. To be nicer to Tyson. Again. Why he’s dragging up a PR joke from like three years ago is a mystery. First the Christmas shopping thing and now this? Is he trapped in some weird time warp? 

Maybe the universe really does hate Tyson. Maybe he played for the Red Wings or burnt down a Dairy Queen in a previous life. He must’ve done something horrible to deserve this, because last time, Gabe’s resolution almost killed him. 

The Avs win again that night. Tyson's too stressed to enjoy it, because Gabe gives him an entire pie from D-Bar and offers his jacket when Tyson looks cold leaving the Pepsi. These are clearly the opening moves in Gabe’s resolution 2.0. Exhausted after the game, but unable to sleep, Tyson tosses and turns, mind stuck in the past.

Way back in January of 2015, Tyson had only just realized he might be seriously into his captain. He barely had a handle on the scary, new Gabe Feelings, when Gabe started being aggressively nice to him for some dumb Altitude bit. For two weeks he acted like a teenage dream of a boyfriend, all compliments and little gifts. It was nearly enough to make Tyson snap and hump Gabe’s leg in the locker room or show up outside his apartment with a boombox. His heart was trying to jump out of his chest non-stop. 

Tyson stares at the ceiling and hopes the joke will be shorter lived this time, for his sanity and his heart’s sake.

 

A few days after Gabe makes his 2018 resolution, Tyson is half-heartedly watching Friends and one handed texting Gabe over-dramatically about Nate leaving him cold and alone for hockey, the other woman. Thirty minutes later, the doorbell rings and Tyson opens the door, automatically whining about Nate abandoning their pre-practice TV ritual for early rink time and some new Crosby approved drill. 

Of course, Gabe chirps Tyson about it immediately, “All this codependency is touching, but what happens when Nate gets a steady girlfriend and can’t cuddle you 24/7? We’ll have to put out a Do Not Serve notice to all the local DQ’s, so you can’t eat your feelings.”

“Hey! T-Beauty and Nate Dogg cuddle time is part of the bro code! It’s untouchable even when he’s married! I’m sorry no one cuddles with you Gabe, but they’re all probably afraid of getting crushed by your giant head.”

Gabe just pushes past him into the house. Rude.

“Also, this isn’t very nice, Gabriel,” Tyson says, shutting the door. He stands in the hallway for a second, preparing himself to deal with whatever resolution bullshit Gabe is about to inflict upon him.

As soon as Tyson gets back to the living room, Gabe shoves a bag of Cookie Dough Bites at him. “No blizzards, but it's the next best thing. And I’ll watch Friends with you, if you just stop whining. See? So nice.” He’s grinning his goal scoring grin, eyes ocean bright.

Tyson looks at the Bites critically. They are not the next best thing. “Hmm. I don’t know if you deserve Jennifer Aniston right now.”  But Gabe’s still smiling proudly, so he relents, and heads to the couch, “Come on, Joey just stole a pizza.”

Gabe continues looking a little too self-satisfied after he’s tucked a blanket around Tyson and propped his splinted hand up on a throw pillow, but Tyson’s willing to ignore it. His chest feels light and fizzy knowing Gabe came over just because he complained a little about being lonely, but he ignores that too. It’s probably the painkillers, anyway. Tyson’s off the good stuff now, but Advil can be potent, ok? 

When Gabe leaves to get ready for practice an hour later, Tyson walks him out, laughing at some stupid comment.

Gabe must take that as a sign of success. “Oh, yeah, I’ve still got it. I’m nailing this nice thing all over again! I don’t know what people complain about, resolutions are easy,” he gloats, walking out to his car.

And then, Tyson says something incredibly stupid. “Ok, first, you lasted like two weeks back then, don’t even brag. Second, you insulted me twice and gave me a subpar sugar fix today. That’s the best you can do?” Oh, god Tyson does not need to be encouraging this. 

Gabe’s eyes glint with the challenge. Why are hockey players so competitive? It’s a curse.

“Oh, I’ll give you the best. I’m gonna be so nice you cry!”

“Uh, Landy, that sounds the opposite of nice.” Tyson probably will cry, is the thing. His idiot heart can’t take this nonsense.

Gabe just smirks, “Too bad, Tys!” Then he ducks into his SUV and drives away, the bastard. Tyson thunks his head against the front door. Fuck

 

A couple hours later, he gets a text from Nate. It's just a question mark and a picture of Gabe’s stall at the Sports Center. There’s an actual Post-It note stuck to it with the words ‘be nicer to Tyson’ in Gabe’s neat handwriting. 

The thing is, Gabe actually goes all in, 100%. For a long, long month or so, he is freakishly nice to Tyson. When Tyson travels with the team, Gabe brings ice packs for his hand. He doesn’t comment when Tyson eats four waffles at team breakfast before a game against St. Louis. He actually laughs at Tyson’s chirp about his ego exceeding the occupancy limit of the elevator at their hotel in Dallas. At a karaoke bar in Toronto, Gabe even offers to sing Celine Dion with Tyson. Celine Dion.

At home, Gabe sends Tyson encouraging, praise-filled texts whenever he complains about rehabbing his hand. He brings Tyson cookie dough blizzards with extra cookie dough three times. Twice, he even compliments Tyson’s curls. What’s more, Gabe keeps showing up to watch Friends before practice, even though Tyson knows he’s disturbing his own routine. 

And he’s always giving Tyson these searching looks like he’s waiting for a reaction. Expecting Tyson to fall at his feet with gratitude, maybe? Gabe’s ego does not need that kind of boost.

It’s terrible—worse than 2015, even. Tyson almost jumps Gabe a dozen times. Almost says, “Hey, you know what would be really nice? If we made out for an hour or five.” Almost. Instead, Tyson puts his head down and muscles through it. He is a pillar of strength. 

But then, in his first game back post injury, Tyson gets the primary assist on Gabe’s goal, and he invites Tyson out to dinner to celebrate. 

After a post game workout and shower, he saunters over to Tyson in the locker room, suit pants still unzipped and shirt only half done-up. “Come on, we can go to that taco place you keep talking about. My treat.”

“Kachina Cantina! I thought you ignored me when I talk about the food instas I follow?” Tyson isn’t avoiding looking at Gabe and the triangle of royal blue boxer briefs peeking out of his open fly. He’s just very, very focused on organizing his athletic tape rolls. Yeah.

“Well, not this time. Because I’m so nice,” he says, emphasizing the last word. 

Tyson silently curses Gabe’s stupid fucking resolution for the thousandth time. He pinches the bridge of his nose, “If you have to keep telling me how nice you are, are you really that nice?” 

Behind him, Nate quietly exclaims, “Ha!”

“Whatever,” Gabe waves his hand dismissively before continuing to button his dress shirt. “So, you, me, and some tacos to commemorate that beauty assist in your first game back?”

“Um—” Tyson hums, stalling. It's been a long, long month of Nice Gabe, and Tyson’s really not sure he has the restraint to be alone in a candlelit cantina with him right now. Not if he doesn’t want to end up on Deadspin. He can see the headline now: Shitty backchecker Tyson Barrie flips table, dousing fellow diners with salsa, to give team captain embarrassing public lap dance.

“What, do I have to bribe you with tres leches cake? Or fried ice cream?”

At that, Tyson’s head snaps up to meet Gabe’s amused gaze. “Why, captain,” Tyson gasps, faux shocked, “that violates the nutrition plan!” Thankfully, Gabe’s pants are zipped and buttoned now, so looking at him feels a little less like staring at the sun.

“Because you care so, so much about that. You aren’t on a first name basis with every DQ employee in Denver, or anything,” he says sarcastically, heading back towards his own stall. 

“Hey! Nice, remember!” 

“Meet you there at 7!” Gabe calls, clearly participating in a completely different conversation than Tyson. He shoulders his bag and exits the locker room. Ok, so dinner’s happening, apparently. Great.

Tyson twists to see Nate and EJ grinning broadly behind him. He can still do damage control; it’s fine. “So you guys are coming, right?” He tries to send ‘don’t leave me alone with Gabe’ signals to Nate with his eyes. 

Their bestie telepathy seems to be working, because Nate says, “Hell yeah! Tacos with T-Beau—” 

Erik elbows him with his dumb, long, condor arm and cuts in, “No! We have plans, remember?”

“Uh, yeah.” Seeing Tyson’s raised eyebrows, Nate continues, “We’re, uh, going to the track.” 

“You’re going to see Johnson’s horses? Voluntarily? Is he blackmailing you?”

“They’re magnificent animals, and you assholes are lucky to know them,” Erik grumbles.

“Yes, ok, your horses are so sexy. Uncle,” Tyson snarks before honing in on Nate. “Seriously, NateMac?”

Still glowering at Tyson, EJ elbows Nate again, and he blurts, “Um, I miss human Biz Nasty, so I thought I’d go see horse Biz Nasty?” 

“Uh huh. So you’re skipping out on maybe the best guac in town?” Tyson asks, trying to hit Nate where it hurts. This is all incredibly suspicious. 

Nate opens his mouth, but before he can respond, Erik grabs both their duffles and drags him away. “Sorry, Brutes, not gonna happen.” 

“Sorry, T-Bear!” Nate yells. “Love you!”  

They’re whispering furiously back and forth as they leave the room, and Tyson remembers worrying they were scheming way back in October. Maybe they’re planning the most elaborate team prank ever. Tyson imagines purple hair dye in everyone's shampoo or the numbers switched on all their jerseys or a zamboni on the roof of the Pepsi. 

Someone clears their throat, and Tyson turns to see Colin next to him. “So is the guac really that good? I’ve been trying to get into the food scene here.”

Tyson smiles. When life gives you Colins, make Colin-aid.

 

At 7pm on the dot, Tyson waits for Gabe outside of the restaurant, giving himself a pep talk. It’s just a friendly little dinner. They eat dinner together all the time, and Tyson has never once confessed undying love between courses. He can do this, even weak from all the niceness and deja vu.

Gabe bustles up a minute later, needlessly fixing his stupidly flawless hair. When he spots Tyson, he beams. It’s an incredible look to have earned just by standing on a street corner. Feeling dumbstruck, Tyson clenches his fists and prays to whoever’s listening for strength. He’s gonna need it.  

“Sorry, traffic!” Gabe says. As he draws nearer, Tyson can see those happy eye crinkles he loves so much. 

For a second, he gets caught up in looking Gabe over. Under his open peacoat, he’s wearing the blue and white check button-up Tyson always tells him brings out his eyes and a really fitted pair of chinos. It’s a little fancy for weeknight tacos, and Tyson feels underdressed in his sweater and jeans. But mostly, he feels like smoothing his hands down Gabe’s chest and thighs to see just how accurate his tailor is. 

Of course, he loses control of his mouth, “Are you sure you weren’t born in a Volvo commercial? God, you look inhumanly good.” Total embarrassment in the first five seconds is a great start to the night.

Gabe catches his assessing stare and smirks, “I know. I’m just naturally gifted.”

Tyson groans, “See, this is why EJ keeps publicly chirping you for, like, flexing naked in front of the mirror when you were roomies. Shameless!”

“Not sorry,” Gabe shrugs. “You look really good, too,” he says quieter, reaching out to stroke a hand down Tyson’s wool-clad arm. “Nice sweater.”

Helplessly, Tyson inclines into the touch. Gabe’s hands are always so warm. After a second he shakes himself out of it and leans away. They need at least two sizzling tortilla skillets and a table separating them like yesterday. 

“Taco time!” he blurts, lurching towards the entrance.

Gabe opens the door for him and then, oh god, pulls his chair out, even though he looks confused over why Tyson requested a four person booth. When Gabe asks the waiter to light the little candle at their table, Tyson actually, physically shudders. This is going to be a disaster. 

“We’re celebrating your escape from the IR list and your assist, so you have to let me pay, even though you’re obsessed with getting the check. Ok?” Gabe says sternly. 

“Are you using your locker room voice on me right now? And usually, no one’s complaining when I pick up the tab!”

“Love your generosity, but not tonight.” Jesus, are his eyes twinkling? 

Tyson is going to make a serious error any minute now. Like a get ejected, 50,000 dollar fine, lose game seven of the conference finals level error. After a solid month of Gabe giving him ice cream and jackets and compliments, he’s too vulnerable for this shit. 

When their waiter comes back, Gabe orders a pitcher of the exact margarita Tyson was craving, giving him a look that clearly communicates, ‘Nice, right?’ 

Honestly, what has Tyson done to earn living through this torture twice?

They’re snacking on complimentary chips and salsa and perusing the menu, when Gabe starts talking up Tyson’s assist, attributing it to his ‘soft hands’ and ‘on-ice vision’. He’s laying it on a little thick, but Tyson takes a moment to enjoy it, knowing Gabe will tone down the praise whenever he finally gives up on his idiotic resolution. 

But then Gabe says something complimentary about his plus/minus and Tyson gasps, “Liar!”

Gabe puts down his menu. “What?”

“Landeskog, you big liar, I’m like minus 10 this season. I’m gonna retire minus triple digits! You don’t have to be that nice,” Tyson accuses good-naturedly. He’s self aware enough to recognize his own faults.

Gabe gives him a steady look, “I’m not—”

“Sure,” Tyson scoffs, interrupting.

“Hey, whatever the stats say, you’re always a plus to me.” God, Gabe looks so earnest

“Did you—” he’s trying to hold it in, but one chuckle breaks free, then another. He reaches blindly for Gabe’s hand on the table. “Sorry, did you—did you really just say that with a straight face,” Tyson chortles.

“Oh, man, I did,” Gabe wheezes. “I really did!” Then they’re both laughing, doubled over so far across the table their heads almost brush. 

As the laughter dies down, Tyson sits up and Gabe’s already looking at him with so much humor and fondness in his eyes, it makes Tyson’s chest ache. Heart humming, he murmurs, “You are, too. A plus, I mean.” 

Gabe’s toothy grin shrinks down to something smaller, intimate. Something just for him? Tyson’s hand is still covering Gabe’s, and he squeezes it once, lightly. For a second he forgets everything, can feel his control splintering, and then someone yells, “Barrie!” 

Tyson springs back and—oh, thank fuck—there’s Willy. Just in time to save him from catastrophe. Standing up, Tyson waves him over to the table enthusiastically, and slaps him on the back in greeting, “Great timing, man!” 

“Hah, yeah, sorry. I-25 was a nightmare! Can you guys point me to the bathroom real quick, and maybe order me a beer if the waiter comes by?” 

When he heads back towards the men's room, Gabe hisses, “You invited Wilson?” 

Taking in his incredulous face, Tyson explains, “I didn’t plan to, but he overheard me asking Nate and EJ. He needs some buddies and some restaurant recs!”

If anything, Gabe looks more disbelieving, “You invited them, too? Really, Tyson?” 

Tyson’s not really sure what he’s so hung up on. He announced their dinner plans in front of the entire team. In front of Nate! How is Tyson not supposed to ask his bestie to tag along? He’d invite Nate even if he wasn’t trying to avoid being alone with Gabe. 

“Yeah, but they bailed. It was really shifty. I think they’re planning a massive prank.”

Gabe lets out a harsh breath, “I don’t care about that!”

“You should. Don’t come crying to me if everyone’s jockstraps end up on top of the jumbotron or something!”  Gabe just stares, so Tyson adds, “Uh, sorry I didn’t tell you about Willy?” 

“Why do you always—” Gabe starts, voice bursting with frustration, before going abruptly silent. 

Willy slides into the seat next to Tyson. “Hope I didn’t interrupt anything. You guys looked pretty intense when I came in, too.” 

“Nope, just team stuff! You know, hockey,” Tyson says. 

Willy looks between them, lingers on Gabe’s stony expression, “Sure, hockey...” 

“Speaking of, you’re a great add to the team!” Tyson might be using him as a human shield right now, but he really does want to welcome the guy.

He kicks Gabe under the table, hoping his captainly instincts will kick in despite the snit he’s in. Gabe sighs and smiles blandly, “Yeah.” He darts a glance at Tyson and then away, “Glad you’re here, Colin. How are you liking Denver?” 

“I’m still getting the hang of it, but it’s kinda like Nashville in some ways. A chill city with lots of music and food. I’ve been looking for good places to eat, so it was cool of Tyson to let me tag along tonight.” 

At that, Gabe sighs again, but some of the tension visibly drains out of him. His smile gets a little looser, too. 

By the time they order entrees, they’re all laughing at Colin’s story about taking the Preds’ goalies to a hot yoga class. Feeling guilty, Tyson silently promises he’ll invite Willy out soon with absolutely no ulterior motives. Still, the guy is doing an amazing job as a chaperone, so Tyson has zero regrets.

With Willy’s steadying presence, Tyson only slips up twice. First, when he scoops all the avocado slices off his fish tacos and wordlessly gives them to Gabe—he loves avocados, ok? It’s only right. And later, when Tyson reaches a hand out to wipe a smear of salsa from Gabe’s cheek. Halfway in, realizing what he’s doing, he redirects it as a grab for the tortilla chips. 

Both times, Colin simply gives him an indulgent look—the look you give something very cute or very stupid. Tyson knows which category he falls into, at least when Gabe’s nearby. Meanwhile, Gabe just seems bemused. Understandably, since Tyson is doing one-sided, cringey couple stuff at a platonic taco night. 

Otherwise, Tyson keeps it together. After the near miss Willy interrupted, he doesn’t even come close to kissing Gabe. Tyson even lets him pay without protest, skipping an opportunity to touch him in the guise of grappling for the check. 

 

Thankfully, that celebratory dinner seems to satisfy Gabe’s unspoken requirements for completing his resolution. Or maybe it's because the month was ending? 

Either way, when Tyson sees Gabe again, it's February 1st, and he seems to be reverting back to normal. He chirps Tyson for his bed head at team breakfast, and then steals his seat next to Nate on the postgame flight home. Tyson’s so delighted, he just ruffles Gabe’s hair and squeezes in next to Erik, kneeing his comically crunched up legs.

Ok, maybe the getting over Gabe goal is not happening, but Tyson pats himself on the back for making it through the month without dying, crying, or climbing naked into Gabe’s bed.


 

Tyson’s victory lasts about ten seconds. Until Valentine’s day, when Gabe elevates to the next level in his unintentional campaign to kill Tyson by replaying “Tyson Pining for Gabe: The Greatest Hits.” 

Somehow, last year, Tyson found the strength to survive the Valentine’s Day card video Altitude devised just to torture him. Gabe read him the seemingly earnest romantic message he wrote, and Tyson managed to sit through it without tearing up or crawling into his lap. Admittedly, Tyson wrote a sappy message, too. But he is actually in love with Gabe, so he kind of couldn’t stop himself. What was Gabe’s excuse, huh? Sadism?

He still can’t decide whether Lauren bribed Gabe or if helping torture Tyson was enough of a motivator on its own. Either way, Tyson counts himself lucky to have escaped that whole encounter with minimal embarrassment. Did he give Gabe his hotel room number on camera? Yes. But that was definitely just for laughs. Because Tyson is either hilarious or a human disaster. It’s open to interpretation. 

This year doesn’t seem so bad at first. They’re in Buffalo, a city less romantic even than Newark. Mikko is there as a buffer, and mercifully, Tyson gets to write him a Valentine instead of Gabe. Even better, Gabe has to address his to Yakipov.

As Lauren and the Altitude crew pack up after filming, Gabe edges into Tyson’s space on the bench seat. “So I noticed most of your message to Mikko was all about how I’m superior in every way. You really couldn’t help yourself, huh?”

“I mean, you did give me the prize chocolates last year. Maybe I thought more flattery would get me a repeat.” 

Gabe shakes his head condescendingly, “Flattery, Tyson, sure. I believe you.”

Tyson scoots closer, too, and points at Gabe. “Well, I noticed you really phoned in your message this year. No waxing poetic about ‘the highlight of your days’ like you wrote to me. Missing your muse, Landy?”

Gabe gives him an unfairly attractive smirk then and says, voice low, “Maybe I didn’t want Yaki’s room number.” 

The suggestion that he wanted Tyson’s room number is too much altogether. Tyson fumbles for a reply. Ever since the season started, Gabe’s been flirting with him more than ever. He knows it's supposed to be funny, maybe a little taste of his own medicine. An inside joke. He knows, but his body doesn’t, so his pulse is skyrocketing.

“Uh, right? Yaki’s just not as alluring as me. You want that T-Beauty charm, it’s understandable,” he shrugs, trying to play it cool.

Mikko stops messing with his phone and slides towards them then, shaking his card at Tyson. “Forget charm! You write mean things about mac and cheese! Is the best food. I see why you don’t have girlfriend, if you can’t feed her good meals.”

“Excuse you, I have great culinary taste! And don’t bring up my singleness on Valentine’s Day, that’s like a party foul.”

“You wish we have a party! But I just have a date,” Mikko says smugly. The big Finn grins toothily and taps Tyson on the head with the card, before standing and walking away. Tyson sighs, because honestly, Mikko is right. At least a party would keep him from watching Dirty Dancing and passing out with Ben and Jerry’s on the couch in his hotel room again this year.

Gabe pats his knee. “Hey, stop looking like your dog died, or this might become a morale issue. As captain, I’d have to give you chocolate, for the sake of the team.” Great, just what Tyson needs, a pity Valentine’s gift from Gabe.

“Yeah, I don’t think you can get me Valentine’s Day specific chocolate before we play tomorrow. And that’s all I will accept. You can’t win my heart or my morale with some boring M&Ms from the Sabres’ concession stand!” Tyson deflects, standing up just to get distance from Gabe’s hand and Gabe’s eyes and Gabe

Gabe gives him an assessing look, but doesn’t reply as they head down to change for warm-ups, so Tyson happily considers the matter dropped. 

 

The Avs head to Montreal that night, and the hustle of travel, morning skate, and team breakfast takes over Tyson's attention. He’s still trying to get back in the groove after missing 13 games, so he’s got bigger problems than his barren love life. 

But before the game, Gabe really does come to Tyson’s hotel room with a little heart-shaped box of chocolates. He’s just that committed to following through with everything he says, Tyson guesses. It must be a team captain thing. Still, Tyson gapes, dumbfounded by Gabe leaning against the door jamb with his big hand wrapped around a heart... he’s offering to Tyson. That’s a metaphor not worth exploring ever

Plus, it’s eerily similar to Gabe giving him the prize chocolate after last year’s Valentine’s debacle. Tyson’s heart spasms the same way it did in that Jersey hotel room. More deja vu. Is Gabe trying to drag up all of Tyson’s past Gabe Feelings related trauma? Tyson grabs the candy before he can overthink it.

Gabe jokes, “Can I come in, or do you and the chocolate want to be alone?” It ends the brief standoff, and Tyson opens the door wider to let him through. He only leans in a little to catch the waft of Gabe’s cologne. 

“Don’t mock! The chocolate and I are in love! You’re probably soulless enough to ban eating in bed, so we’re ideologically opposed,” Tyson fires back, walking right by Gabe to recline on the bed, candy in hand. He fluffs the stack of pillows to get himself propped up just right. 

When he looks up, Gabe is towering over the bedside. Instantly, Tyson realizes he made a serious miscalculation, but if last season taught him anything, the only way out is through. Tyson pats the bed and raises his eyebrows at Gabe, who just stares at him. 

“Don’t just stand there like a creep. Come on. I am magnanimously allowing you one truffle.”

Gabe shakes his head and grins, “A whole truffle? Wow, Tyson, how generous. Technically, these are my chocolates, so I should get at least two.” He sits down and swings his legs onto the bed, settling in next to Tyson. Wow, queen sized beds are really not meant to accommodate two hockey players. Gabe is close. 

They’re maybe a hand’s width apart atop the comforter. Tyson cannot focus on having Gabe so totally within reach. It’s dangerous. Instead, he opens the candy box and selects a chocolate at random, popping it into his mouth. Oh, that’s good. Sweet, sweet cocoa. 

Feeling the bed shift a little, Tyson opens his eyes. He must’ve closed them during the taste bud endorphin rush. Tyson also must’ve made some kind of embarrassing, pleased noise, because Gabe is staring at him again. 

“Hey, thanks, Gabe. These are great! You really didn’t have to get them for me. My morale is used to being single.”  

“I know. I wanted to,” he smiles, and his eyes are Mediterranean bright and warm. Tyson gets a little lost in them. Then Gabe lunges for the chocolate box, the wily bastard. 

Tyson twists away, yelling, “Sorry! You don’t deserve them, you protein shake apologist!” Gabe curls over his side, trying to get the box from where Tyson has it tucked. 

They get into a scuffle. Tyson rolling and shoving and locking his arms while Gabe uses his height and weight advantage to try and pin him. His hands on Tyson’s body feel incredible. One of Tyson’s thighs gets trapped between Gabe’s, and it’s all he can do not to grind up into the hold. Hoping to get out of this with some dignity intact, he stops struggling.

Tyson ends up on his back looking up at Gabe, who is half straddling him, upper body bent low to slip one arm beneath the pillow wedged under his hip. The candy is nowhere near that pillow, so joke’s on Gabe. But the real, cosmic joke is on Tyson for ending up in this situation, so. Yeah. 

Seconds pass as they both hold their positions, panting. The blazing heat of Gabe’s body is sending waves of desire surging through Tyson’s limbs, and he wants to sink into it. He wants and wants and wants. Gabe shifts his leg and a full body shiver runs through Tyson. Oh, fuck. Gabe is on top of him, and it feels too good. This moment is both too close and not close enough to what Tyson has been craving for years. Like any reasonable person, he panics.

“Here! Don’t want to trigger some Viking pillaging impulse,” Tyson blurts breathlessly, shoving the candy box at Gabe. The pointed bottom of the heart almost jabs him in the eye, just grazing his cheek, and he rears back a little. Oops. 

“Watch it, Tys,” Gabe huffs, “Kinda need both my eyes.” He tilts his head down, a lock of hair falling over his forehead. Tyson briefly imagines tenderly pushing it away from his face. To resist the urge, he clenches his fists, forgetting one hand is on Gabe’s ribcage. He accidentally scrunches Gabe’s shirt in his hand, tugging him incrementally nearer, so their torsos touch. Both their t-shirts must've gotten rucked up with all the movement, so a sliver of Gabe's bare stomach is pressed to Tyson's, hot and smooth, skin on skin, intimate. Tyson shivers again.

Gabe inhales, lips parted lushly, and Tyson has to stop this right the fuck now. 

“Well, I kinda need to avoid another wrestling injury, so...” Tyson trails off meaningfully, trying to sound calm.  He pushes at Gabe’s chest until he can scoot a safe distance away. He refuses to pop a boner from one minute of grappling with Gabe. He refuses.

“Yeah,” Gabe rasps, “we don’t want a repeat of Worlds. Bednar would kill me.” Tyson must be imagining things, because Gabe’s voice can’t really be that gravelly. Maybe Tyson accidentally clipped him in the throat earlier? His wrestling strategy does involve a lot of stray elbows. 

He watches Gabe sit up and drag a hand through tousled blonde hair. Tyson messed it up. Not quite in the way he’d always imagined messing up Gabe’s hair, but still. Knowing he’s responsible for a disheveled Gabe zings tiny sparks through Tyson’s body.

“Forget Coach, Nate would kill you first. He’s still traumatized,” Tyson replies, as he starts rounding up scattered pillows. Checking under the bed isn’t strictly necessary, but it gives Tyson a few extra seconds to let the white hot need simmer down a little.

When he straightens up, last wayward pillow in hand, Gabe is touching where the candy box scraped. There’s a little red mark just below his eye socket. “Oh, shit, sorry about that. The eye patch thing could work for you though.”

Gabe eyes him, unimpressed. “I should fine you.”

“I’ll buy you a drink after you score tonight.” If Tyson says it the tiniest bit flirtatiously, well, he can’t help it. His defenses are weakened. 

Gabe quirks his lips at that. "Oh, yeah?" he asks, eyes incredibly intent. He must be thinking about netting their second win in a row.

"Yeah." Tyson echoes weakly, pulse jumping, and he looks away. That killer instinct is sexy, ok?

They restack the pillows and settle on the bed again. Wordlessly, Tyson hands Gabe a truffle. Sitting quietly in bed together eating chocolate feels terribly domestic, at least by Tyson’s standards. But Tyson is home like 10 days a month, so what does he know?

Breaking the comfortable silence, Gabe murmurs, “I wouldn’t kick you out of bed for eating, by the way.”

“Um?” Tyson’s brain blanks out, and his face flames at the implication. 

Gabe notices the slip and jolts slightly, hands twitching. He’s a little pink, too. “Just, you know, generally! I’m not opposed to, like, breakfast in bed.”

“Sure,” Tyson nods, still blue-screening a little. For a moment, he imagines them taking their pregame nap together, spooning in these scratchy hotel sheets. Or eating pancakes in Gabe’s California King back in Denver. That kind of thinking is even more dangerous than rolling around on a bed with Gabe. Tyson inches towards the edge of the mattress, feeling Gabe's eyes on him, but refusing to meet his gaze. 

As a distraction, Tyson eats another truffle, then peeks over to see Gabe’s hand reaching into his space. Assuming he’s trying another chocolate stealing maneuver, Tyson lifts the box towards him, “Here. I can’t handle another wrestling match so close to nap time.”

"I wasn't—” Gabe pauses, looks at Tyson for a long moment, gaze piercing. Tyson shifts under the unexpected scrutiny, willing his heartbeat to stay steady as he silently offers Gabe the candy again. 

Deflating a little, Gabe sighs and stands up. “Nah, finish them. Your system probably shuts down if you don’t make your sugar quota,” he says, heading towards the door. 

Tyson’s starting to worry Gabe noticed some of his weirdness during the whole wrestling episode.  

“All good, bud?”

He huffs out a short laugh, “Yeah, Tys, all good. Just tired. We better get napping.”

A few short strides and he’s out the door. Tyson flops back on the bed and tries fruitlessly to sleep.

 

When they go out after the game, he does buy Gabe a drink for getting a point. But he also buys one for Kerfy, who netted the goal off Gabe’s pass. Feeling like he’s teetering on the edge of his restraint, Tyson clings to Nate all night, so he isn’t ever alone with Gabe. Remembering how the rookies ambushed him at Tavern, he even drags Nate to the bathroom with him. Gabe ends up slumped in the corner talking intently with EJ, so he doesn’t even seem to notice Tyson’s secret, self-enforced restraining order.

Back in his hotel bed that night, exhausted from travel and a hard fought win, Tyson lazily jerks off to the memory of Gabe’s solid weight pinning him to the mattress. He’s not proud of it, ok, but it’s been a long day and a longer season. He’s earned this just by not climbing Gabe like a tree or slashing Jordie Benn in the crotch. He’s been on his best behavior today. So Tyson can touch himself to thoughts of Gabe’s thigh between his legs, muscles shifting, big hand pressing him down. He can allow it once. Or once a month. No one’s counting.

Tyson’s G-rated fantasies of spooning and co-napping and pancakes? Those he can’t afford to think about at all.

 

It’s not until they get back home and he finds the little red box at the bottom of his suitcase that Tyson realizes the chocolates came from Temper. Gabe bought them in Denver before they went on the road. Before they filmed the Valentine’s card video and talked about morale. 

Why would he bring gourmet Denver Valentine’s candy on a roadie? Were they a gift for his super secret Montreal girlfriend? Or an unusually self-indulgent snack? Or did he...plan to give them to Tyson? Tyson doesn’t even know what to do with that concept. 

He calls Nate. 

“So I’m thinking something crazy, and I need you to talk me down.” 

“If this is about the soft serve slip n’ slide, we already tried it, and it didn’t work.” That really was one of their better ideas. It just needs tweaking.

“Maybe with more chocolate syrup? It’s, um, viscous?” Tyson muses.

"Hmm, or caramel sauce—” 

Tyson cuts him off, “We’ll workshop that, but first let’s talk about my actual problem!” 

“Oh. What is it? Tell the Dogg everything.”

Taking a grounding breath, Tyson rushes out, “Gabe wouldn’t bring special Valentine’s chocolates to Montreal just for me, right? That’s crazy? Or if he did, it was just a captain thing?”

“How is that a captain thing?” Nate asks incredulously.

“He was boosting my morale. You know, keeping up locker room energy.” 

“Yeah, that’s a real reason.” If there’s tone, Tyson chooses to ignore it.

“Exactly! I think I just got confused by my feelings and the, uh, bed wrestling,”  he admits, pacing his living room floor in an attempt to stay relaxed.

“Bed wrestling!” Nate cheers.

“Friendly bed wrestling! We were fighting over the chocolate.”

“You were ‘fighting,'” the air quotes there are obvious, even to Tyson, “in bed, over Valentine’s candy. And it was...friendly?” Every word is brimming with skepticism. 

“Dogg, you and I wrestle, and we’re friends.” Tyson defends.

“We don’t wrestle anymore, ever, not after The Worlds Incident!” Nate audibly shudders. They both go quiet for a second, flashing back to that unfortunately blood-soaked shenanigan, before Nate pushes on, “And we never wrestled on a bed.”

“We could’ve! Anyway, I think the bed thing just clouded my judgment,” Tyson says, feeling better about it all, even if Nate isn’t being very helpful.

Nate scoffs, “Wonder why?”

Tyson continues, “Point is, wrestling aside, Gabe was just being a good captain, maintaining team spirit with sugar. I was sad; it was a pity thing.” 

“A pity—!” There’s a clatter like Nate dropped the phone.

“A pity thing? Really?” He hears a lot of muffled noises like Nate left his cell wherever it fell and is shoving things around. 

“Yeah…”

“Oh my God, fine, pretend it’s not Gabe. Pretend anyone else is doing these things. Would you think it was just friendship or leadership or,” Nate scoffs again, “pity?”

“No?”

“Yes!” Somehow, Tyson just knows he’s fist pumping, can picture it. They might spend too much time together. Nate yells, “Yes! Okay! And..?” 

“Why would any other team’s captain give me chocolates? If Teows did that, I’d think he was trying to poison me,” Tyson points out rationally.

Nate swears and hangs up on him. Rude.

 

Tyson decides not to think about the chocolate or deja vu or any Gabe Feelings. Which gets easier, because Gabe backs off a little after that. For an entire week, Gabe doesn’t call him ‘Tys’ even once or chirp him a single time. Not that Tyson’s keeping track. It’s kind of a relief, really, but Tyson tries not to worry. He’s pretty sure none of his messy feelings spilled over onto Gabe that afternoon in Montreal. Gabe’s just distracted. He’s team captain, they’re pushing for the playoffs, and March can be a make or break month. 

They’re ok. Their friendship is fine. It’s all definitely still under control. Tyson is solid as a rock, solid as Sidney Crosby’s thighs. 

Or maybe he’s a Jenga tower about to topple. Who can say?


 

A week later, Tyson has a five point night and rips the table right out from under the Jenga tower. To be clear, everything finally hits the breaking point. 

It’s late February, and the team is hitting their stride, when Tyson puts up a career night. He scores to tie the game and take the Canucks into overtime. He assists on every goal the Avalanche score, including the game winner. Everything he touches turns to gold. Tyson nets the most points in one game by a defenseman in franchise history. Somewhere in Ottawa, Erik Karlsson is crying with envy.  

Afterwards, at LoHi SteakBar, Tyson barely sips any of the cocktails the boys buy him, riding the buzz of scoring and adrenaline and the proud glow on Gabe’s face. Being squished between Josty and Nate on a leather bench seat feels like the only thing keeping him earthbound through drinks, apps, and a celebratory steak dinner. He practically floats home.

 

Less than an hour later, Tyson hears a car rolling into his driveway. Thanks to a couple vague texts from Nate and EJ as the team left the steakhouse, he knows exactly who it is. The floaty feeling is fading fast. He throws the front door open, and yup, there’s Gabe getting out of his SUV holding a box Tyson recognizes from his favorite dessert spot. He’s hit with a wave of terrible deja vu, yet again.

“What are you doing here? I literally just saw you 30 minutes ago,” Tyson calls out, trying to remain calm. 

“This is a big deal! We have to celebrate,” Gabe calls back enthusiastically, smiling way too wide. Like a maniac, Tyson thinks uncharitably, or a cult leader. And then Gabe’s words register.

“Oh god, that’s what you said the last time you gave me a lava cake! Seriously, is this some kind of elaborate deja vu? Is my brain breaking?”

“Some might say your brain’s been broken for years now,” Gabe says, in a normal volume, as he’s almost at the front steps now.

“Oh, shut up Landeskog!”

“But seriously, Tys,” Gabe continues, “this is important! You set a franchise record, and you won us that game.”

Tyson feels himself lighting up a bit with the praise. He loves lava cake and he loves Gabe and he’s high on success. It’s heady. Tyson kind of wants to sing in the street or kiss Gabe until his lips bruise—and no, nope—this exact combination of factors almost got him into trouble before. 

He remembers sitting on his kitchen counter eating molten chocolatey goodness. Gabe had batter on his cheek and Tyson wanted more than anything to pull Gabe between his legs and kiss him. He felt so invincible that night, with the ink barely dry on his new contract—four more years in Denver, four more years with EJ and Nate, four more years with Gabe—he almost went for it. 

Tyson got as far as grabbing Gabe’s wrist and pulling him closer before his self-preservation kicked in, and he pretended to be very, very invested in giving Gabe a paper towel to wipe the chocolate off his face. After that, he kept at least one piece of furniture between them and claimed total exhaustion, just to get Gabe a safe distance away.

Whatever warped Groundhog Day situation Tyson is trapped in, he’s had more than enough of it, thank you. He can’t do this again. Panicking, he slams the door shut, practically in Gabe’s face. 

Gabe knocks, snapping Tyson fully back into the present. “Tyson, open the damn door! It’s cold. We'll have to reheat the lava,” he chides, exasperated. 

Because Tyson is a fool and didn’t lock it, Gabe swings the door open and strides past him.

“No, nuh-uh! Get out of here with that thing! Get that chocolate mindfuck away from me!” 

He trots after Gabe, who’s headed for the kitchen, and doing a shitty falsetto imitation of Tyson, “Come in, Gabe! Thanks so much for the amazing lava cake, Gabe! Wow, you had to go uptown to get it! You’re so great, Gabe!”

Tyson ignores all that and sticks to his priorities. “And put a hat on or something! I can’t look at your hair right now.” 

Gabe smiles sweetly at him, “You’re so welcome, Tyson. Sure, I’ll get some plates.” He tosses his hair, the bastard, and then starts going through Tyson’s cabinets like he pays the mortgage. 

Seeing what he’s pulling off the shelves, Tyson yells, “Oh no, Gabriel, you will not force feed me dessert on the fancy plates my mom bought! Put those back, or I’m throwing the lava cake in the dumpster!”

Gabe pauses, plates in hand, and stares him down, considering. 

“Racoons will eat it!” Tyson adds.

Gabe smirks and sets the plates down emphatically, one at a time. The little hand painted flowers are mocking Tyson. “I’d like to see you try. You’ll probably cry. Or call the police on yourself.”

Tyson sniffs, “It would be a crime to do that to a lava cake.”

Gabe inches the cake box towards him, eyebrows raised. 

Tyson sighs. It's just him, Gabe, and a lava cake in Tyson’s quiet kitchen. Again. Tyson can’t handle it. He can’t. First his mom's gift, then the resolution thing and the candy, now this? The universe is testing him. Gabe’s trying to drive him insane or break his heart or both. And Tyson. Can’t. Take it.

“Did you lose a bet?” he asks, hanging on to whatever chill he has left with both hands and gritted teeth. 

“No,” Gabe scoffs.

“Did you find it in the back alley of the restaurant and, like, rescue it?”

“Tyson. No!” Gabe is obviously frustrated now. His lips are pressed in a thin line, shoulders tense.

“Then why? Why a lava cake again? Why are you here?” Desperation is seeping into Tyson’s voice, he knows it. Bye bye, chill.

“To celebrate?”

Tyson makes a buzzer noise. “We already celebrated. You guys bought me drinks and dinner. Try again.”

“Fine! EJ and Nate made me! They said it was either this or they’d trap us in an elevator on the next roadie!” 

“That doesn’t even make sense, Gabe.”

He just shrugs, and Tyson is so over it.

“Honestly, are you trying to drag up all my G—” he stops himself just in time to save a little dignity, redirects. “Uh, feelings trauma?” Tyson blurts loudly.

“Your trauma! I’m the one reliving the ways I made a move and got subtly rejected!” Gabe answers, just as loud.

“Made...a move? A move?” Tyson’s pitch is climbing towards hysterical now. Just...what? What?

“Yes!” Gabe yells. He crosses his arms, tilts his chin defiantly, and does absolutely nothing to clarify the statement that’s still melting Tyson’s brain. Rage or a breakdown seem like the only options, so Tyson chooses anger.

“Your so-called move was so subtle, I didn’t even know I was subtly rejecting it!” he hisses, glaring daggers.

Gabe scowls, fingers clenching white on his bicep. “Moves. Plural. And I was pretty damn clear.”  

“Multiple moves?” Tyson breathes. The idea of Gabe trying to get Tyson interested multiple times kind of takes the wind out of his sails. Kind of takes his breath away, honestly.

“Yes, can we move on? And stop saying the word move? This conversation is ridiculous.”

Tyson just stares, mind whirring. Gabe looks up like he’s hoping lightning will strike him or the ceiling will cave in. 

“Anyway, blame Erik! It was his stupid idea to ‘redo the past’ and ‘heal the timeline.’ I think he got that part from Colin. He probably doesn’t even know what it means! And I went along with it! I mean, I was drunk then, but I’ve been unfortunately sober since and I—”

“Stop, oh my god. You’re rambling. Captain Perfect is actually rambling!”

“Are you trying to make this worse?” Now, Gabe looks both embarrassed and offended. Tyson wants to lick him. It’s a rational response. Tyson might be allowed to lick him, now, probably. 

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just a lot to take in. Like, the resolution thing was in 2015, so—”

“Yes, and?” Gabe cuts him off with more defiant chin tilting. It’s a very Viking look, if you ignore the blushing. 

“You? You’ve been into me that whole time? What about Melissa, and the 100 other dates I’ve seen you go on?” Tyson asks, still trying to wrap his mind around it all.

“Well, I wasn’t exactly saving myself for our wedding night, Tyson. I have a life. I just also have a thing. For you.” The last part sounds strangled, like it stuck in his throat. 

“A thing? Oh my God, Gabe, you’ve been pining? You’ve been, like, staring out at the sunset thinking about me!” Tyson crows.

“No! No one said anything about pining or sunsets!” Gabe defends, nostrils flaring, but the bright red staining his cheeks kind of ruins the effect.

“Nate and EJ literally threatened to break an elevator just to stop your pining!”

“You’re pining too! I told them ‘No, Tyson’s obviously not into me, I’ve tried. Repeatedly.’  Nate swore you’d been moping over me forever, but you’re an idiot!”

Tyson gasps. He and NateMac will be having words. “Betrayal! That Judas! I am not an idiot.”

“I think this entire season says otherwise. I’ve been physically on top of you like four times, and you still didn’t get it.” To underline his point, Gabe steps into Tyson’s space. 

The events of the last six months, hell, of the last three years, are rapidly reshaping themselves in his brain. It’s unbelievable. It’s giving him a headache. Tyson wobbles a little, which is embarrassing, but Gabe grabs his hip to steady him, so it’s a net gain.

“God, fuck, the Valentine’s chocolate thing almost killed me. I am such an idiot!”

Tyson doesn’t know when Gabe got so close, but he’s leaning even closer. “You told me to go kiss someone else on New Year’s Eve,” Gabe pauses, tilting his head, so the next part is said a hair’s breadth from Tyson’s lips, “when I just wanted to be on the couch with you.”

“Idiot,” Tyson swears ardently.

Gabe nods, and Tyson feels that beautiful blond hair brush his temple. “Yeah, but I’m into that, I guess.”

Tyson, ugh, he might giggle, “That makes you an idiot, too, idiot.”

Gabe chuckles, low, and now Tyson really can’t take it anymore. He tips forward, kissing the laughter from Gabe’s mouth. He responds immediately, and it’s a slow, hot slide, their lips wet and clinging. Tyson bites Gabe’s bottom lip and slides a hand into his hair, just like he always dreamed of doing. He groans and pushes Tyson back against the kitchen counter, pressing their bodies together from hip to shoulder.

Tyson might giggle again, because he’s too dazed and happy not to. Gabe kisses his laughter away this time, licking into Tyson’s mouth like he can taste the joy there. Tyson melts into it, tangling his tongue with Gabe's and leaning into every inch of skin-on-skin contact. 

This, this is wanting but without the ache. This is having.  

Panting, Tyson breaks the kiss. Gabe mumbles, “No,” and pulls him back in. 

“Hold on, hold on,” Tyson says, running his free hand along Gabe’s side. The other hand is still buried in Gabe’s hair and will stay there, hopefully forever. The tandem helmet idea really needs patenting.

“Why?” Gabe asks, lips trailing featherlight down the side of his neck. Tyson’s hand tightens in Gabe’s hair as he starts sucking lightly at his pulse point.

“No. C’mon, we gotta see this through.” He pushes Gabe back, looking mournfully at his lips. 

Gabe groans, “What?”

“We have to eat the cake. To heal the timeline!”

“Now? Right now?”

“Yes, now!” He gives Gabe another little shove, but it might not be effective. He might just stroke Gabe’s chest instead. Whatever, he gets an A for effort. “We have to do this like it’s 2016.”

Gabe tries to kiss him again, but Tyson turns his head. The years of not flinging himself at Gabe have really done wonders for his self restraint. “Finish what you started.”

Throwing his hands up, Gabe steps back, grumbling, “Fine, fine! Never should’ve brought the stupid cake.”

They separate. Gabe leans against the island, mechanically taking a bite of cake, eyes hot on Tyson. Tyson sits on the counter across from him, completing their little living memory. Finally, it’s good deja vu. 

Though the molten center is a little congealed, the lava cake is still delicious, and Tyson’s head falls back, eyes half-lidded at the first taste. 

Gabe drops his fork. He doesn’t move to pick it up, just locks eyes with Tyson, lifts the arm the fork hit on its way down, and licks the smear of chocolate off his forearm. Wow, ok. Ok. 

Tyson sets his plate down so fast, it almost slides off the counter. “Enough cake! Cake is over! Come here,” he says, reaching out grabby hands at Gabe. As soon as he’s within range, he pulls Gabe between his legs. 

“That didn’t take long,” Gabe gloats, smug. But his eyes are dark, and he’s staring at Tyson’s mouth, so who’s the real winner here?

“Oh please, you were two seconds from dropping my mom’s china and whipping off your shirt, don’t front.”

Gabe deadpans, “Yeah, yeah. I want you, oh baby, oh baby.” He’s got his mean little grin on, and Tyson wants to feel it sharp against his lips. But not yet, because he can’t let Gabe’s overconfidence go completely unchecked. 

“You do, though. You want me so bad,” Tyson points out, sounding as superior as he can. 

But Gabe’s eyes go all soft and sweet, and he just looks at Tyson for a second. The dim kitchen light casts his face in a sunset glow, his hair is tufted from Tyson’s fingers, his shirt is wrinkled, and there’s a tiny dot of chocolate on his chin. He doesn’t look like a Viking prince or a model. He’s just Gabe, and it’s enough to make Tyson’s mouth water.  

“Yeah, I do.” Gabe smiles as he says it, like wanting Tyson is a gift.

And Tyson has to kiss him. He has to, or he will die. That would be pretty awkward for Gabe, what with the EMTs and all, so he leans in and they slip right into an openmouthed kiss, warm and easy like they never stopped. But Gabe tastes like chocolate now, and current-Tyson has what past-Tyson only imagined.

“Mmm,” Tyson hums against Gabe’s lips, “this is what I wanted last time.” Hunching a little, he traces a vein in Gabe’s neck with his tongue, sucks softly on the chord of muscle at the hollow of his throat. 

“You gave me a wet paper towel.”

“Well, yeah,” Tyson says, pausing his exploration of Gabe’s neck, “so I wouldn’t try to give you my dick. Or my heart, I guess.” 

Gabe pulls his head back with a light tug on Tyson’s curls. Because he’s lost all control of his libido, Tyson’s hips jerk just from that, and Gabe looks hungrily at him, pupils blown. 

But then his expression turns tender and a little unsure, “Your heart?”

“Yeah,” Tyson sighs. “You really didn’t know? I tried to hide it, but my entire body is like a giant billboard advertising how insanely into you I am. Every time you walk around the locker room in a towel, I get like 5 mocking looks. The rookies think we’re dating. I’m that obvious.”

Slipping a hand under Tyson’s t-shirt, Gabe huffs out a laugh. “Not to me. Sometimes I thought—I mean—you always flirt but, the second I’d flirt back or make a move, you’d ignore it or run away.”

Tyson lifts a hand to thumb over Gabe’s lips. “I didn’t run away; I made tactical retreats!” 

Unimpressed, Gabe nips the tip of his thumb, tongues at it, oh god.  “Because I’m an idiot! I was too busy making sure I didn’t dump my feelings all over you and ruin everything to notice you had, uh, more than friendly feelings, too.” 

“I tried to be your Valentine two years in a row! I was straddling you, on a bed on Valentine’s Day, and you thought, ‘wow this is such friend behavior’?” Gabe asks, tugging lightly on Tyson’s hair again with a smirk.

Tyson groans, “Ugh, don’t remind me. God, I jerked off so much thinking about that.”

This time, Gabe’s hips stutter forward. He commits to it with captainly decisiveness, moving in to press fully into Tyson, whispering darkly, “Me too.”

Tyson gasps, lightheaded at that mental image, and Gabe tilts his head to pull him into a punishing kiss, a five year kiss, hard and slow and a little brutal.

Gabe’s taller and broader and he’s so hot and hard against Tyson and his hands are everywhere. Tyson gets dragged under, drowning in sensation. He breaks the kiss to whine and grind his hips desperately into Gabe’s. Their cocks slot together through layers of fabric and the friction is delicious, makes Tyson pant and shudder.

“Fuck, wanted this. Wanted this so long,” Gabe swears, sliding his lips down Tyson’s neck to mouth at his collarbone.

Tyson bares his throat and says, voice shaky, “Yeah. Yeah, god.” He runs his nails lightly down Gabe’s spine, “Forever.”

Gabe moans, working furiously at what will be a truly ridiculous hickey by tomorrow, Tyson just knows. He’ll get so much shit for it from the boys, but god, it’s hot. Every scrape of Gabe’s teeth tugs at the heat pooling in his belly.

Hands scrabbling at Gabe’s henley, Tyson mutters, “Off, fuck, right now. Off, off.” And Gabe listens, yanking the ribbed cotton off, plastering himself to Tyson, and fusing their mouths together again, lightning quick. Then he slides a hand down to palm Tyson’s ass and squeezes, throwing him abruptly into overdrive, because holy shit.  

He slides a hand between them to flick open the button of Gabe’s jeans, heart set on touching Gabe’s dick ASAP, awkwardly palming the thick, warm length of it despite the zipper digging into his hand. Gabe’s hips snap forward, and he bites at Tyson’s shoulder, gasping, “Fuck, oh fuck, Tys.” Then he gives Tyson’s hair a sharp tug and sucks hard over the spot he just bit and, oh, Tyson is like ten seconds from really embarrassing himself.

He whimpers and frantically tries to get his hand inside Gabe’s boxer briefs, but there’s no room to move. Again with that captainly decision making—it’s a real bonus in this context, Tyson’s realizing—Gabe steps back and yanks his jeans and boxer briefs down. Tyson’s having some sort of eye orgasm at the sight of Gabe’s cock curving against his abs, so he doesn’t even notice Gabe’s attempt to slide his sweatpants and boxers down too, until he groans, “Up. Please, come on.”

Tyson lifts his hips off the counter, and Gabe yanks his sweats down so violently, they end up tangled around one ankle. He curls his fingers around Gabe’s cock, reveling in the silky hardness, and Gabe’s head falls forward, narrowly missing the upper cabinets. “Ah—warn a guy!” 

Then he swats Tyson’s hand away. “Um, rude! My hand was really happy ther—oh, oh shit—” he trails off, moaning, as Gabe wraps his big hand around both of their dicks and oh, wow.

“Gabe!” he gasps, voice reedy, but whatever, Tyson is so far past embarrassment now.

“Yeah, thought you’d like that,” he pants. “Got a game plan here.” He grins and twists his wrist in a way that is absolutely filthy. Tyson whines again, hips bucking.

“Of course, ah, course you do,” Tyson grits out, burning up at the contrast of callused fingers and smooth skin. And it’s all so Gabe, Tyson just has to kiss him, wet and dirty, hand clutching his bare hip. He drops the other hand to their cocks, fingers overlapping Gabe’s in a way that feels terribly intimate, and tightens their joint grip. 

The kiss is uncoordinated now, mouths open and breathless. Tyson rolls his hips with the downstroke and Gabe mumbles, “Tyson, fuck, that’s so good,” right into his mouth. And, oh, Tyson wants to lick every bit of praise from Gabe’s lips. Wants to be the best just to see how approval tastes on Gabe’s tongue.

Suddenly, Gabe speeds up their hands. They’re both grinding into it, panting wetly, and then everything is slick and scorching and good.  

“Gabe, I need—” Tyson moans. 

“Anything, anything,” Gabe mouths into Tyson’s neck, smearing searing kisses into his skin. Then he crushes them closer, their hips sliding together as his hand works frantically in the tight, sauna hot space between their bodies.

All Tyson can see and sense is Gabe. And all he can think about is how Gabe feels now, will feel under him, inside him. He bucks his hips, losing rhythm. Then Gabe’s voice in his ear, “That’s it, Tys. So close, babe.”  

For some reason it’s the ‘babe’ that does it. One more filthy twist of the wrist, and Tyson whites out a little, pleasure zipping up his spine like an electric surge. 

He tunes back in to Gabe kissing his temple, his cheek, the corner of his mouth, loose and affectionate as their breathing slows. The counter is digging painfully into his thighs, and Tyson doesn’t even care. The Gabe Feelings swirling in his chest are too big to contain, so he starts laughing, head pillowed on Gabe’s shoulder. 

“What?” Gabe asks, pinching his hip. He tips Tyson’s chin up, “What’s funny?” He’s grinning wider than Tyson’s ever seen, lips red and glossy, hair a disaster. It’s a really, really good look. Tyson gets to have this? He lets out another delirious laugh.

“Feelings,” he shrugs, smiling, “Gabe Feelings.” And if they make heart eyes at each other for a bit, well, that’s their business. 

Eventually, Gabe grabs a dish towel so they can clean themselves up a little. Throwing it in the sink, Tyson taunts, “So, your big game plan was handjobs in my kitchen? Really, captain?” 

“Well, the game plan pretty much ended at kissing you,” Gabe admits, “but adaptability is key.” He nudges Tyson off the counter and starts leading him upstairs. Yeah, Tyson loves adaptability. 

 

Three steps up, Gabe stops abruptly. 

“What? Did you forget something?” Tyson asks, wobbling to avoid bumping into him. The last thing they need is to fall down the hardwoods and get matching groin injuries. 

“Forgot to do this,” Gabe says, then backs Tyson up against the wall, cradles his head with both hands, and kisses him molasses slow and sweet until Tyson goes boneless. He sighs helplessly when Gabe’s fingers card through the short curls at the back of his neck.

Breaking away for air, Gabe traces both thumbs over Tyson’s cheekbones and brushes an achingly soft kiss on his forehead. As someone who gets slammed into the boards for a living, Tyson almost doesn’t know what to do with this level of tenderness. He’s never been handled so gently in all his life. Then Gabe leans back to look at him, and Tyson thinks, oh.  

Normally, Gabe’s features seem almost carved from marble, but in this moment, they’re soft like whipped buttercream icing, whole face sweet with obvious affection. Now that he’s done being a moron, Tyson recognizes this look. Knows he’s seen it aimed at him across couches and center consoles, on roadies and on home ice, in 20 different cities and a few countries, too. 

Oh.

Just as abruptly, Gabe pulls away and starts climbing the stairs again, leaving Tyson there, dazed. Shaking his head, he tries to clear away the fog, but everything he feels for Gabe is trickling through his veins like warm honey. 

“Just, uh, just to be clear, since we’re both idiots, I’m pretty in love with you,” he says faintly, hand against his forehead like a swooning Victorian lady. He’s actually woozy. Maybe he needs to ask one of the trainers to follow him around with the smelling salts off the bench, too. At least until he builds up an immunity to Gabe.

Gabe pauses and looks over his shoulder, obviously struggling to keep his expression stern, “Did you really just call me an idiot and say you love me in the same sentence?”

“I called us both idiots! This relationship is built on equality,” Tyson answers, still slumped against the wall, heart racing at finally, finally saying the words. “And that’s what you choose to focus on?”

“Relationship?” Gabe asks, face breaking into a slow grin, as he turns and continues up.

“Yes! Oh my god, didn’t you hear the love part?” Tyson’s so indignant over Gabe’s non-reaction, he isn’t even taking this unprecedented opportunity to ogle Gabe’s ass.

He stops to look down at Tyson from the top stairs and confirms, “I did.” And then says something completely unintelligible in Swedish.

“Gabriel, you’re actually killing me here!”

Gabe smirks, that mean little razor-sharp grin Tyson loves, because he loves Gabe even when he’s a bastard. Especially then, maybe. “I’m saying it in two languages, so maybe you won’t mistake this for a just friends thing.” He takes a deep breath, face melting into that whipped buttercream look again. Tyson’s look. “I love you too, Tys.” 

Tyson sways back against the wall again, pulse pounding like he just got bag skated. Like he’ll never catch his breath again, but in a good way. 

Ruthlessly moving farther away, Gabe rounds the corner, calling, “Now, stop slacking, Four! Gotta execute part two of the game plan.”

“Oh, did you come up with something better than defacing my counters?” Tyson retorts, proud there’s only a slight hitch in his voice. He locks his knees and valiantly makes it to the next step. 

“Why don’t you come find out?” Tyson hears Gabe’s muffled voice, followed by the pipes creaking. He just turned on the shower. So many locker room fantasies are about to come true. Oh captain, my captain, indeed.

Tyson does not scramble desperately up the stairs, naked and undignified. He just moves with purpose. With his dick out. Anyway, who can blame him? He’d run bare-assed through the Pepsi Center on a sell-out night, if Gabe was waiting at the other end.

 

A few hours later, Tyson is draped against Gabe, tension drained from every single muscle by all the game plan executing they just did. He’s warm and hazy, melting into Gabe, bodies pressed together from top to toe. 

It must be triggering the same memory for them both, because Gabe mumbles, “You know, I almost kissed you at Erik’s party,” into the damp skin of Tyson’s shoulder. 

Tyson snorts, and his hand spasms on Gabe’s forearm, where he’d been stroking the downy blonde hairs. The idea of Gabe wanting him is still so bizarre even now, in the bed they’d wrecked together. 

Gabe nips Tyson’s trap muscle and huffs, “And at the Christmas party and Montreal and Jesus, Tyson, I've been like two seconds from kissing you this entire season. Come on.”

Tyson just shrugs, and then shivers when Gabe bites a little harder, apparently unsatisfied with that reaction.

So he gestures at Gabe’s body, trying to indicate all his flawless Gabe-ness, “No, you come on! You’re, you know, you. All golden and untouchable?”

He rolls his eyes at what Tyson knows is a very valid argument. Who hasn’t been intimidated by Gabe’s general aura of ‘Norse god slumming it at J. Crew’ perfection? If he polled the locker room, there’d be unanimous agreement. He should suggest it to Altitude for the next Ask Avs segment.

Gabe scoffs and bites Tyson’s shoulder again, before running his tongue over it soothingly. “Well, I’m pretty touchable now.” He looks up, eyes blazing, “Really, go wild. I’m all yours.” 

And Tyson can’t resist an invitation like that, is already sliding his hand down Gabe’s chest when his stomach growls. Embarrassingly loud. Tyson groans and waits for the inevitable chirp, but Gabe just laughs, skims his hand over Tyson’s ribs and says, “Let’s get a snack. I know you need to hit your sugar quota.” 

“You’re my sugar quota,” Tyson grumbles, half insult, half compliment.

Gabe rolls them both out of bed, a move that shouldn’t work but somehow does. Feeling self conscious for the first time all night—because even after years of sharing a locker room, standing next to naked Gabe is still an ego check—Tyson goes to put on a shirt or at least some joggers.  

Gabe grasps his wrist and says quietly, “Tys, let me see you,” voice sincere and face all buttercream again. That look is going to be a real weak spot for Tyson. Ugh. 

He makes a show of checking Tyson out until the pants are back in the dresser drawer. 

“This means you have to stop rolling your eyes whenever anyone calls me T-Beauty. Just so you know. Now, let's go rescue the lava cake.” 

“No way, that has to be all stale by now. We didn’t even put it in the fridge,” Gabe argues as they head down the stairs.

Hopefully, Tyson’s offended expression sufficiently communicates how wrong he is, “We can’t waste good lava cake.”  

“You wanted to throw it to the raccoons!” 

“I was under emotional duress! I’m sane again, and we aren’t wasting it.” Tyson widens his eyes and gives him an intent look. After a moment, he nods, links their fingers, and leads Tyson to the kitchen island. Maybe Gabe’s got a weak spot, too. 

So Tyson gets to watch Gabe—naked, golden, in love with Tyson—microwaving their afterglow desert at 3 am. He makes good on his word from that hotel room in Montreal. They eat in bed. Tyson sits in the V of Gabe’s legs, leaning back against his chest as they share a plate. Curled up in soft sheets, Gabe wrapped around him, eating dessert, and feeling warm from the inside out, Tyson thinks: maybe this is it. Maybe he’s peaked in life. 

Five points, lava cake, Gabe in love with him and in bed with him? He can die happy, if this is as good as it gets.


 

It gets better.

On April 7th, Tyson scores a goal and so does Gabe. So does the whole team, it feels like, as the Avalanche stomp on the Blues and clinch a playoff spot for the first time in years. Hugging Gabe alongside Nate and Erik—the whole team celebrating around them as the home crowd roars—Tyson feels incandescent, unstoppable. Tonight he’s going home to celebrate with the guy he loves, in a few days they’re going to Nashville to fight for the Cup together, and everything tastes like victory

Gabe brushes the sweaty curls back from Tyson’s forehead right there at center ice, and for a second, Tyson flashes back to his New Year’s resolution, or maybe it was a New Year’s wish list. Remembering how impossible it all felt a few months ago, he laughs, triumphant. He has Gabe and he has the playoffs and he doesn’t want for anything at all. 

Now, this is having.