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TODAY, 7 AM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO



When the sun rises over Las Vegas, reflecting off the windows to make a glitter of the skyline, Matthew Tkachuk is not awake to see it. Las Vegas is a city made of a million little panes of glass, and on this cloudless morning, each is adding its own contribution to the celebration of lights. Matthew doesn’t know it yet, but there, in his hotel room, one more contribution comes winking off his hand. 

 

A wedding ring, glinting in the sun as it rises and falls with the breath of its wearer. 

 

Or rather, it rises and falls with the breath of the man the hand is wrapped around. Ever the octopus, Matthew is pressed all along Leon Draisaitl’s back. He has an arm around his waist, a leg between his legs, his face pressed to the back of his shoulder. Still deep in sleep, he has naturally gravitated toward his husband.

 

He just doesn’t know it yet.

 

But first, let's back up. 



YESTERDAY, 2 PM, McCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA



When his plane touches down at the airport in Las Vegas, Matthew has never been so excited to be single in his life. Because there’s no better place in the world to be gay and single in the NHL than All-Star Weekend.

 

Well, except maybe Hotel X in the bubble. But that was all based on hearsay, anyway.

 

To most guys, the ASG is a chore. That’s not a secret. Matthew has never been one of those people, was raised not to take the honor for granted and all that, and the St. Louis game was obviously the experience of a lifetime. But he does get it, you know, how not getting to take vacation can seem like a punishment for being good. 

 

Not this year.

 

This year, the NHL has decided to mix things up a little. They're finally getting to have a full, 82-game, 100%-fan-capacity season again, and what better way to kick things off than by having the ASG they didn’t get to have last year, and doing it all in Vegas? It's turning into the biggest event the NHL has ever hosted. Invited more guys, booked everyone suites at the Cosmo, putting on a whole weekend’s worth of musical acts and all that shit. From a marketing perspective, it's a good way to capitalize on a fanbase that’s desperate to see hockey in person. From a player’s perspective, you’ve got 120-some of the most popular guys in the league, who haven’t played in months, who haven’t been able to socialize with their buddies from other teams in over a year, who haven’t been able to party at all in over a year, all locked up together for a weekend in Las Vegas. 

 

Yeah. To say it’ll be the blowout to end all blowouts would be an understatement. If there’s anything to be believed in the rumors of who’s bringing coke, they’ll be lucky if everyone escapes unscathed.

 

Matthew, on the other hand, is looking forward to a relatively sober All-Star weekend. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll be uneventful. He just plans on getting fucked instead of fucked up. It's been a long year for everyone, and he has it on good authority that there are more than a couple NHL All-Stars who prefer dick to tits and who’ve been cooped up with only their hands for company for too long. He’s guessing they’ll be more than willing to take advantage of everyone else’s drunken obliviousness to sneak out with someone special. And he plans to be very available when they do. 

 

Matthew grabs his luggage feeling good. He looks good, he knows, hair freshly cut, a healthy offseason bulk on his shoulders, the St. Louis summer tan running deep into his skin. He breezes through the Welcome to Las Vegas! concourse, flags a taxi, gets into the hotel early. By this time tomorrow the Cosmo will have three whole floors of NHL-ers, and even now, he can hear guys popping into each other’s rooms, starting to get themselves wound up. Not Matthew, though. He’s got other plans. He shakes his head, stretches out on the plush bed for a nap. Goes to sleep confident in his quiet weekend.



TODAY, 10 A.M., FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, ROOM 1460



When Matthew wakes up the next day, he's wearing nothing but his boxers and a wedding ring.

 

His head is splitting when his eyes flutter open against the bright yellow sunshine flooding the room. Jesus, past Matthew couldn’t have shut the fucking curtains? Or had a glass of water? He groans, and he’s about to pull the covers over his head when he realizes that someone else has already done that. He blinks at the human-shaped lump in the bed next to him, bundled under the sheets, groaning slightly when Matthew scrambles to sit up. 

 

He stares and stares and stares at the human-shape, which seems to go back to sleep. He tries to pull a name from his brain, but for the life of him, nothing comes. 

 

A look around the room is no help, either. He’s in a hotel room, though not his own. There’s no identifying possessions; no possessions at all, really, besides a trail of clothes leading to the door. Matthew grabs his phone and stumbles into the bathroom, feeling about five seconds from getting sick, and only sicker when he’s greeted with four walls of hot pink--the hand towels are embroidered Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel & Casino, and what the fuck? Everyone in the NHL is staying at the Cosmo, he’s staying at the Cosmo--and he goes to splash water on his face and that’s when he sees it. 

 

There, on his finger, is a wedding ring. An honest-to-god wedding ring. It's gold and it's cheap-looking and the metal is scratched all to hell, but it's unmistakable. A wedding ring is a wedding ring is a wedding ring. 

 

By the time he finishes vomiting, Matthew still isn’t sure he believes it. A wedding ring could mean anything, right? Right, he thinks resting his forehead on the cold porcelain of the sink. If you don’t remember getting married, did it really happen? Who’s to say? Not Matthew. He wasn’t there.

 

He searches his mind again for last night, but it's just this big black hole of nausea, an empty space punctuated by glitter and shots and cowboy hats and drinks with little umbrellas. No memories, just feelings, and Matthew has a sinking feeling that last night he got married. 

 

He pulls out his phone to search for clues, dread filling him at what he’ll find. It is, predictably, swimming in notifications, but it's the messages from Taryn that catch his eye, starting with, horrifyingly, a link to a video on Twitter.

 

Matty, WTF

 

This you???? 

 

I mean, I KNOW its you but do YOU know its you???? 

 

You look good tho, so at least there's that?

 

Didn't know you were that big a Fergie fan 

 

Call me when ur hangover wears off bro 

 

If Matthew were a religious man, he’d be making the sign of the cross. He’s not, but he steels himself and opens the link to the video anyway, remembering to turn the volume almost all the way down so as not to wake… Whoever he is. 

 

That’s him, alright. The video is blurry, but the quality doesn’t have to be stellar to see that it’s clearly Matthew, on stage in a bar. You really couldn’t mistake the figure for anyone else, what with his distinctive curls--and the racing stripes, the fucking racing stripes-- shining in the stage lights. He’s got a microphone and it looks like he’s doing karaoke, but you really can’t hear him over all the whooping and hollering coming from the crowd. He’s doing Fergie’s Clumsy, not that it matters. The song is not what’s important so much as the visual, which is of Matthew very drunk, very much popping out his ass and popping open the buttons on his shirt, and very clearly singing to one guy in particular, who he then proceeds to pretty much give a lap dance to. 

 

Jesus fucking Christ. 

 

Well, Tare is right, he at least looks good. And you can’t say the guy isn’t into it. He’s facing away from the camera, but one of his hands comes up to rest on Matthew’s hip when he straddles him. The other is holding his drink until Matthew takes it and downs it, all in one go, to the delight of the crowd, and then his other hand is gripping Matthew’s hip too. Then he turns to say something to someone behind him, and the camera finally captures his grinning face. 

 

Big gray eyes. Jaw that could cut glass. Perfect sandy beard. Perfect sandy hair. Matthew pauses it.

 

That’s Leon Draisaitl. 

 

A sudden wave of shock and leftover booze hits, and Matthew turns again to shove his head back in the toilet. 

 

Draisaitl? He got married to Leon fucking Draisaitl? Matthew has done some dumb shit in his life. A lot of it, in fact. But this is on a level that his brain will not accept. Have the years and years of chirping and cross-checking and questionable plays come back to haunt him like some karmic debt he has to repay? Clearly, if there is a God, Matthew has done something to piss ‘em off. Which he guesses shouldn’t be a surprise. It is what he’s best at.

 

It’s not even that Matthew has something against Draisaitl as a person. Just because he gets a special thrill out of cracking Leon's whole Ice Queen facade doesn't mean that he hates the guy. If playing against them were a disqualifying factor, Matthew would have no friends in the league, and believe it or not, Matthew actually does like most people. But he thinks he might have better luck getting a feral cat to like him back if it was on the other side of the door than Leon Draisaitl. And a judge would probably be more likely to annul that marriage, too. 

 

Just thinking the word “marriage” makes him dizzy again. Matthew groans and leans his head back against the sink just in time to hear a soft knock at the door.

 

“Hey. Are you--” and yup, the voice that comes hesitantly through is definitely Draisaitl’s, “are you okay? I think we should probably talk.”

 

He doesn’t say Matthew’s name, he notices, and it doesn’t feel like a coincidence. He wonders if Leon knows, if he remembers that it’s Matthew who slept in his bed. He imagines waking up to the sound of someone puking in his bathroom, a wedding band on his finger, and a hangover pounding in his head. Matthew is probably the last person he expects to be on the other side of that door. He scrambles up, giving his reflection a quick once-over in the mirror.

 

His eyes are puffy. His hair is a frizzed-out mess. He’s got a cut centering a bruise up by his left hairline, and there’s still some blood matted up there along with the glitter. On the right side of his neck blooms a hickey. It feels like it matches the bruise. One mark on each side, like balance. 

 

Rockin’ first impression he’s about to make. Although he guesses he’s already done that. 

 

Leon knocks again, even softer this time. 

 

“I can order us some breakfast, if you want, or I can go get it if you need a minute--”

 

Matthew opens the door.

 

It takes about five seconds for Leon’s pretty face to morph from one of shock to horror. 

 

Tkachuk ?” 



YESTERDAY, 10 PM, COSMOPOLITAN HOTEL BAR



It's still early, but NHLers have never needed the excuse of nightfall to have a party, and tonight is no exception. Actually, tonight might be the exception in the opposite direction--the way everyone's going, they'll be burnt out or dead by one. 

 

This is next-level, even for them. Matthew knows everyone is sick of being cooped up, but Jesus. Ovechkin is drenching Backstrom in champagne, naturally. TJ Oshie has been tarps-off for an hour. Kirby Dach is leading a contingent of U-21’s trying to get into the casino. Flower is very kindly listening to a Quebecios rookie who’s had too much cry in French. Nolan Patrick is lying on the bar while Travis Konecny pours vodka into his belly button. Dolla Bill Kirill is making it rain. Watching them, you'd think the all-star team just won the cup. No, you’d think every star in the league was on the Washington Capitals and had just won the cup. You’d think every all-star was Tyler Seguin winning a cup as a near-rookie if he had somehow also been on the Washington Capitals when they won the cup. It's that bad. 

 

Which is a funny comparison, because actually, Tyler Seguin isn't participating at all--he's like Matthew, posted up at the bar, barely tipsy, slyly taking stock of the hookup pool. They give each other a nod, as they usually do at these kinds of events. It's cool. Segs is a little too old for Matthew to consider him direct competition. 

 

Besides Segs, there's the usual regulars. A few elder statesmen of the Avs and Flyers, Mitchy, some goalies Matthew's hooked up with before . He's heard that Sid was a regular for the years between the heartbreak of Geno and the start of Nate. They're not who he's looking for, though. Been there, done that. Matthew has learned to look for who's not drinking at these things, because there's always a reason. 

 

The only problem is, a lot of the gay guys in the league are already paired up. He'd asked Stromer about it once, about him and the Cat, at a party at Mitchy's. Stromer had just looked across the room, eyes all gross and fond, and said, in this league? Being who we are? If you get a chance at something real, you've gotta take it, man. Otherwise it'll eat you alive. 

 

Matthew thinks about that pretty often. About what it means to be eaten alive. Slowly, he thinks he might be finding out. 

 

Of course, not everybody can be so lucky as Stromer and DeBrincat. Not everyone finds love in junior hockey and then somehow gets traded to their soulmate's team. Which, good for them, but for now Matty's got to be content with being the league's open secret, the guy who gets fucked by married guys and questioning guys and guys who are terrified of who they are. Whatever. As long as they're all sober and consenting, he can aid in a little experimentation.

 

Although when he looks down the bar, Matty could swear he's getting eyes from… Wilson? Damn, that's a new one. 

 

Before he can consider whether he'd accept a drink or not, Matthew’s phone starts vibrating. He takes it out, seeing the name on the screen and answering. 

 

"Hey, Brades," he sighs. "What's up?"

 

"Matty!" He's yelling, an instant red flag. Brady only yells on the ice or when he’s two pitchers of Bud Light deep. And what the fuck, Brady is supposed to be having a quiet All-Star Weekend with Tim. A couple's getaway, they'd called it--disgustingly adorable fuckers. They'd booked massages and everything. "Where are you?"

 

"Where are you? You're not at the party?" Matthew scans the small crowd, but Brady is nowhere to be seen.

 

"No, listen! Quinner had the best idea! I need you to come down here and be my best man!" 

 

Matthew chokes on his drink. After a second the shock passes into something else and he's throwing down a twenty and pulling on his jacket. 

 

"Why's that, Brades?" he asks calmly. 

 

"Because Tim and I love each other!" Brady's voice gets further for a second, like he's talking to someone else. "No, Matty's on his way." His voice returns. "Right, Matty? Quinner says he should be the best man because it was his idea, but I told him you’re on your way." 

 

Quinn Fucking Hughes. Matthew loves him, he's known him since birth nearly, but if it was up to Matthew tonight he'd be there at his death, too.

 

"No, no," he says, "I'm on the way. What's the address? Do not get married without me, Brades."

 

Thirty minutes later, Matthew is rubbing Brady's back while he vomits in the stall of the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel bathroom. At the forty minute mark he's tucking Brady and Tim into their hotel bed, with Quinn between them for good measure. By sixty minutes he's back at the hotel bar, giving himself quite the pat on the back for saving Brady’s ass, and ready to get laid.

 

And nobody's left.

 

That’s not entirely true. There are plenty of NHL-ers left in the bar, but they’re all aggressively straight and ten steps past trashed, three sheets to the wind, whatever you wanna call it. Matthew knows what a guy looking to sleep with another guy looks like, how to find them sipping nervously at their drinks around the perimeter, stone cold sober because they can’t afford to lose control. And a quick scan tells Matthew that there’s not a single guy left in this bar who’s in control of himself. 

 

“Fuck!” 

 

His heart sinks. He tries to convince himself he’s overreacting, and usually there’s some errant Staal or Tanev brother you’ve never heard of who turns up and surprises you. But after 30 minutes sitting alone at the bar with not so much as a look, Matthew knows the cavalry ain’t coming. It’s not even the getting laid so much that he wants--although that would be nice--so much as the feeling of normalcy that comes from being with someone. That being a queer in the NHL doesn't make him bad or a freak. That maybe it’s actually a good thing. Which he knows is stupid, his brother is in a relationship with a dude. But it’s nice, sometimes, to not feel weird for a night. To be wanted. He sighs. Quinn Fucking Hughes.

 

“A bit early in the season to be feeling sorry for yourself, isn’t it?” 

 

When Matthew looks down the bar, Leon Draisaitl is looking innocently into his beer, as though he hadn’t just fired shots at Matthew, who is really not in the mood. 

 

“Drinking make you chatty, Drai?” 

 

“No,” Leon turns to him flatly, “you just look like such a sad sack, it’s really bringing down the rest of the bar.” 

 

Matthew is--and he cannot emphasize this enough-- really not in the mood for this. 

 

“Well then I would invite you to, what was it you said you’d do if you had to be near me? Oh yeah. Get off the ice. Metaphorically speaking.” 

 

"Big words. Didn't know you knew what a metaphor was." 

 

And Leon must be drunk, because this is the most he's ever spoken to Matthew at once, on or off the ice, but he really doesn't seem like it? He just looks the same as always, steely-eyed and round-shouldered and objectively perfect. He’s probably the hottest human being alive and all he does with it is kiss Davo's ass. Damn shame. 

 

“Sorry we can’t all be fluent in eighteen languages, dick.”

 

“At least I’m fluent in my own.”

 

"Can I help you?" Matthew asks. "Is there anything I can do for you?" 

 

For a second Leon just looks at him, considering, like he hasn’t thought this far. And then, out of nowhere, he says, like he can't believe he's asking it, 

 

"I'm meeting Connor at another bar. Do you wanna come?" 



TODAY, 11 AM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, THE FLAMINGO FOOD COURT



“So.” Leon starts, stops. He fiddles with a packet of sweetener even though his coffee hasn't come yet. He still somehow looks perfect, and it annoys the shit out of Matthew, who’s currently shaking glitter out of his hair like dandruff. 

 

“I guess I should say congratulations?” Matthew says. He doesn’t want to be an ass, but it’s really hard when Leon has on a pair of sunglasses to block out the light. Inside the restaurant.

 

“Are you gonna do this the whole time?” Leon shoots back. “Last time I checked, there were two of us in this mess.” 

 

“Are you gonna wear those sunglasses all day, Bono?” 

 

“Bono is Irish, not German, for one. And I get migraines, asshole.”

 

“It’s called a hangover, get over it.” 

 

“You know, you are the only person who does this to me. The only one.”

 

“That’s not the insult you think it is, hub. ” 

 

Leon is blushing furiously when the waitress suddenly appears with their drinks. They both smile up at her sunnily, as though they weren’t just at each other’s throats. She drops off Leon’s black coffee and Matthew’s ginger ale and doesn’t stay to ask if they want anything to eat. 

 

“As I was saying,” Leon says, removing his sunglasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know how much you remember.” 

 

“Honestly?” Matthew says, “not a ton.” 

 

“Neither do I. I had… had a few. Obviously.” 

 

“Obviously? That supposed to be directed at someone?” 

 

"Oh, give it a fucking rest , Tkachuk!”

 

“You’d be lucky to land a husband like me, that’s all I’m saying.” 

 

“Say it a little louder,” Leon hisses, “I don’t think they heard you in Alberta!” They both look around, and Matthew looks down at his lap, where he fidgets with the ring, turning it over in his fingers. It’s got a surprisingly nice weight to it, even if it is stupid. “Are we going to try and put last night together or not?” 

 

“Fine,” Matthew huffs. “What’s the earliest you remember?” 



LAST NIGHT, 12 AM, THE GOLDEN TIKI LOUNGE



When they arrive at the Golden Tiki, Matthew has the instant feeling that he is not drunk enough for this. 

 

It’s dark and bright all at once, like they’re inside a volcano lined with lanterns and leopard print and pineapples and an aggressive amount of reggae. It's all brought together by the extremely sticky floor, which might have something to do with why the whole place smells like the sickly sweet combination of coconut liqueur and rum. And none of that even accounts for the weirdness of why he’s here at all, and with who. He doesn't know how it happened still, really, and it's still currently happening. Leon doesn’t seem like he knows, either, but at least he locates Connor quickly. 

 

Matthew isn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t this.

 

When they get to where Connor is sitting alone in a back corner booth, he's staring down at a half-empty bottle of Kaluha, looking like he wants to die. He’s covered in leis--like, covered in them--and wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and a straw hat. Whatever’s going on here, Matthew is definitely not drunk enough for it.

 

“Shit, Davo, did TBear finally get to you?” he says. He really does look like Tyson Barrie’s style has thrown up all over him. 

 

“Yeah, actually,” Davo says, looking up at them with his long-suffering eyes. “But he left to go call his fiance, because he’s happy.” 

 

Matthew and Leon exchange a look while Connor takes another swig of Kaluha. 

 

“Connor,” Leon says slowly, “did something happen with Lauren?” 

 

No ,” Connor says, looking only more upset as Leon sits next to him and Matthew across, “everything with Lauren is fine. She’s perfect and amazing and I love her.” 

 

“Then what’s the problem, Con?” Leon says. 

 

“I just--,” Connor hesitates. He looks miserable. "You're gonna laugh." 

 

"I promise I won't," Leon says. Matthew makes no such promise, but Connor goes on anyway, 

 

"I just--I just miss Dylan !" And with that, he starts drunk-dry-crying into Leon's shoulder for the next five minutes, all while Matthew looks on in horror. It's like Leon has forgotten he’s here, though, and he sounds very serious as he removes all the flowers and shit and runs a hand through Davo’s hair.

 

“Con,” Leon is saying, “I’m sure Stromer still loves you. You just have to talk to him. Do you think he’s still mad about some playoff series that happened over a year ago? You both play hockey, it’s part of the game. Do you think he’s mad at you for playing hockey?” 

 

“No,” Connor sniffs. He tries to lift the Kaluha again, but Leon gently puts it down.

 

“No,” Leon agrees. “I didn’t think so. And no matter what happens, you always have me.” 

 

And maybe it's the ridiculousness of the situation, or maybe it's just been a long night, but when he says it, just for just a second, Matthew can’t help it. The way he says it, the idea of always having Leon sounds… nice. 

 

Shit, maybe he has already had too much to drink. 

 

“I think I’m gonna go call him,” Connor says finally, looking a little calmer. 

 

“Well,” Leon says, “it’s the middle of the night and he’s in Chicago. So maybe call him tomorrow? And go back to the hotel in the meantime?”

 

“Yeah. That's a good idea. Thanks, Leon. Chuck.” Connor gets up, wiping his puffy face. “You know, I always knew you guys would like each other.” 

 

“What? No,” Leon says right as Matthew protests, 

 

“Um, we definitely don’t?” 

 

But drunk Connor just smiles and ruffles Matthew’s hair. 

 

“Soulmates,” he says. “Called it.” 

 

And then he’s gone. Matthew is staring at Leon, and Leon is glaring at Connor’s receding form. Finally he turns back to Matthew. 

 

“You gonna need me to pose for a picture, Tkachuk?” 

 

“Fuck you,” Matthew says, but he can’t seem to summon Leon’s level of heat. “I was just gonna say that that was actually really nice.” 

 

“Believe it or not, I do have friends.” Leon says. 

 

“Oh I believe it. You’re so charming.” When Leon doesn't say anything, he asks, "Why'd you ask me to come with you, anyway? Since you so clearly want me here."

 

"Like I said, you looked so fucking depressed, I had to."

 

As soon as Leon says it, though, he cringes like he wants to take it back. He sighs, massages his eyelids. 

 

“Sorry, sorry. I know. There’s no reason for me to be an asshole to you. I don’t know why I am this way.”

“It’s okay. As long as you know you’re this way.” 

 

Matthew exchanges a small smile for Leon’s smirk. It doesn't escape Matthew that Leon has sidestepped the question.

 

“Why did you agree to come?" Leon asks. "I’m sure you could’ve gotten plenty of offers for free drinks back at the hotel." 

 

For a moment, Matthew almost thinks Leon is complimenting him. And is he implying what he thinks he’s implying? Matthew thinks about pursuing it, pushing it, but it feels almost too fragile, even for him.

 

“Eh, some plans fell through. Didn’t have much better to do tonight.” 

 

“Neither did I,” Leon says. “Well, we could always do what they told me when I first came to North America.” 

 

"What's that?"

 

"They said, 'Do as the locals do.'"

 

“Which is?” 

 

“In this case? Getting shitfaced.” 

 

And then Leon is taking a swig from the Kaluha bottle and handing it to Matthew, and as they share a smile he almost thinks he could like this guy after all. 



TODAY, NOON, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, THE FLAMINGO FOOD COURT



“So we’ve learned that Leon Draisaitl actually has a heart, got it.” Matthew says.

 

“We’ve learned that the most mysterious part of last night was what Connor sees in you, yes.” 

 

“Unlike some people, Davo and I can leave it on the ice. You could give it a try?”

 

“Yes, because that’s gone so well for us.” 

 

“Dunno what you're talking about. I think it’s going peachy,” Matthew says, distracted. He’s trying to flag down the waitress for some toast, but she’s avoided their table like the plague since their last shouting match. When it becomes clear it's not happening, he turns back to Leon. “Listen,” he says. “When you were in the bathroom I did a little bit of research on my phone. We can get this thing annulled, but there’s a lot of paperwork, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly need that going through team legal. So I think we’re going to have to go down to the court today and do it before the game.” 

 

Leon just stares at him a minute, blinking. 

 

“Does that sound good to you?” Matthew asks.

 

“Oh. Uh, yeah, no. Of course.” He clears his throat. “My lawyer doesn’t know I’m bi. We should do it ourselves.”

 

“Alright, well. I think we have to be down to the rink at what, like, six? Courts close at four. So that should give us plenty of time to figure out what happened before we go down there.”

 

“Yeah. Plenty of time.” 

 

Leon is looking at him strangely, and Matthew feels the need to squirm a little under the intensity of his gaze. Instead he charges on. 

 

“Cool. So we hung out with Davo for a while? Doesn’t explain this--” he holds up the ring, “or this,” he points to his forehead bruise. 

 

“Well,” Leon winces, “I do remember where we went next.” 



LAST NIGHT, 2 AM, GILLEY’S SALOON, DANCE HALL & BAR-B-QUE, THE BATHROOM



“Stay still, dumbass.”

 

It’s the first thing Matthew hears when he comes to, blinking in the low light of the cowboy bar bathroom. He’s sitting on the floor, up against the wall. There’s something soft being pressed against the side of his head, and suddenly he’s staring into the face of Leon. 

 

“Drai?” 

 

“Hey. Welcome back.” 

 

“What happened?” 

 

“You’re a massive fucking idiot, what do you think happened?” It should be biting, maybe was supposed to be, but it somehow comes out soft, almost fond. Matthew realizes that the silky thing Leon is pressing against his head is his shirt. He’s crouched in front of Matthew in just his white undershirt, stretched tight across his chest. “You hit your head on a mechanical bull.” 

 

“Oh, yeah. Was I good?” 

 

Leon laughs. 

 

“Yeah, rough rider. You held on like a champ.” 

 

“I always do.” Matthew, still not quite lucid, wiggles his eyebrows suggestively, eliciting another laugh. Leon goes to facewash him, but his hand seems to hesitate on the side of Matthew’s face and stays there. “Where’s Kevin?” Matthew asks. They’d come to this bar to meet up with Kev--Cousin Kev, Kevin Hayes, the Flyer, Matthew’s extended family both in the hockey world and literally. He’d given Matthew suggestive eyes behind Leon’s back the whole time, plied them with bourbon (in addition to the Kaluha and pitcher of margs they’d already split), and now Matthew is here. 

 

“He had to run. Something about collecting his baby Flyers?” Drai says.

 

“Oh, yeah. I think I saw Konecny taking a body shot off Patrick back at the hotel, and that was like, two hours ago.” He tries to sit up and is hit by a wave of wooziness. Leon puts out a hand to steady him.

 

“Owner asked if you needed an ambulance and I said no. Was I wrong?” 

 

“Nah, I’m good.” Leon looks doubtful.

 

“Okay. He said to take it in here in case you throw up.”

 

“Survey says, likely.” 

 

Matthew takes a minute to heave his guts up, wash his mouth out and sit back down against the wall next to Drai.

 

"Sorry you had to see that." 

 

"Do you think you're concussed?" Leon asks, pushing his hair back gently to frown at the mark on his forehead. Matthew doesn't think he's concussed, but what he does think is that he'd say anything to keep Leon touching him. 

 

"I don't think so," he says finally. "Just drunk." 

 

"Maybe… maybe we should get you back to the hotel. Just in case." 

 

Matthew knows they should. He knows the team will murder him if they find out he's put his health at risk at the very start of the season, and there's nothing more important than that. Or, his entire life there's been nothing more important than that--but tonight feels different. Tonight, the only important thing is not to let it end. 

 

So when a call from Mitch breaks the moment, and he drunkenly yells, "Chucky! Come hang out with me at the gay bar!" and sends him an address, all Matthew says is, 

 

"We'll be there."



TODAY, 1 PM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, THE FLAMINGO FOOD COURT



"Aw, you were concerned about me." Matthew sing-songs. He can't help himself. He does it just to see Leon blush.

 

"You have a concussion history, asshole." 

 

Why does Leon know that? His medical history is public knowledge, but it's not like you can spend all your time keeping up with every guy around the league who gets injured. Matthew tucks away the thought for later, but keeps the warm feeling for now. It melts him, just a little bit, just enough to get his hand to cross the space and squeeze Leon’s.

 

"Really, though. Thanks. For taking care of me. I mean it." 

 

"Well, I didn't do a great job, did I?" Leon's voice is quiet, his smile indulgent, like they both know he fucked up. But Matthew doesn’t think he fucked up. "You still hit your head. We still went to the next bar. We still--" he holds up his left hand, and Matthew notices for the first time that he's actually wearing the ring. Unlike Matthew, he hasn't taken it off. He doesn’t know what that means. He doesn’t know what any of this--Leon paying attention to his injuries, taking care of him, feeling bad about it all--means. His head is swimming, and all he can parse out is that Leon feels badly about what happened, and he doesn’t want him to. 

 

"Hey. I don’t… I don’t want you to think that I blame you for what happened last night. Or that I’m mad at you. I mean, it's not how I probably would’ve guessed I’d spend the All-Star Weekend,” that gets Leon to crack a smile, “but I’m not like, upset. I’ll be okay.” 

 

Leon is quiet for a long moment. It’s seeming like par for the course with him.

 

“Yeah,” he says. “We’ll both be okay.” 

 

It comes out distant, like Leon didn’t understand what he meant at all, and Matthew is frustrated again by his own grip on the situation. For a minute they sit there, looking at each other like they're both trying to get a read but can't figure the play. Matthew clears his throat, withdraws his hand, tries something else.

 

“And if it makes you feel any better, I've seen the next part, and I don't think you could've stopped me if you tried." 

 

Leon's eyes suddenly narrow, and Matthew is reminded that, oh yeah, Leon hasn't seen the next part. 

 

"What do you mean, you've seen it?" 

 

Fuck.

 

"Seen it, like… in my mind's eye?" Matthew offers weakly, knowing Leon is not buying it. "Like, I remember it?" 

 

"Horseshit. You haven't remembered shit all day. What the fuck did you do, Matthew?" 

 

“What did I do? Wow, awful accusatory for a guy who was pretty into it when it happened--” Matthew says, edging away from Leon’s death glare. 

 

“Fuck you.” Leon looks angrier than he does in his post-loss pressers, and that’s saying something. Matthew kind of loves it. He holds his phone out behind him, as far away from Leon as possible.

 

“To be fair,” he says, “you come out looking pretty good in the video. It's me who looks like the asshole--” 

 

“Matthew Patrick Tkachuk, give me your goddamn motherfucking phone.”

 

"Aww, hub, you remembered my middle name?" 

 

The chirp is the last thing he gets out before Leon tackles him. 

 

They crash to the floor in a flurry of wooden chair and limbs, Leon trying to wrestle the phone away from Matthew, Matthew squirming around like some kind of curly golden doodle puppy until Leon figures out that he’s ticklish pretty much everywhere and it's over for Matthew. He folds, powerless as Leon straddles his stomach in triumph, and if he’s a little hard when he catches his breath, well. Leon doesn’t seem to care. 

 

To be fair, though, it is really hard to concentrate on anything else when watching a video of yourself participating in a public lap dance. 

 

“Jesus fucking Christ, Tkachuk,” Leon mutters. 

 

“In my defense, you didn’t exactly discourage me.” 

 

“You really figured out every different way to ruin my life, didn’t you?” 

 

“It’s my specialty, actually, yes.” 

 

Leon doesn’t move from where he sits, and Matthew watches him watch the video again, pretends his mouth doesn’t go dry when Leon wordlessly sends it to himself.

 

“This is bad, Matthew.”

 

“I know. But the NHL has passed worse things off as ‘just bros’ before. We don’t, like… kiss, or anything, in the video. ” 

 

“Yeah.” Leon looks down at him, and Matthew wonders if they’re both thinking about when they did.



LAST NIGHT, 3:30 AM, THE BACK DOOR BAR



The crowd is roaring when the song ends and Matthew, ever the showman, takes his bow. 

 

Jee-zus, Chucky,” Mitch says when he and Leon rejoin him at the bar, “how much have you had? I know we’re at a gay bar, but that was a lot, even for you. People have phones and shit, you know?” 

 

“You bet that I wouldn’t do it!” Matthew replies, stealing a sip of Mitch’s blue raspberry slush thing as he buttons up his shirt. “You should’ve known I was gonna do it then!” 

 

“I didn’t think Drai would let you!” 

 

Leon just shrugs, though, eyes trained on Matthew. He's sweaty, and a little flushed for someone who just sat back while Matthew did all the work. And his eyes haven't left Matthew since they got off the stage.

 

“You know, this one is full of surprises,” Matthew says. He can feel Mitchy looking at them like they’re crazy, mouth hanging open in shock, and suddenly something in Matthew shifts, and he doesn’t want to talk to anyone else at all. He takes Leon’s hand. “Come on. I wanna dance.” 

 

Leon doesn't say anything, just looks at him and follows, eyes dark. Matthew distantly thinks that he’s glad he's not a center. If he had to face Leon at the dot on the regular, be nose-to-nose with all that intensity… it wouldn't be hockey on his mind, that's all. 

 

Matthew leads them to the center of the floor, surrounded on all sides by a crush of people. Good. He doesn't want anyone paying attention, anyone watching. Not now. He wants to be hidden in plain sight when he presses his back up against Leon's front, when he invites Leon's hands to his sides. He doesn't want anyone to see him shiver when Leon starts to move, the hard planes of him grinding against Matthew from shoulders down to their knees, nervously at first but gaining confidence by the moment. His hands aren't rough but they're not gentle either, because rough would imply carelessness and Matthew is learning that Leon is never that. They're intentional but unafraid, like he knows Matthew can take it, the intensity of his emotions, like maybe no one has ever been up to the task before. Maybe no one has ever challenged him like this before. And suddenly Matthew feels it, the weight of it, of how of all the people in the world he's the one who gets under Leon's skin, how he's the only one who affects him like this and it feels so heady and Matthew desperately wants it, wants to be good enough for it. Wants to be good. He rolls his hips back on Leon, bites his wet lips, and soon Leon’s hands start to wander in earnest, dragging up and down his sides like they can't be close enough. The way Leon touches him feels like he's been waiting ages, not just a night, and when his hands start to dip down his stomach, up under his shirt and Leon whispers, 

 

" Is this okay?

 

Matthew says, yes, don't stop, please baby and he doesn't. Matthew keeps moving in time with the music, letting it guide him as he reaches back to thread a hand through the bristles of Leon's hair, giving a shuddering sigh when a hand brushes his nipple and hearing Leon's sharp intake of breath when he finds Matthew’s happy trail. No, Matthew doesn’t want this part for anyone else. He’s a pretty big exhibitionist, will do things just to be noticed all day long but this isn't that. This is personal. This is Leon, unmistakably hard, unabashedly wanting, wanting him, pulling Matthew in toward him so there can be no space between them, and when Matthew tips his head to the side it feels like a foregone conclusion to have Leon's lips catch his own. 

 

They're softer than he imagined they'd be. 

 

Matty. ” 

 

When a hand jerks them apart, Matthew doesn’t have words for it, couldn’t explain it, but he’s never felt an absence like he does right now. 

 

Mitch is dragging him back to the bar, and damn, that little fucker must’ve put weight on this offseason. 

 

“What?” Matthew knows he’s yelling over the music, but he can’t seem to regulate--his volume, his behavior, his hard-on, anything. “What’s the problem?” 

 

“Maybe you guys should go back to the hotel?” Mitch shouts back at him. “I think you’ve had enough to drink, Matthew.”

 

“What are you talking about?” He’s unsteady now that he's been jerked back to reality, feels himself losing his grip, but then a strong arm comes around his shoulders and Leon is there. 

 

"It's okay. He’s right, let’s head back to the hotel, baby.” 

 

And, well, after that, Matthew would’ve done whatever Leon told him. 

 

They emerge into the half-night that is Vegas, air cool on Matthew’s flushed cheeks, and it's not enough to sober him but it does help him settle. Are they exactly heading towards the Cosmo? Matthew isn’t sure. Is this a safe part of town? Probably not. Leon’s wearing a shirt that has a huge stain of Matthew’s blood on it, and all around them people are smoking or walking or retching into the bushes. But it feels like they’re strolling alone. 

 

Matthew looks over at him. Leon has always been hot. You can hate the guy and still know that you'd kill to be the recipient of his gap-toothed smile, the least and most perfect thing about him all at once. And he’s always been a force on the ice--Matthew secretly thinks he’s more fun to watch than Davo, but maybe he just thinks faceoff percentage is sexy. But it turns out he’s also fun. And easy to be around. And steady. And soft, unbelievably soft. And sure, he is the dry, moody asshole he’s always seemed to be. But maybe Matthew doesn’t mind that. Maybe he likes that with Leon he can play with fire, but he can warm his hands with it, too. They walk slowly under the Vegas lights, bumping arms until Leon gets the message, smiling bashfully as he takes Matthew’s hand. 

 

“You said back there that I was full of surprises,” Leon says. “But I feel like you’re the one who keeps surprising me, Chuck--Matty.” 

 

“Matthew,” Matthew counters. “My friends call me Matty.” 

 

Leon falters, stops walking. 

 

“Oh.” He doesn’t drop his hand though, and Matthew comes in front of him to take both. “Are we not--”

 

“No,” Matthew says easily. “You’re something else.” 

 

“Something else.” 

 

“Yeah. Friends don’t get to do this.” 

 

When he leans forward to kiss Leon, he does it deliberately. Not in the heat of the moment, not desperately like on the dance floor. He makes sure to be soft, even if he’s still too drunk to be stable. The kiss is exactly what he means it to be--unmistakably, undeniably real. 

 

Leon smiles against his mouth, and Matthew almost swears he can taste the gap between his teeth. 

 

“I think I like being something else,” Leon says. 

 

“I think I like it, too.” 

 

They take hands again, keep walking, both grinning like the drunk, careless idiots that they are. It's easy, and Matthew thinks he could do this all night, until he stops dead.

 

“What? What are you staring at?” Leon asks, but then he follows Matthew’s line of sight. In front of them is a massive pink hotel, lit up in a billion gold bulbs with a ferris wheel and pepto-colored walls and a gigantic neon flamingo. “It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” he breathes. 

 

He’s right. 

 

“Let’s go.” 



TODAY, 2 PM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, THE FLAMINGO FOOD COURT



“And, uh. I think that’s how we got here,” Matthew says. 

 

They’ve both long since gotten back in their chairs. Leon has an untouched BLT on his plate to match Matthew’s lukewarm biscuits and gravy. After seeing the video again, things had started to come back to Matthew. He’d taken what he remembered and ran with it, and details had just started spilling out, more and more coming as he talked. He hadn’t said everything, exactly, but he’d said enough. He can tell. He feels naked now, which is silly since he’d been much more literally naked this morning. But he hadn’t known then, hadn’t remembered what it felt like, to feel this way about Leon. To know him. Now it’s all coming back in one big rush and Jesus, it's making him dizzy. He doesn’t know what to feel or think, and part of him wants to put his head down on the table and make it stop. A bigger part of him wants to reach out and take Leon’s hand, though, and what the fuck is he supposed to do with that? 

 

Most of all, he just wants to know what Leon is thinking. How he remembers those parts--the real parts. If he even thinks there were any real parts. He wants to know what the night looks like in his head. 

 

He settles for looking down at his food as he says,

 

“And, uh--that’s all I’ve got.” 

 

“I remember what comes next.” Matthew looks up when Leon says it, but Leon won’t look at him. His voice is quiet, and he looks like he’s about to tell Matthew he just got traded or something. He’s not sure why, but a pit of dread blooms in Matthew’s stomach. “The casino. You wanted to go to the casino.”  



LAST NIGHT, 4:30 AM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, CASINO FLOOR



“Oh my God, ” Matthew stops them mid-stumble. He’s staring at the flashing lights of the casino floor, distracted in the way that only extremely drunk people can be. “We’ve been everywhere tonight but we haven’t done a casino once! Not even a slot machine!” 

 

Leon snorts. Matthew has never imagined Leon Draisaitl snorting, but it's so cute he thinks he’s gonna die. He’s also so drunk he kind of thinks he’s gonna die, but that is not what’s important right now.

 

“You really think it's a good idea to gamble right now?” Leon says.

 

“Why not? I’ve already gotten so lucky tonight.” Matthew looks over sugary sweet, dripping with innuendo, and when Leon rolls his eyes he can’t hide the hint of a smile. 

 

“Then let’s not push it, big spender. Let’s just get a room--”

 

“Oh, come on! It's not even--” Matthew checks his phone. He’s already got a billion messages, but he can’t be fucked with to check them right now. “It’s not even four! Don’t be so lame, Mother Draisaitl.” 

 

“I hardly think 3 am is packing it in early, darling,” Leon says indulgently. 

 

“I just--I just don’t want this night to end.”

Matthew has both of Leon’s hands in his, pout melting into a soft smile as he watches Leon try to hide a blush. When he doesn’t protest, Matthew knows he’s won. But then he realizes, it feels like he won hours ago. It’s like he’s been hitting all sevens all night, like he already knows exactly where the ace will be, like being with Leon is riding a hot streak Matthew doesn’t want to run out. 

 

“Make me a bet,” Matthew says suddenly. 

 

“On what?” 

 

“Poker. Germans do play poker, don’t they?” Leon rolls his eyes again.

 

“Yes, Matthew, I have been on a hockey road trip before.”

 

“Then it shouldn’t be hard to beat me then, should it?” He grins at the competitive fire lighting in Leon’s eyes. He kind of likes it when they push each other. “If I win, you have to marry me.” 

 

Marry you? ” Leon laughs, eyes wide. “Where?” 

 

“I know a place,” Matthew shrugs, remembering Brady’s almost-wedding to Tim. It feels like ten years ago. 

 

“You mean it?” Leon asks. He doesn’t say no, though, doesn’t even look nervous. Just fond. 

 

“What, afraid you’re gonna lose? Yeah, I mean it.” 

 

“What happens if I win?” 

 

“I don’t know, I’ll blow you?” 

 

“Deal.” 

 

They never find out what would happen if Leon wins, though, because Matthew wins. They know that, because they're married. Because they're here. 



TODAY, 3 PM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, FLAMINGO FOOD COURT



They're here because of a card game.

 

“It was a bet,” Matthew says, dumbstruck.“It was just a stupid fucking bet.” 

 

It rings in his head, echoing and empty. All of this--and there's so much between yesterday and today that Matthew feels like he’s going to break under it--because of a bet.

 

He can't look at the ring. He puts it on the table, knowing he'll leave it there. He definitely can’t look at Leon. If he does, he’ll marry him again and it’s been made pretty fucking clear that that’s a bad idea.

 

“Yeah,” Leon says quietly. “It was just a bet.” 

 

Just a bet . Matthew had asked Leon to marry him, and Leon had said sure, because they were fucking wasted. Matthew knows exactly what he was thinking last night. He probably could’ve told you that at 10 am this morning. It’s today’s thought process--how he could be so impossibly, stupidly hopeful--that’s a fucking mystery.

 

When everything’s over, and the guys Matthew sleeps with go back to their lives, to their families or to their safe, “straight” selves, he’s just a footnote in their histories. Less than that. A crumb on the page to be wiped away, forgotten. It's always been this way; it’s not like this is news. What’s so strange is that he thought, for just a minute, that because of some piece of paper given to them by a chapel in Las Vegas that Leon would be any different. That just because Leon was… special, and he has to admit it to himself, now, that Leon was special--that Matthew would be special to him. But he knows what he is, what he’s good for. He’s always been a pest, and he guesses that this time he’s way overstayed his sixty minutes.

 

Matthew numbly checks his watch. It’s after two.

 

“We should go,” he says. “If we’re gonna make it to court before the game.” 

 

“Yeah.” 

 

Matthew half expects Leon to say something else, but he doesn’t. Figures. It’s not like he really knows Leon. In fact, he doesn’t know him at all. 

 

Matthew tucks a few hundred dollar bills under the salt shaker; he’s not usually a “high roller”, but that should cover things and it seems like a small price to pay to not have to speak to another human being right now. They get in the elevator, stand silently next to Seguin, who for some reason is there in last night’s suit, looking remarkably worse for wear. They ride back up to the room. Matthew has to guess where Leon is by the sound of his footfalls because he still can’t look at him. Pillar of salt and all that. Leon disappears into the bathroom while Matthew starts collecting his shit, finding his watch on the bedside table and a sock tangled up in the bed sheets and his undershirt behind the headboard. Behind him he hears Leon emerge and sit down in the armchair by the window. Matthew kneels next to the bed to fish out his other sock and finds Leon’s shoes instead. He’s just about to chuck them across the room in frustration, because fuck this, fuck him, fuck beautiful Leon and how he’ll never see him again, when something small and white falls out of the shoe and onto the carpet. 

 

What the fuck is this? 

 

Instinctually Matthew picks it up, holds it to the light. It's a playing card. Specifically, the ace of hearts. 

 

And suddenly, it comes back to him. 



LAST NIGHT, 5 AM, FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL & CASINO, CASINO FLOOR



“Full house, motherfucker!” Matthew yells, throwing his cards down. He’s pretty sure the dealer is rolling his eyes, but for the hundreds in tips they’ve been ponying up, he can deal. 

 

Goddamnit. ” Leon sighs, lays his cards down. “Three of a kind.” 

 

Matthew is whooping in triumph, Leon shaking his head at his cards. Three aces lay on the table between them, plus something--a seven? An eight?--that doesn’t matter, that doesn’t amount to anything. Four cards, face up on the table. And Matthew, too drunk to question Leon’s losing hand.

 

Matthew concentrates on the memory. At first he’s not sure, but when he really concentrates, it comes into focus and the longer he thinks the more certain he becomes. Four cards in Leon’s hand, not the five that would’ve made a full hand. He’s certain of it.

 

“Three of a kind ain’t shit, babydoll,” Last Night’s Matthew says. “I win.”

 

“Ah, shit,” Leon agrees, defeated. “Looks like it.” 

 

“And you know what that means.” 

 

When Matthew slides off his stool to snake his arms around Leon’s neck, they both smile through the kiss. When Matthew grabs Leon’s hand to pull him toward the chapel, they’re both running. 

 

And four cards, lying behind them on the table.



TODAY



Matthew stares at the card in his hand. His mouth is as dry as it's ever been. For once in his life, he doesn’t have anything to say. Not a thought in his head. Just a sound like static. 

 

Slowly he stands. He turns toward Leon, who is sat in the chair, elbows hunched over his knees, studying the window like his life depends on it. 

 

“Leon?” 

 

When he looks up, his expression is carefully blank, like if he keeps his eyes dead Matthew won’t be able to tell they’re red-rimmed. Like it’ll keep his cheeks from glistening. 

 

“Yeah?” He presses the heel of his hand to his eyes. Clears his gravelled voice, looks away. “What?”

 

“What’s this?” 

 

He sets the card down on the coffee table in front of him. Leon just looks at it and looks back out the window. 

 

“It’s a playing card, Matthew. I don’t know if you noticed, but we are in Las Vegas. They have those here.” 

 

But Matthew doesn’t take the bait. He doesn’t take the half-baked explanation, even though he could. He doesn’t call Leon an ass, even though he’d be right. He could walk out of the room, but he doesn’t.

 

“You’re right. Doesn’t explain why it was in your shoe, though.” Leon’s eyes flit up to his, wide. He doesn’t say anything, so Matthew does. “Okay, I’ll try again. Why were you cheating in our game of poker?”

 

“I don’t know what--I didn’t--” 

 

Leon has probably never sounded nervous in his life, but he does now.

 

“You did,” Matthew says calmly. Leon is looking down at the card now, until Matthew pushes the coffee table out of the way and kneels down in front of him. They’re eye level, faces less than a foot apart. Matthew feels like his heart is going to beat out of his chest when Leon meets his eyes. “You threw the game. You had four aces, which would’ve beat me. So you put the card in your shoe, and you were drunk enough to think that I was drunk enough I wouldn’t notice, and you were right. And we got married. You threw the game so you could marry me.” 

 

He says it like he’s sure, but he’s not. He’s terrified. Terrified Leon will say he’s crazy, that it was a long night and he got the card somewhere else, that he did throw the game but he was just drunk and so it didn’t matter, that he did but it was a mistake. 

 

He doesn’t say any of those things. He just looks at Matthew, face like he’s about to crack open, and says, 

 

Yes. ” 

 

Matthew kisses him. He kisses him like Leon is the most important thing in the world, not because Matthew is drunk but because Leon is the most important thing in the world. He dives forward and takes Leon’s face in his hands, gripping the soft skin and flattening his palms against the stubble and digging his nails into his jaw. His thumbs feel the tracks of wet at the corners of his eyes, the tears that Matthew put there, and he suddenly feels like he’s going to break apart if he doesn’t tell Leon somehow--if he doesn’t show Leon how much he wants him, wants this, that it isn’t just a bet or a drunken mistake, that he doesn’t want to take this back. He sucks in Leon’s bottom lip and swallows his groan and he tries to show him, I’ve been obsessed with you for years. He melts against Leon’s tongue like sugar and he tries to show him, You’re better than I ever imagined I could have. He holds him close when he starts crying and he tells him, soft in his ear, 

 

“I think I might love you, if you give me the chance to.”

 

He cards his fingers through Leon’s hair until he’s calm enough to pull back. God, it feels good in his fingers. 

 

“Really?” 

 

Matthew nods. He doesn’t realize it until he lets out a shaky breath, but he thinks he might be crying, too. It makes him laugh and Leon laughs with him.

 

“Yeah, dumbass,” Matthew says. “I thought you knew that years ago, back at the last All-Star Game.” 

 

“No. But when you smiled at me after that stupid goal I was done for.” 

 

“Babe, I was gone on you way before that.” It's true. He'd tried not to be, hadn't wanted to recognize what it was, but obsession only comes from so many places. Matthew leans their foreheads together with a small smile, still sniffling. “Thought you saw right through me.” 

 

“Darling, you overestimate my capacity for hope.”

 

He sounds so broken and so beautiful. How could Matthew not kiss him after that? 

 

Eventually Matthew climbs up onto the chair and into Leon’s lap, even though strictly speaking he doesn’t fit there. He curls into Leon’s chest, head rising and falling with his breathing, Leon’s strong arm keeping him snug. Leon presses kiss after kiss to Matthew’s curls, and together they let their breathing normalize until Matthew thinks to check his watch.

 

“Think we missed the cutoff for the divorce court,” he says, sounding less than bothered. Leon gives a small shrug.

 

“We’ll get to it when we get to it.” 

 

“Should probably still get divorced, though.” 

 

“Mmhmm,” Leon agrees, running his fingernails up and down Matthew’s arm.

 

“Maybe after we get dinner tomorrow?” 

 

“Maybe after dinner.” 



ONE YEAR FROM NOW, END OF SUMMER PRE-SEASON BARBECUE, LAKE MINNEWANKA, ALBERTA

 


“Alright, Davo,” Kassian says, looking around theatrically from his seat, “coast is clear. You’ve got like, thirty seconds to floor it.”

 

“We’re not leaving without Chucky.” Connor doesn’t even bother to look up from the wheel of the boat.

 

“Why? Drat is clearly being blackmailed,” Kass goes on. “Right, Drai? Blink twice if you’re being blackmailed.” 

 

Leon just rolls his eyes and trades a smirk with Connor. The day’s been too perfect to be annoyed, even by Kassian. He’s sitting on the bench behind Connor and Lauren, an empty space next to him for Matthew, who stepped out to take a call. The boys and their wives and girlfriends are all there, sleepy with sun and barbecue and beer. With the exception of Kassian, Matthew actually gets along better with Leon's friends than Leon does. He keeps coming to him and asking how Ethan’s parents are or if so-and-so’s wife had a boy or a girl, when Leon didn’t even know they’d spoken. That’s just the way his baby is, though. Leon shouldn’t have been surprised. If he couldn't resist Matty, nobody could. 

 

Matthew strides onto the boat then, looking sour. He thinks he looks tough when he’s angry, but Leon thinks the effect is more like a misbehaving labradoodle. 

 

“What’s the word, love?” Leon asks as Matthew ignores the open seat next to him and climbs onto his lap. 

 

“I’m already suspended one game,” Matthew says. “The season hasn't even started yet.” 

 

“What for, again?” Leon asks. Matthew does a lot of shit. Sue him if he can’t remember. 

 

“Spearing,” Matthew grumbles. 

 

“He’s suspended for spearing me! ” Kassian points out, gesturing with his beer.

 

“And clearly you’re fine,” Matthew shoots back, sticking out his tongue like a little kid when Kass looks away. “He deserved it.” He says it lower this time, speaking into Leon’s neck. 

 

“Sounds like you deserved it, Kass,” Leon says. 

 

“Barf.” 

 

Matthew’s smile is really pretty, Leon thinks. He spent so long angry that he couldn’t be on this side of that smile, when it turns out that all along, the only thing stopping him was himself. So it stands to reason that these days, he’ll do anything to keep it on Matthew’s face. Leon’s hand unconsciously goes to the pocket of his shorts, just to make sure. Yup, ring box still there. You know--for doing it properly this time.

 

He finally looks up, grinning, and smacks the back of Connor’s seat. 

 

“Let’s hit it,” he says, and they rip into the water. The low sun shatters into a million pieces on the surface of the waves, collecting in Matthew’s hair and on his cheeks, where they’ll turn to freckles. Leon likes knowing that. And he loves knowing that he’ll be around when they do. 

 

“You good, babe?” Matthew asks, studying the look on his face curiously.

 

“Never better, baby. Never better.”