Gabe’s always hidden his wings.
For the longest time, for almost as long as he’s had them, Gabe’s hidden them. He only wore shirts that would fully cover them, he never went shirtless in the pool, he rarely showered at the rink. He can barely remember a time that he didn’t think about if people would see or not.
When he was a kid, one of his teammates who glimpsed them as he was changing, said that they didn’t match the rest of him.
He thinks that’s the best way to describe them. Perhaps the nicest way. They don’t match.
He’s always gotten comments about how he looks. It’s always how handsome he is, or how pretty he looks, or how it’s ‘unfair’ he can look good in just about anything. And yeah, he gets it. His face hair combo is rare. It’s nice.
But he disagrees with people who say he won the genetic lottery.
All those comments are usually followed with some little thing about his wings. Something about how they wish he’d show ‘em off every once in a while. “ They must be so nice ,” they say, “If they’re anything close to how you look ”.
“ They don’t ,” Gabe wants to say. “ They don’t look anything like me .”
So he smiles and he laughs and he plays off inquiries about his wings and he never shows anyone, ever.
Erik Johnson is the first person outside of his family to see to his wings in over a decade.
(Erik Johnson is also a little shit, but not about this, not around Gabe.)
They’re rooming together, and Gabe is young and still trying to figure his way around the league and he forgets. He forgets that EJ likes to sneak into their hotel room and hide in the closet to scare him. He forgets, so he walks out of the shower without a shirt on and is halfway dressed when he hears a quiet “ Wow .”
Gabe turns around so fast he almost knocks the TV off the hotel dresser. His right wing does, actually. Because they’re wet and spread out and oh Christ, EJ’s gonna see- he’s seen them.
Erik is standing next to his bed, eyes wide, mouth open slightly in shock. Gabe backs up a few steps, wings fluttering in agitation, but where is he gonna go? Out into the hallway, where more teammates will see? Or worse, where someone could get a picture?
Gabe swallows. “You can’t tell anyone.”
EJ blinks, brow furrowing. “Gabe-“
“Promise me!” Landy yells. “You can’t- you can’t tell anyone .”
“Alright, I promise.” EJ sits on the bed. “Gabe, they’re beautiful.”
“Shut up,” Gabe snaps, quickly moving across the room to grab his towel and a t-shirt. He’ll deal with wet feathers later, right now he needs to get the fuck out of this room. “Just- shut up. I don’t need your- whatever this is.”
“Landy, I’m being serious-“
“I don’t care!”
“ Gabe .” Fingers touch the tip of his wing. He stills instantly. His hands are shaking. “I’m not making fun of you. I mean it. I don’t know why you think you have to hide them, but I- I won’t tell anyone.”
Gabe stands slowly. EJ’s being serious, he can see the sincerity on his face. “You don’t- people don’t. Like them. That’s why I hide them.”
EJ raises an eyebrow but doesn’t call him on it. He lets go of Gabe’s wing and nods to the towel. “Do you want some help? I can dry.”
Gabe swallows hard and sits cross legged on his bed. He hands EJ the towel silently and stretches his wings out, rolling his shoulders back to enjoy the stretch of his muscles. EJ starts at the base of his left, careful as he pats each feather dry. Water mostly runs right off of his wings, but if he doesn’t dry them they’ll stay damp for hours, and it’s the most uncomfortable feeling ever.
“What did you mean,” EJ asks after a while. He’s moved out to Gabe’s primaries. Gabe wants to tell him not to, he can get that himself, but he doesn’t. It feels so nice to not have to stretch and bend his wings awkwardly like he usually does to dry them.
“You said that people don’t like them. What did you mean.”
Landy tenses, wings curling over his shoulders slightly. EJ makes a soft noise of concern and scooches a little closer to resume with a different part of the towel.
“I mean they- they’re not nice to people whose wings look like mine.”
“Is that why you hide? Because of what you think people will say?”
Gabe turns his head to look at EJ over his shoulder. “I got called the Devil’s spawn when I was six years old. I hide because of what I know people will say.”
EJ looks back at him for a long moment before he ducks his head with a quiet apology. He finishes the left wing in silence, getting up to get a new towel for the right. He stops in the doorway, fiddling with the soft fabric. “You know I- I can’t really imagine what it would be like. To hide my wings.”
“EJ, I think you’d probably go insane,” Gabe says wryly. EJ has his wings out all the time, would never wear a shirt or a harness if he could. But EJ never worries about how his wings look. They’re grey and speckled white and kinda fluffy but there’s nothing incredibly different about them. Most peoples wings are just that- a mix of brown and grey and white with few distinctive markings.
“Yeah I couldn’t do,” EJ chuckles. “But I- if you ever wanted to show the team. Or a few people, I don’t think they’d be shitty. Not like the assholes who dare tell a child that their wings are wrong , or whatever the fuck.”
Gabe stares at the floor and thinks ‘you have no idea’ . His family literally moved to get away from it all.
Because the thing with Wings, it’s the same with anything else that humans have. People judge and they make up rules and they put Gabe in a box, because they’d rather decide who and what he is before even giving him the chance to know himself.
Wings, especially, are sacred. Many cultures would hide a child’s wings until they reached a certain age, and had unveiling ceremonies. They’re something personal to people, although as the years have gone on more and more people are making them less personal, and more casual. But to Gabe, they’re- they’re a part of him. They’re important to him.
And people hate him , just because they’re-
“Yeah,” he says eventually. “Maybe one day I will.”
One day is looking a lot closer than he’d like.
It’s been quite a few years since EJ first saw his wings, and although Gabe would have preferred at the time to keep them a secret, he’s much better for it, having EJ know. His best friend - now his Alternate - had slowly pushed Gabe to be less rigid about his wings.
He convinced Gabe to walk around the house without a harness, so his wings could relax and droop out under his shirt. It was a good stepping stone to not wearing a shirt at all, and then eventually even walking around the house with his wings stretched out, letting EJ wash and dry his feathers as Gabe returned the favor.
But in the couple of years since Gabe’s moved out and found his own place, EJ still hasn’t managed to convince Gabe to tell the team. Landy still showers at his place most nights, or if he’s feeling really gross he’ll wear a shirt while he rinses off. He still changes in the bathroom stall.
He’s never really felt the urge to tell anybody, even though he’s had a few moments where he thinks that it would be nice. When the trainers give their talk about the importance of wing maintenance, and encourage stretching on the plane or when boys talk about going to the beach to stretch out on a road trip. When the team walks around the locker room after a win, wings spread so much their tips are brushing each others. That one especially gets to him. He’s supposed to be the captain. Brushing wings with each other in the locker room is a special show of intimacy that’s reserved just for the team.
It makes him feel guilty. He’s the captain and he can’t- he won't- participate in an integral part of team building.
What makes him feel even more guilty, is the fact that it’s not the team that makes him consider showing his wings to someone.
The thing that makes him wish - the thing that really makes him consider telling people?
It’s one first round draft pick Nathan MacKinnon.
Gabe doesn’t know what it is. Well he knows part of it - he likes Nate. He really likes Nate. He likes Nate so much he got really drunk with Nate and asked him out, and now they’ve been on three dates, and, well-
They’ve made out a few times. But Nate wants other things, and Gabe wants them too, but unless they agree to keep the room pitch dark the whole time, Gabe can’t do that.
The other thing is that- Nate's wings? They’re gorgeous . Most of his feathers are golden blond, and in the right light they shimmer like a field of wheat. He’s got flecks of dark brown in there too, and while Crosby may have taught him to hide them, there’s still pictures out there. Some high quality shots the NHL took as promo photos of their new golden boy.
And around the locker room? Shit. Everyone chirps him for having wings of gold along with his hockey talent. The boys seem to enjoy making him blush.
Gabe enjoys making him blush. But Nate’s wings are the kind that make people jealous, the kind that he could use to model with and make the same amount of money that he’s making as a hockey player. They’re the kind that people do horrible things for.
Gabe’s are the kind that people do horrible things to .
Nate’s going to figure it out eventually though. Landy really doesn’t want to lose him. He doesn’t want to lose what might be the best thing going for him.
He just needs more time.
Gabe gets more time, even if he doesn’t really want it. They have a shit year - such a shit year that one of his best friends (or, who he thought was his best friend) just about demands a trade off the team. The summer before the season started, he and Nate had agreed to...let things cool off. Basically a hall pass for the summer, and when they came back they talked and- neither of them found something they wanted with someone else.
But the season just...they have maybe one date, early season, and it feels wrong. Disconnected. Like they weren’t really talking to each other, but they were talking at each other.
So Gabe gets more time. And he considers saying ‘fuck it’ and showing his wings to everyone at once. This bad of a season couldn’t get worse, could it?
Landy is not about to tempt fate like that.
It turns out to be a good move, because he gets a sharp visceral reminder of what people think of wings like his.
Gabe doesn’t know much about Sidney Crosby, except for the fact that he is one, an insanely good hockey player (the sky is blue, the grass is green, whatever) and two, he’s an insanely private guy.
There’s no pictures of his wings. Anywhere. People pressure him beyond belief to show them. He probably gets a question every time he does media, ‘some random creep speculated that you don’t have any wings at all, does this make you want to show your wing to prove them wrong ?’ It’s got nothing to do with hockey at all, but no matter what they throw at him, he always gives some sort of non-aggressive answer back. He never rises to that challenge.
Gabe respects him for it. Since becoming Captain, he’s gotten more questions like that, but he doesn’t answer them with anywhere near the same amount of grace. He wishes he could figure out how not to get so defensive about it. The Avs PR team probably wishes the same thing, the amount of media training sessions he’s had about it.
Still. It’s a wake up call when a large series of unfortunate events leads to Crosby spreading his wings across the ice in the middle of a game.
He’s talking to T-bear when it happens, discussing maybe going to a movie or something now that practice is over, when his phone starts vibrating with a text from his mother.
‘You need to check the Pens game. Right now.’
“What the fuck.” he mutters to himself, and before he can do anything else, across from him Tyson is inhaling sharply.
“Oh shit .” He looks up at Gabe, eyes wide in shock and...panic? “Crosby- his wings, they’re-“
“What-” Before Gabe can ask what, when and how, Tys is shoving his phone in his face with the live stream. The announcers are explaining the play by play - a dirty hit that left Guentzel prone on the ice in front of the penguins goal. Sid pushing at the offending player, said player grabbing Sids jersey and trying to yank it over his head. Sid going to the ground to try and stop the action, and at the same time noticing an opposing player lining up a slap shot.
Sid tears the straps of his harness to spread out his wings and protect Guentzel from the shot. The replay shows it probably would’ve hit Jake in the head.
“Oh.” Landy breathes. “ Fuck .”
They’re certainly not going to a movie now.
Nate is predictably and understandably distraught. The three of them are in Nate’s apartment, Gabe there because Gabe’s always with Nate, and Tyson there because...well he’s always with Gabe. Or Nate. They incidentally always end up together.
Anyway. Distraught Nate.
More like angry Nate.
“Please delete twitter, I am begging you.” T-bear says after the fifth rage filled rant over the comments under the Pens PR post regarding the incident. “It doesn’t help anyone and you can’t seriously reply without doxxing yourself.”
Gabe smartly stays silent while Nate continues to pace. He scrolls his way through his own twitter feed, partially to take note of who’s saying what and partially to fish out the few positive comments and like them. People already see him as an ‘all wings activist’ or whatever, this will just be par for the course.
The shit people are saying though...god. It makes Gabe feel like he can’t breathe the way they talk about Sid. It’s the same shit he got as a kid, and now thinking about it, Gabe’s sure Sid got the same. Probably worse because of his talent.
Some argument is going on between Nate and Tyson. Gabe looks up as Nate goes silent and slides his phone over to T-Bear who instantly goes about deleting social media apps. “See? That wasn’t so hard. I promise you that Sid’s done the same thing.”
Landy tilts his head. “Sid’s on social media?”
“Private under a different name.” Nate says automatically. “You’ve probably seen him in your likes somewhere, he stalks people.”
“Creeper,” Tyson mutters. Nate wacks him. For a second things seem normal.
“Can you give me my phone back so I can call him?” Nate asks. Tyson glances at Gabe and keeps a hold of Nate’s phone.
“Maybe in a little bit, Dogg.”
Landy watches Nate’s face get red and rushes to jump in. “He’s probably getting bombarded with phone calls right now and he’s likely been told by his PR team not to talk to anyone.”
“He’d talk to me .” Nate says hotly. “He trusts me.”
“We aren’t saying that he doesn’t,” Tyson placates. “We’re more saying it would probably be better if you let him call you. That way he can do it on his own time. There’s so much shit he’s got to do right now, and we don’t even know if Guentzy is okay.”
While T-bear is talking, Landy gets a idea. A really, really bad idea, probably, but neither Nate nor Tyson have had anything but righteous anger and genuine concern over Sid.
He’s gotta tell Nate eventually, right? And since Tyson is here, and they’re both his best friends, he might as well get it over with. Rip the bandaid off.
Gabe take a deep breathe. “If you want I could- um, I could talk to him. I think it might go better.”
Nate’s face screws up. “Why would he want to talk to you over me?” It sounds mean, but Gabe knows that Nate’s just scared. Sid’s his mentor, his idol, his friend , and he wants to help him get through it.
“Nate your wings are fucking gorgeous okay? You were on the cover of like six different magazines after your rookie photo shoot. I’m not saying he wouldn’t want to hear from you, just that maybe...maybe it would be hard for him to talk to you. Because you’ve never known what he’s had to go through.”
“Oh what and you do?” Nate challenges, anger barely covering the hurt in his voice.
“ Nate ,” Tyson hisses. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Yeah, I think I do.” Landy says back, voice hard. “And I think that maybe you ought to remember that you’ve never seen my wings.”
He puts his phone down and stands up, reaching behind his back to pull at the clip of his harness, and then thinks better of it when his fingers brush a lose feather. He pulls at it and it comes out easily. It shines innocently in the kitchen light. He puts it on the table in front of Tyson where Nate can easily see it.
The two of them stay speechless, Tyson at least looking at Gabe.
“ I’ll call him.” Landy says, then grabs his coat and leaves.
Later that night, after Tysons texted him Crosby’s number and Gabe’s called (it was a good conversation actually - short and hard to have, but good nonetheless - he gets the feeling Sid was surprised to hear from him but relieved not to be the only one) there’s a knock on his door.
Nate’s on the other side of it. So’s T-bear.
“So, uh,” Nate grabs at the back of his neck. “I owe you an explanation, probably.” Tyson elbows him in the side. “ And an apology! Definitely an apology. But also- we should probably talk. All three of us.”
He thinks about it for a moment. He could close the door on them. He could say ‘ no, I’m done ’, and leave just like Dutchy did, just like he’s going to, or-
Or he could stick it out. Try to work past his hurt, to acknowledge that past trauma making him especially sensitive to this sort of shit. Talk to someone besides EJ. Who he doesn’t talk to, really, not about this.
Gabe nods once, then steps aside and lets them in.
It’s a considerable amount of time later that Gabe’s wings get exposed to another person. That season is long past, and the Colorado Avalanche look a lot different now. They’ve got new faces to fill the spots of lost names.
One of which is Phillip Grubaur, a typical goalie in the sense that he properly fills the ‘this guy is nuts and one of the weirdest people I’ve ever met ’ role that is a hockey goalie. Which is why when he sat next to Gabe on the plane, Gabe didn’t say anything, even if it displaced Tyson who walked to the back of the plane like a kicked puppy.
“So we’re going to go shopping tomorrow.” Grubi says without intro. He hasn’t said a word all plane ride. It makes Gabe jump. “I’ve got a guy who’s really great about privacy; he’s done several professional athlete before including hockey players. He also does custom wing measurement for harness fittings and tailors matching suits. Since you’ve ruined yours, I’m buying you at least two.”
Landy blinks. “Um.”
“Don’t say you’ve got other harnesses, I’ve seen them and they’ve got to be the most uncomfortable things known to man.” Grubi says with disgust. “Also, I know. About your thing.”
Grubi rolls his eyes like Gabe is being the difficult one here. “They must be incredible, by the way. From what little I saw. The little bits of green are really something.”
Landy gapes. There’s no way.
“How the fuck-”
“One of your straps broke last game. I saw the tip of your wing.” Grubi says nonchalantly. Gabe had a flash back to the incident, remembering walking to the bathroom to change and the goalie tugging at his shirt as he went by. He didn’t think anything of then, but now-
“You were covering it.” He realizes. “That’s why you pulled my shirt down.”
Gru gives him a small smile. “I know you’ve got your reasons for keeping them hidden.”
Landy closes his eyes and tries to calm his too fast heart rate. “Thank you.”
Grubi hums. “I didn’t always get it. When I got here and found out that no one’s seen your wings, not even the team, I...the Caps are such a touchy team, you know? You don’t get privacy there, even if you really want some. It really threw me to learn that no one’s ever brushed wings with yours.”
Landy bites his lip to keep from correcting him. He didn’t for a while, but since dating Nate and Tyson (dating!!! He’s got two super hot and awesome boyfriends. And they’re dating . They go on dates . He’s totally and completely calm about this fact and does not want to scream it from the rooftops at all) they’ve weaned him into the practice same way that EJ weaned him into going wings out around the house.
“But this team, they never said anything. I think I asked Nate about it once and he almost took my head off.” Grubi chuckles. “Not that I didn’t deserve it, but it was- they respect you, Landy. A lot . And on top of that, they care about you.”
Gabe does the math. Depending on when Grubi asked Nate, Nate might not have seen Gabe’s wings yet, but he definitely knew. The rest of the team didn’t, though. They still don’t.
And yet they defended him still.
Gabe blushes. Most days he still feels like he fails as a captain everyday, solely because of that. And here’s his team, actively defending him to new players and media alike.
“I...take you’re okay with it. Them.”
Grubi arches an eyebrow. “No, Gabriel, I’m just dragging you to a very special spot that I know of to get better fitting harnesses and suits because I absolutely despise your wings.”
Landy purses his lips to stop from smiling at Gru’s sarcasm. He really could use some new harnesses. “Alright.”
“Great. Actually get your ass out of bed tomorrow, we’ve got an appointment at ten.”
The next day does in fact see them as a little shop in some part of Los Angeles. Grubi failed to mention that it would take over an hour to get to the shop because of traffic, and he wanted to get breakfast out, so Gabe was dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of eight in the morning.
Which doesn’t sound that bad but it’s his day off. That’s way too early for his day off.
Although with the amount of measurements this guy is taking of his wings, hopefully it’ll be worth it for a good sports harness.
A lot of people - probably most people wear harnesses for their wings. Not because it’s mandatory or anything, it’s just way too much effort to keep tensing a pair of wings to keep them in place all day. By adulthood, a person’s wings are too big to stay close to the body without effort.
Basically, people start knocking stuff over as they walk through the house. They fit out a harness or two that is comfortable and doesn’t chafe, and wear that all day. There’s a million different styles and materials and positions for wings that people can choose from. Everyone’s wings are different.
Gabe just wants a hard that won’t snag on his feathers but also actually keep his wings in place so he can get his pads on. Apparently that’s a hard ask.
Pants and wing harnesses. Two things hockey players can’t buy in the store and have to actually hire a professional for.
The shop is really nice, a bit like his suit place in Denver, all black walls and marble floors and huge windows. The real neat thing is the private fitting room. They go upstairs and it’s rather typical but still ridiculously upscale: plush couches around a raised black circle, several large stalls with curtains, and a small bar. The large windows are present as well, but before Gabe can start to get nervous about someone seeing, the guy hits a button on a remote and they auto shade.
Which is. Stupidly awesome, but. Gabe tries to play it cool.
Grubi goes first, taking off his harness and handing it to his guy - his name is Ryan?? He thinks? - who takes it between two fingers and makes a face of disgust. He walks off muttering darkly about ‘idiot hockey players’ or something.
Landy and Grubi share a look. “I didn’t think it was that bad.”
Gru shugs. “Ry thinks anything with a little bit of wear in it is bad.”
“A little- the entire right strap is about to go!” A voice yells from the back.
“And you’re gonna fix it!” Grubi calls in response. “That’s my favorite harness. Always have a good game with that one.”
Gabe chuckles and starts playing with his phone. Grubi gets up on the stand and fluffs out his wings, shades of grey making up his primaries speckled with light brown that leads to dark brown secondaries. Gabe always admired Grubi’s wings. He thinks they’re quietly beautiful. Often going unnoticed, but once one looks at them - really looks at them, see’s the intricate color patterns, the incredible fade from light grey to dark brown - they’d see them for the work of art they are.
Landy stares, zoning out slightly as something in his chest seems to drop down to his stomach. Disappointment, maybe. Jealousy is more likely, but he’s never thought jealousy would make him want to cry. So maybe it’s not jealousy, but it’s disappointment mixed with sadness and the crippling terror that there really is something so wrong with him that he should never be able to spread his wings like that. Something so fundamentally incorrect that he should hide the most important part of himself.
“Gabe.” Grubi’s voice jerks Landy out of his thoughts and he’s shocked to find a hot tear slipping down his face. He swipes at his cheeks rapidly and sits up, clearing his throat.
It doesn’t help his voice sound less rough when he speaks. “Yeah.”
Grubi’s wings flutter slightly as Ryan moves around him, rechecking the work he did on the old harness. “Have you even done this before?”
Gabe swallows. His shirt feels too small all of a sudden. “Um. I’ve done measurements before.”
“Okay, but have you ever...done this .” The goalie gestures to where he’s standing. “Wings out. In front of a stranger. Let someone else take your measurements.”
Gabe’s mouth goes dry. He doesn’t say anything, and that’s answer enough. Grubi’s face does something complicated - there’s anger, but it’s most concern and a profound sadness.
So, okay. There’s another thing to add to the list of shit he hasn’t done, that most other people do on a daily basis. People don’t see his wings, because once they do, they don’t see him. They see the devil. They see evil. They see something to be destroyed.
He’s only gotten this far by hiding. It’s how he’s stayed safe.
Grubi steps off the small stage and walks over to hold out a hand. Gabe takes it hesitantly and stands. They walks over to the raised platform, but before Gabe can step up, Grubi silently starts unbuttoning his shirt. Landy looks down to watch him do so, and in the process realizes his own hands are shaking so bad there’s no way he could’ve done it himself.
Gabe steps up onto the platform and grips the edges of his shirt, but he can’t manage to take it off.
He wants Tyson. Wants his encouragement and steady smile. He wants Nate, so he can help Gabe get out of his head. He wants- he wants EJ to be here, so he knows he’s safe.
He wants to be normal so this isn’t such a big fucking deal.
He doesn’t get any of that though. But he does get his goalie, who’s still standing in front of him, waiting patiently.
“Nothing leaves this room,” Grubi says, voice calm and steady. A promise. His eyes gaze up at Gabe, asking for his trust.
“Okay,” Gabe breathes. He’s shaking so hard his teeth are nearly rattling. “Okay.”
He slips off the blue button up, letting it fall to the floor in a heap of crumpled fabric. He reaches behind his back and pulls at the main clips for each wing. The straps make a slight ‘clink’ as the metal buckles sway into one another.
His wings spread out on their own, flapping a few times as the muscles finally get to stretch out. Gabe keeps his eyes locked with Grubi, who holds his gaze steadily, never straying to see his feathers.
“ Oh ,” Ryan breathes from somewhere behind Gru. “Oh my god. Oh honey, they’re gorgeous. I’ve never seen-”
“Ry,” Gru says without looking behind him. “You’ll want to fit him the exact same way you do with me. There’s no difference.”
If people keep finding out like this, Gabe doesn’t have to worry about telling anyone.
“Oh, huh,” Josty says, a feather being twirled back and forth in his fingers. “It’s you.”
Gabe stares up at the ceiling, jersey still in his hands. At this rate, he’ll be able to change in the locker room by the All-Star Break. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to fucking knock ?”
Tyson blinks. “I mean, yeah, probably. But-“ he holds up the feather. “This is yours?”
Landy looks at his wings, then back at Tys with a raised eyebrow. Josty throws it at him. It flutters to the ground soundless. “EJ said to tell you that he’s going to pluck you like a thanksgiving turkey if you don’t start picking up your stupid fucking feathers.”
Then he smiles sweetly and closes the door in Gabe’s face.
“Wha- Jost , I swear to god-” Landy sputters, ripping he door open then stalling at the entry way. Fuck. Fuck he needs a shirt and all he’s got is his disgusting jersey and Tyson knows this, the little shit. Gabe is going to dump an entire gatorade cooler on him.
First it was Gravy and Sammy G, who both walked into EJ’s house like they owned the place while Gabe was lounging on the couch without a shirt or harness. Then it was JT and Alexander, although they were really an accident, because they were making out at the time they stumbled into the wrong hotel room.
That’s the last time Gabe ever lets Nate leave the door cracked open.
T-bear walks in with a sweatshirt for Gabe and an eyeroll. “Just saw mini me. He apologizes for not knocking.”
“I know his mother raised him better than that.” Gabe grumbles, tugging the sweatshirt on. It smells like Nate.
Tyson makes a face. “I feel like EJ probably encourages no knocking-”
“His actual mother, Beauts.”
“Oh,” Tyson grins. “Then yeah. But speaking of EJ, he’s uh- well he’s kind of right. About the feather thing.”
“What do you mean?”
Tyson leans up against the door frame and watches as Gabe shoves his stuff into his bag. “I mean you’re like- molting, or whatever. Some of the boys have found a few of your feathers. They’re not being shitty about it or anything, just...they’re curious? I think that’s the best way to put it.”
Gabe shrugs, shouldering his backpack. “It happens every once in a while. I’ll do something with them when I get home. Is Nate gonna drive?”
T-bear tilts his head but walks with Gabe, their shoulders brushing lightly. “Nate’s hanging out with Mikko tonight and I’m going to game night over at Matty’s, remember? It’s out once a month ‘hang out with other people besides our boyfriends’ night.”
Landy hums. He wants to be dissapointed, but he was the one who came up with the idea when they first started dating. “Alright. Well I’ve gotta bail then.”
“Woah, woah ,” Tyson puts a hand on Gabe’s shoulder to stop him in his tracks. “You can’t do that! I need my partner! It’s game night and our title is at stake!”
“T-bear I am shedding feathers everywhere.”
“But- but- who’s gonna be my charade’s partner?! Or understand my signals during Pitch? Who’s gonna understand what I’m drawing while blindfolded during cranium!? No one gets me like you do, not even Nate!”
“As dire a situation as that is,” Gabe says wryly, leaning down to give Tyson a peck on the lips before pushing the door open to get to the garage. “I have to de-feather myself and find a ride home.”
“It’s going to be a slaughter!” Tyson wails. “A tragedy! We will lose our throne!”
“My sympathies on your loss!” Gabe calls back, and jogs across the parking garage to see if he can catch a ride with EJ.
A few things to be noted about Erik Johnson: He likes horses. He loves his teammates. He drives like a fucking maniac.
They pull into Gabe’s driveway and Gabe hasn’t let go of the panic handle above his door for the entire ride.
It takes twenty five minutes on a great day to get from Gabe’s house to the rink. EJ just did it in twelve.
“Just as I suspected,” Gabe wheezes, trying to calm his heart rate. “My house is not on fire. So there was absolutely no reason for you to nearly kill us! Could’ve even driven home like a normal person and stopped at stop signs! Possibly not drifted around that last corner or two, since kids live here!”
EJ, the fucker, unbuckles his seatbelt, looks Landy dead in the eye, and casually says, “I had to pee.”
Then he gets out of the car and vaults up the steps to go in the house. He’s got an extra key, which is great, because by the time Gabe manages to get out of the car his legs are so weak he just about collapses against the car.
“Stop being dramatic and come in the house!” EJ yells. He left the fucking door open.
Landy climbs the stairs with a hearty amount of clinging to the railing and stumbles into the hall, shutting the door behind him. “I don’t think the human body is meant to withstand this much adrenaline.”
EJ scoffs, exiting the bathroom with a stack of towels. “You have a master bath right? That one is tiny.”
“That one is normal sized, EJ.” Gabe moves into the kitchen and gets himself a glass of water. He’s literally sweating from stress.
“Not for wings it’s not!” Erik yells. “Meet me upstairs when you’re done being a wimp.”
Gabe rolls his eyes. He’s not being a wimp, he had a literal near-death experience on the way over. Actually, he had several. There were multiple incidents. He should be allowed more than five minutes to recover, especially since he’s in his own house .
But then again, it’s not like EJ ever stopped treating Gabe like a rookie.
“While I’m still young, Gabriel!” EJ calls from upstairs. Landy rolls his eyes and clomps his way up the stairs. When he gets to his bedroom door he kicks off his shoes in EJ’s direction who lets out a squawk. There’s a bunch of towels laid out on the bed. “What are you doing in my bathroom?”
“Shut up and take your clothes off.”
If it were anyone else, Gabe would’ve probably reiterated the fact that he’s in a very committed relationship. However, EJ’s been his own special type of strange for the entire time Gabe’s known him, so instead he rolls his eyes and changes into a ratty t-shirt and some sweats before poking his head into the bathroom. EJ is on the floor leaning into the tub doing...something with water.
“I told you to take your clothes off.” he huffs when he sees Gabe.
“I’m not getting naked with you Erik.”
EJ raises an eyebrow. “Without getting into the fact you get naked with me and twenty other grown men on the daily, your shirts gonna have to come off at least.”
Gabe peaks into the tub and sees a milky liquid that smells like soap and cotton. He scent is vaguely familiar. There’s several bottles lined up on the edge that must’ve been pulled from under one of the sinks. EJ starts some towels over the edge of the tub and Gabe realizes what he’s doing.
“EJ,” Gabe manages around a lump in his throat. “EJ you don’t have to-”
“I’m not doing this because I think I have to, I’m doing it because I want to. Now shut up, take your shirt off, and get on the floor so I can help you groom your wings.”
Gabe gets on the floor.
Its a little strange, at first and not for what he supposes would be a regular reason. It’s not that it’s to awkward a position or that it’s to small. He’s got a huge shower, specifically installed so even someone with larger wings like Nate could spread them out and properly wash them. But they also have a huge tub- something big enough not only for a hockey player, but designed for a pair of wings. It even has an indent in the side for that exact purpose.
Gabe’s just never actually used it that way. The indent in the side of the tub is great is all, but even with the detachable shower head next to the big faucet, it still takes two people to wash a pair of wings. He’s been with Nate and Tyson for a couple years now, and he knows that they use it sometimes, but Gabe’s never been able to do it.
He’s thought about asking. He knows Nate and Tyson would be happy - probably ecstatic - to wash his wings for him. They’ve been so good at giving him space when it comes to his wings. It took him forever to start relaxing around them, to stop being so worried that they’ll see. Because they’ve seen them. They see them all the time.
But he still can’t get the words to come out of his mouth. It seems, too, that EJ knows that, and that’s why he didn’t wait for Gabe to ask.
The liquid already in the tub must be Nate’s fancy soap for feathers, which Gabe is convinced is just over priced shampoo, but whatever. Once EJ sets his mind to something, it’s best to let him do it. Hence why Gabe doesn’t bother commenting on the fact that EJ pulled out every single bottle of wing-related product that Nate owns.
“Alright!” EJ claps his hands together and grins. If Gabe has any feathers left by the end of this, it’ll be a miracle. “Don’t smack me with one of these things.”
“Don’t pull out any feathers that aren’t already loose and I won’t.” Landy grumbles, but settles back anyway and tries to relax. EJ undoes the straps of Gabe’s harness, completely dismantling it until it’s just a bunch of buckles and straps that Gabe can slip off his arms easily. Then he pokes Gabe until he moves and can properly unfurl his wings.
The water is a shock despite its warmth. It runs over his feathers first, splashing off into the partially filled tub like the sound of rain, but eventually seeps through to his skin underneath. EJ takes his time with each wing, making sure they’re completely wet, front, back, primaries to secondaries to the base of each.
Gabe tips his head forward as EJ grabs the brush. It’s a bright green thing, soft silicone bristles and a strap across the back to make up for no handle. EJ dips it in the soap mixed water and starts making circles on Gabe’s feathers. The cleaner is meant to foam up with motion, and pretty soon there’s bubbles everywhere.
It’s been quiet save for the dripping faucet and the sound of EJ brushing over Gabe’s feathers, so he feels a little weird opening his mouth when EJ’s nearly done with both wings.
“Um,” Landy’s nose twitches. “How bad would it be if I sneezed right now?”
The brushing stops. EJ is sitting on the edge of the tub, sweatpants rolled up and lower legs wet from having to get into the tub to get at the back of Gabe’s wings. “I swear to god Landy-”
Gabe sneezes and his wings twitch sharply, despite his efforts to remain still. When he opens his eyes again he immediately has to slap a hand over his mouth to not laugh.
EJ is covered in bubbles.
“I hate you.”
Erik drags a hand down his face and flicks the suds at Gabe. He drops the brush and goes back to the showerhead to rinse it all off, but the air’s lost its heaviness. It no longer feels like a testament to everything that Gabe missed because of his wings. It’s not so monumental or so- so important, that this is the first time he’s let someone else groom his wings. Instead, it’s just a casual intimacy between best friends. The kind he never thought he’d get to experience.
Once all the soap is rinsed and Gabe’s wings are clean but dripping, EJ lets the water out of the tub. Gabe grabs a towel to put around his shoulders, although there’s nothing really to be done for the water that will inevitably drip onto the floor. His wings are completely soaked, to the point that Gabe has to resist the urge to give a couple of hard beats to get rid of some of the weight.
EJ helps him stand then guides him through the doorway, fingertips light on the tips of each wing so he can squeeze through the doorway. Landy flops down on the towel covered bed and thinks that there’s probably not enough. He’ll have to drag out the other comforter out of the closet.
His phone vibrates on the nightstand, probably one of many texts from Tyson. EJ tosses it to Gabe and grabs the trash can. While he brings the bottles of product into the bedroom, Gabe rolls onto his stomach and stretches out. Despite the double king bed, when he lays in the middle like this the tips of wings still touch the edges.
“You’re dripping on the floor- good god man, you don’t have wings you’re just a sponge.” Another towel gets dropped on the floor, and the trash can gets kicked over next to the bed with it. “Does he have a brush somewhere?”
“Uhhh in the cabinet. Not the sink cabinet. Below the towels I think?”
EJ hums and shit starts being tossed onto the floor. Their bathroom is going to be a mess. There’s a triumphant ‘a-ha! ’ followed by more rummaging. “Jesus Nate really goes ham on his wing grooming.”
“Have you seen his wings?” Gabe asks sarcastically. “I swear he spends more time on feather maintenance than he does his back check.”
EJ hums and comes back in with a bunch of crap in his arms which he dumps on the floor next to the bucket and starts organizing. Gabe flicks up the tip of his wing impatiently. He’s soaked and the water is quickly turning cold.
“Hold your horses,” EJ grumbles. “Okay.” EJ gets up on the bed with exaggerated force, making Gabe bounce a little. Landy rolls his eyes and taps his way through some of the messages from his boyfriends. He’s shot off a quick text to Nate and is still scrolling through Tysons game night updates when EJ finally starts going through his feathers.
The veteran defenseman sits by Gabe’s legs and starts at the base of his left wing, gently moving his fingers through his feathers. He runs his fingers through a section and checks which ones aren’t solid. Then he gives whatever loose feathers he finds a bit of a tug. If they come out without much force, it goes in the bucket. If he doesn’t, EJ isn’t about to start ripping feathers out.
Which is always nice. They’ve both heard the horror stories of players who went to someone else to groom their wings. Gabe thought about going to someone, because inevitably when the weather gets warmer he starts to lose feathers and it’s very hard to get them out by himself. He usually spends a lot of time contorting himself in front of a mirror and he still misses loose feathers.
The feeling of having a feather come loose and then getting stabbed by it in the middle of a game or practice is a universal experience in hockey. The terror that one of those loose feathers will come out mid game and fall on the ice is less universal.
Gabe shifts over on his side a little as EJ gets towards the tip of his wing. His mom used to do the same thing for him. Not only is grooming important for wing health and good hygiene, if one doesn’t do a little feather plucking once in a while, feathers get really loose and really itchy and super uncomfortable. Once Gabe hit juniors, he learned how to do it himself.
EJ lets his left wing flop onto the towel covered bed and starts with the right. Gabe picks a random game on his phone and gets through a good couple rounds before EJ is done with that one too. He gets up, muttering to himself as he goes to dump the trash bin full of feathers into the kitchen trash downstairs.
Gabe stretches out his legs and rolls his shoulders back to stretch his wings as well. He’s definitely cold now, but it still feels amazing to let his wings stay spread like this. EJ comes bounding back up the stairs and smacks him on the ass.
“Why.” Gabe says flatly.
“Nate told me too.” EJ goes into the bathroom and starts filling up something in the sink.
“He absolutely did not.”
“You’re right. It was Brutes.” EJ chirps happily. He walks out with a small pink tub that Gabe vaguely remembers stuffing into the cabinet when they first moved in. “And also I wanted to see if you were still awake.”
“I put my head down for thirty seconds-”
“You’re wearing booty shorts too.”
“And you decide- I am not! ” So maybe they shrunk a little in the wash. Whatever. Nate likes them.
Well. Maybe that’s not the best defense.
“Will you stop moving! I’ve got hot water and your stupid wings already soaked the towels.” EJ situates himself back on the bed. There’s the clattering of bottles being knocked together. “Do you want...blackberry and...goat cheese scent? Or there’s completely unscented - no wait that’s almost empty - okay, blackberries or sea side and cotton. Whatever the hell that is.”
“It actually smells pretty good,” Gabe mumbles, reaching out to snag a pillow to tuck under his chin. He knows which scent belongs to who and picks based on the fact that Tyson will be less mad if EJ uses half the bottle. “Use the ocean one.”
He wriggles slightly to get comfortable while EJ snorts at his choice and tosses the other bottles to the floor. His bedroom is going to look like a warzone.
Wings don’t technically need to be conditioned. It’s a lot like hair - really only shampoo is fine. Hair probably won’t be especially perfectly shiny and it might break a bit more but it doesn’t need conditioner. Feathers don’t need to be conditioned either. But Nate and Tyson both get conditioner that’s got aloe and other good moisturizer stuff for skin (which really helps with itchiness) and it supposedly helps him not lose as many feathers.
Gabe’s not sure about that last part, but he does know that the gel-like substance makes his feathers shiny. Not that anyone really sees his feathers, but over the years, and with maximum coaxing and gentle persuasion from EJ, Nate, and T-bear, Gabe has, somehow, started to actually...like his wings.
Not an exuberant amount, or anything, but sometimes after he showers he’ll spread them out in front of the mirror, and tilt side to side to see the light glint off his wings. He sort of likes the way some colors will come out, a deep dark purple that's hard to see or the almost neon green on his primaries.
That was a big step for him. He used to avoid looking in the mirror without a shirt on because he hated seeing his wings that much.
His phone vibrates with a text from Tyson. Landy forgot to text him back once he got through the million texts. ‘ No game night?’
Gabe hesitates slightly on the response, but ultimately decides on the truth. ‘ EJ’s grooming my wings for me .’
The bubbles pop up and go away a few times while EJ gets yet another towel.
‘Oh.’ is the ultimate reply.
‘I didn’t ask him to. ’ Gabe hurries to type. ‘ He drove me home and then just-’ He doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t really know why he was suddenly okay with someone grooming his wings, even if that person was EJ. Although- maybe it’s because that person is EJ. He really, really likes Nate and Tyson, he’s pretty sure he wants to marry them some day, but EJ-
He was the very first person to see Gabe, to really see him. That’s not something that can be replicated, no matter how much he wants it to be.
‘ Babe I’m not mad ,’ Tyson replies, much to Landy’s surprise. ‘I’m surprised and proud but not mad. ’
‘I used your conditioner.’
‘K now I’m mad.’
EJ starts touching his feathers once again, this time his hands are sticky with conditioner. Gabe locks his phone and puts his head down on the pillow, letting the rhythmic movements of EJ’s fingers lull him into a light doze. There’s a lot of feathers and EJ skims over each one, making sure to smooth over each one from the skin to tip.
The gel dries hard, but won’t stay that way. Gabe’s mostly asleep by the time EJ’s finished putting the conditioner, but he feels it when EJ climbs off the bed to wash his hands. Landy jolts slightly when a rough warmth touches the tip of his wing. It’s a wash cloth dipped into the tub of hot water Erik got earlier.
Gabe must fall asleep at some point while EJ wipes away the extra conditioner, by the time he wakes up again his wings are considerably more dry. The only light on is the bedside lamp. He’s somehow no longer laying a bunch of towels, but is instead on his side, right wing splayed out across the bed, left curled over his body like a blanket. The comforter still feels a bit damp, but not so bad.
A hand smooths his hair back from his face and Gabe pries his eyes open to see Tyson smiling down at him. “EJ did a good job.” He says softly.
Landy manages to hum in affirmation. He was relaxed and comfortable and he didn't want to be awake. There’s more rummaging behind him that indicates Nate is home too. Gabe groans softly when he realizes he’s going to have to actually get up and move to get under the covers.
Tyson’s eyes soften and he chuckles. His fingers stray from Gabe’s hair to his feathers, skimming lightly across the edge. “They’re so beautiful Gabe.”
Gabe shifts, letting his other wing slide off himself to flop on the bed so he can sit up. “You usually say that about my face.”
“I mean- yeah but your face is more like. Generally hot. Unfairly gorgeous. Model worthy, whatever, but a lot of people have that.”
Landy snorts. “A lot of people have model worthy wings too, Tys.”
“Hey!” Nate flicks Gabe’s win. “I am not a model.”
“You could be, dear, and that’s the unfair point.” Tyson gives Gabe a kiss before going to change into pajamas.
Nate hums and moves Gabe’s wings out of the way so he can hug Landy from behind. “You could model with these too, you know.”
Landy is too tired to even begin to address exactly how much he would not even want to do that, so he sighs instead and leans back against Nate’s chest. Nate presses his face into Gabe’s hair.
“You know we love you right?” Gabe can feel Nate’s voice rumbling in his chest. “Every single bit of you. All of it. Everything. Not just for your hair or your face or your absolutely incredible wings. All of you.” He noses the back of Gabe’s neck. “Tell me you know that.”
He is not going to cry. He is not.
“Stop upsetting the Captain before bed.” Tyson pokes at the two of them. They’re going to have to get off the bed in order to get in bed, and Gabe doesn’t want to move just yet. He takes Tysons hands in his and they stay there, just for a second.
“I’m not moving till you say it.” Nate mumbles eventually. “Tell me.”
Landy swallows. His eyes burn.
Maybe the bathroom wasn’t the best place for this.
EJ had insisted, ‘t his team’s a lot more oblivious than you think, you wouldn’t believe some of the shit I’ve done in here without you fuckers noticing ’, but that really didn’t make him feel better. He has his shirt off, harness disassembled and right wing completely extended. It was barely fifteen minutes till they had to be in the room for video review. Fuck .
Nate pokes his head in. “Dude, how hard is it?”
“That’s dirty.” EJ replies automatically. Gabe rolls his eyes.
“I can make it dirtier.”
Gabe lets out a frustrated groan. “Don’t- okay, get your ass over here and try to find the fucker, since he can’t.”
Nate snorts but saunters in anyway, conferring with EJ to figure out where to look. The second pair of eyes doesn’t help much, and so, when JT and Josty pop in barely a minute later, they’re also roped into the search.
Landy is not happy. Too many eyes, all focused on his wings.
“I feel like it would help if they didn’t all look the same.” Tyson mutters. Gabe mutters something mean under his breath, chin propped up on his hands. He’s leaning against the counter, watching with apprehension via the mirror as his teammates search for the feather that is currently stabbing him. Mikko bumped him up against the boards during skate and it must’ve been just the right angle, because something went snap.
Not like a bone or anything. But he can’t reach it, so he enlisted EJ, hoping not to get the entire team on it.
He draws the line at Grubi and Frankie. They’re both in full gear, and still squeeze into the crowd.
“Okay, alright, I don’t need like sixteen people to find this fucking feather.”
“Hush up and stop moving.” EJ snaps.
“No seriously we’re going to be late-”
“Stop moving!” They all yell at the same time, which just makes Gabe flinch and move more. JT ends up grabbing his wing to keep it still, which ends up making Gabe move his other wing in agitation.
“A-ha!” EJ crows triumphantly. “Tweezers!” He yells like a doctor performing surgery.
“Wait- ow !” Gabe yelps as EJ pulls out the offending feather. “Warning next time!”
There’s a collective hiss as the group inspects the broken feather. “Ouch dude, you’re like, bleeding bleeding-” JT starts and then-
“Hey, Tyson said to see if you had any- oh.”
Gabe’s head snaps up so fast he almost gives himself whiplash. Nate moves quickly to stand in front of him, but it’s too late to keep Cale from seeing. Besides, Gabe’s wings are spread out and Nate isn’t that wide.
“Oh,” Cale says. “They’re black.”
Gabe tenses, as does the rest of the group. EJ inhales, ready to defend him, when this kid- this shy, smiley rookie kid who’s played maybe a handful of regular season games - peels off his shirt and spreads his wings.
Cale smiles. “Mine too.”