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The first time they meet, Matthew’s still wearing the Oilers jersey the PR team gave both him and Brady to put on for the encore, and the St. Louis Blues hat he pulled on with it just to be contrarian. Brady’s already out of his, halfway through buttoning his flannel when the door knocks. Matthew gives him one more button and then yells, “Come in.”

Their PA Lisa pokes her head in and grins as her eyes land on Matthew. “Oh good, you’re still dressed.”

Matthew snorts, but she turns away before he can get an actual response out.

“Just one second,” she says, before slipping into the dressing room and letting the door close behind her.

“Nice stunt with the hat,” she says. “Got the attention of some people.”

Matthew shrugs. “Hometown loyalties, y’know?”

Brady rolls his eyes. “Does Nat need photos of us just in the jerseys?”

“No, it’s fine. Nat thinks this could be good,” she says. “Some of the Oilers were here tonight and they want to meet y’all now.”

Brady laughs, loud and bright. “Oh, this is good. Are you about to let a bunch of athletes in here to give Matthew shit?”

“Something like that,” Lisa says, holding her phone up. “Yamamoto has a question for you—Nat wants me to get some footage in case it’s good.”

“I’m sure it’ll be entertaining,” Brady says.

Lisa rolls her eyes and amends, “In case it’s usable.”

Matthew raises an eyebrow. “What kind of question?”

“It would ruin the candidness of the meeting if I were to tell you,” Lisa says. “But it’s good. You’re going to like him.”

Matthew sits up straighter, blood thrumming as he glances between Brady and Lisa. Her eyes go wide, and she grimaces. “Sorry, I meant, you’ll both like him. If I was friends with anyone in the league, you and Mitch would’ve heard about it by now.”

Matthew breathes out. He should’ve known, but Matthew can’t help the way adrenaline floods his body when she introduces a guy like that. It usually means—

“Don’t worry about it.” He pushes the disappointment aside and stands. “You can film it but I’m not taking the hat off.”

Lisa huffs. “I know better than to ask. Besides, it’s what brought them here, so—”

She swings the door open, motioning for the guys to come in. Matthew doesn’t recognize Yamamoto, but he definitely knows the other two with him.

“Holy shit, Lisa,” Brady says next to him.

Lisa groans.

Matthew gives her a shit eating grin. “Worse has been edited out. And you know they’ve heard worse.’”

She rolls her eyes while someone else snorts. When Matthew turns back, Connor fucking McDavid is grinning at him as Yamamoto says, “We have.”

“Of course you have. Which one of you is the worst offender?” Matthew glances between the three of them, lingering on the bored expression on Leon Draisaitl’s face. “Is it you? I’ve heard you can get a little pissy.”

Annoyance flashes across Draisaitl’s face, grin so sharp he'd look mean if his eyes weren’t bright and alive. “Only when I’m being asked stupid questions.”

McDavid looks at Draisaitl sideways, clearly amused. Brady and Yamamoto laugh, too, and Matthew is delighted, blood rushing as he says, “I guess I shouldn’t ask if you enjoyed the show when I already know you did.”

Brady snorts. “Told you it’d be entertaining, Lise.”

“Always am,” Matthew says, dragging his attention away from Draisaitl and onto Yamamoto. “Heard ya got a question for me.”

Yamamoto’s grin grows. “Yeah, wanna come to the game tomorrow?”

Matthew blinks. “That’s your question?”

“No,” Connor McDavid says. “But the rest of it’s impossible if you’re not there.”

“Not impossible,” Yamamoto says. “Way less fun, though.”

Lisa’s right, he does like this guy. “I do like to have fun and I’m never going to say no to Blues tickets.”

Yamamoto’s eyes are dancing, a playful smile curving his mouth. “Was hoping you’d say that. Come watch me score you a goal and as thanks you let me throw that thing away.”

“What if it’s my only hat?”

“I’ll get you a better one.”

“Yeah? Gonna match my nice new jersey?”

“Now you’re catching on,” Yamamoto says.

Matthew feels electric, blood singing from the back and forth. At this point of tour, the cities have started to blur together, and everything feels rote. This doesn’t; this is fun. “And you’re not afraid of jinxing yourself?”

Yamamoto’s grin sends a shock up Matthew’s spine, and his wires must be crossed from mistaking Lisa, because it sounds a lot like Yamamoto’s flirting when he says, “Nah, I’ve got a good incentive.”

“Yamo,” McDavid hisses, eyes sharp as he glances at an impossibly still Draisaitl.

Yamamoto seems unperturbed by whatever McDavid was trying to communicate. “Do we have a deal? You gonna let me get you a new hat? Can’t let you leave Rogers repping the wrong team twice.”

Draisaitl won’t stop watching him and the weight of his attention lights Matthew up like nothing else. He wants him to stop. He never wants him to look away. He wants— “You think you can get an assist and finally snap your points drought for me too?”

Brady cackles. Lisa snaps both their names. Out of the corner of his eyes, Yamamoto and McDavid are watching Draisaitl just the same as Matthew.

Draisaitl clenches his jaw, the fire in his eyes growing, but when he speaks, he sounds bored. “I knew your nice guy act had to be for show. You’re kind of a dick.”

“Oh man," Brady says, "Nat’s gonna love this.”

Lisa sighs, exasperated. “Yeah, but can she use it?”

Matthew knows the right thing to do is reel it in and apologize to Lisa for not being charming enough for content mining. Matthew knows he shouldn’t be provoking Draisaitl the way he is, but Draisaitl’s unwavering gaze burns right through him—electrifying. “Dunno man, seems pretty nice of me to try and get that monkey off your back, but if you don’t think you can do it...”

Matthew trails off with a shrug, nerves buzzing as Draisaitl nostrils flare, heart hammering as he watches his jaw clench.

“I’ll even score you a goal.”

 

+ + +

 

Yamamoto comes to a stop in front of them during warmup and taps the glass. “Nuge is gonna buy you a drink after this if Drat comes through on his end of the deal. So clear your schedule.”

Brady whistles. “Glass seats, a new hat, and a drink? It’s like you guys want Matthew to keep being a bitch to Draisaitl.”

Yamamoto shrugs. “If that’s what it takes to get him out of this slump.”

Matthew snorts. “Not sure he’ll appreciate your method.”

Yamamoto ignores him, starts skating backwards slowly. “You like the seats?”

“Yeah, but you really didn’t have to go to this much trouble.”

“Oh, I didn’t,” Yamamoto says with a mischievous grin. “Drat did.”

 

+ + +

 

Draisaitl doesn’t just snap his points drought. He has a hand in every Oilers’ goal—assists on Yamamoto’s, picks another assist up on McDavid’s, goes unassisted on his own in the second, and tips one in at the very end of the third to win the damn thing.

“You were incredible tonight,” Matthew says when the booth they’re in has cleared and it’s just him and Draisaitl, the inexplicable urge to get his attention softened into something less combative with the alcohol in his system. “Do you think I can add ‘good luck charm’ to my resume yet? Or do I need to help a few more guys out first?”

Draisaitl’s teammates have shoved drinks in his hand all night and he looks fifty percent less moody because of it. He’s relaxed, arm thrown out over the back of the booth, body angled toward Matthew. He’s pink cheeked and bright eyed, the hard set of his mouth smoothed out.

It makes it easier for Matthew to see the amusement flicker across his face, the way the corner of his mouth tips up in a hint of a smile before he says, “No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

“Mm. Don’t like to share?”

“Something like that.”

Matthew’s pulse jumps. There’s a spark in Draisaitl’s eyes now and Matthew probably should've stopped two drinks ago because the haze of alcohol has twisted the intensity of Draisaitl’s focus into something hot and hungry.

Matthew’s mouth is dry. He chases it away with the last dregs of his beer. “So selfish of you. I guess I’m not the only one who’s a dick, huh?”

“Guess not.” Draisaitl shrugs. “But I’m not trying to convince people otherwise.”

Matthew’s blood goes hot, annoyance cutting through the buzz of desire. “Fuck you, man.”

Draisaitl smirks, arches an eyebrow. “Hit a nerve there.”

Matthew crosses his arms. “I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. People see what they want.”

Draisaitl grins, sharp and sharklike. “How much of what they say about you is bullshit?”

Matthew clenches his jaw, swallows down the rising anger. “Enough of it.”

Draisaitl’s eyes sparkle. He looks pleased, smiling like Matthew hasn’t been snapping at him. “So, you’re not saving yourself for marriage then?”

Matthew’s stomach swoops but the answer comes as easy as it always does. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I would.”

Matthew tenses, heart dropping. “What are you—”

Draisaitl shifts closer. Matthew shrinks away and Draisaitl freezes, smile disappearing. He sits up straight, jaw working. “Are you saying I’ve been reading this wrong?”

Matthew goes hot and cold all over, a nervous sweat breaking out across his neck. He looks around, frantic. No one’s paying attention, but—

“What the hell are you doing?” he hisses. “You don’t—you can’t just—with the image I have! In the industry I’m in! What the fuck was your plan if you were wrong?”

Draisaitl relaxes, smile turning smug. “But I’m not.”

“You’re real fucking cocky.”

Draisaitl shrugs again. “I’d say ‘good at reading the play.’”

Matthew’s blood is still pumping, skin prickling with nerves, but he laughs anyway. “You’re something else, man.” He scrubs a hand through his hair. “You could’ve been wrong.”

Draisaitl’s smirk softens, pleased in a different way as he leans back into Matthew’s space. “So, your public image isn’t all a charade then. You are a nice young man.”

“If that’s what you want to call being careful,” Matthew says, frustrated with the gleeful anticipation fizzing through him now.

“Are we getting out of here or not?”

Matthew wants to. He really fucking wants to. But he doesn’t do this. He doesn’t let himself do this. He has rules for a reason.

“Sorry, no, I should probably be leaving. I’ve got—we leave bright and early.”

The way Draisaitl’s face falls makes it easy enough to see he’s disappointed, but his voice is flat and bored when he says, “Alright. Might want to call your ride now—wait times are all over the place down here.”

Matthew needs to get Brady and get out of here before he does something stupid. He slides out of the booth. He means to say, ‘it was nice to meet you. Good luck this season.’ What comes out is, “Hey uh, we’re actually, uh, playing at the All-Star Game—maybe I’ll see you there?”

Draisaitl doesn’t return Matthew’s timid smile. “Might not get chosen with the start I had.”

Matthew knocks his knuckles against the tabletop. “You’ll make it.”

Draisaitl still isn’t smiling, but the spark in his eyes has returned, one corner of his mouth tipped up. “Gonna let me buy you a drink if I do?”

Matthew grins, body alight. “Make it and find out.”

 

+ + +

 

He doesn’t get Draisaitl’s number, but when the All-Star rosters get announced Draisaitl DMs him on Instagram: i made it

Matthew likes the message but doesn’t respond. Draisaitl doesn’t reach out again until the morning of the skills competition and when Matthew reads are you going to let me buy you a drink tonight? he responds this time.

They make plans to meet in the hotel bar, but Matthew’s not totally convinced Draisaitl will show.

He does, bitchy expression turning into a grin when he spots Matthew at a high-top table in the corner of the bar. When he asks what Matthew wants to drink, a jolt of adrenaline rushes through him and all that comes out is a laugh.

Draisaitl raises an eyebrow.

“Sorry, I didn’t—I wasn't trying to laugh at you.”

Draisaitl looks him over, not exactly frowning, but no longer grinning. “Then what were you trying to do?”

“I have no idea. I didn’t think you’d show. I wasn’t prepared for this.”

“You thought I’d stand you up?”

The bar is loud, and no one’s even near them, but Matthew’s heart still jumps at the way Draisaitl makes this sound like a date. “I didn’t think you’d message me at all. We were a little wasted the last time we talked. I thought you might’ve forgotten all about it when I didn’t hear from you.”

“I told you I made it.”

Matthew rolls his eyes. “Fine, once in almost three months.”

“Twice if you count this morning.”

Matthew huffs. “Fine. Still surprised, though.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, Draisaitl, maybe because this is, like, a work event for you and this isn’t exactly a company approved business meeting.”

Draisaitl purses his lips. “You can call me Leon.”

Matthew hums low in his throat, makes a show of considering it. Matthew doesn’t know why but there’s something thrilling about the way Leon just waits him out.

“Okay. Get me a drink that I like, and I will.”

Leon sucks his teeth, blows out a sharp breath. “You’re not going to tell me what you like, are you?”

Matthew grins. “Surprise me. I’m pretty easy to please, though. I’m sure you won’t fuck it up.”

He can’t tell if Leon’s annoyed, but his eyes are intense as he sweeps his gaze over Matthew’s face. He lets the silence stretch between them for a beat before he knocks his knuckles against the tabletop. “I get the feeling that’s not true at all. But I can try.”

 

+ + +

 

Leon comes back with two tequila shots and three limes. He hands two of them to Matthew and says, “You told Yamo you like to do lime before and after instead of salt.”

Matthew doesn’t even remember Leon being at the table at that point, but Leon remembering it makes his stomach flutter and this time when Leon asks Matthew to leave with him, he doesn’t lie about there being an early flight.

Leon crowds him against the wall of the elevator and skims his hands up Matthew’s sides. He leans in for a kiss and Matthew stops him with a hand to his chest. Leon raises an eyebrow in question and Matthew shrugs, nervous again. “I don’t like—not in elevators.”

He drops his hands and joins Matthew against the wall. “Okay.”

“Sorry, that’s—”

Leon nudges his shoulder. “It’s no problem. I can be patient.”

The knot in his stomach loosens, nerves slipping away as he laughs, “Got that from the way you waited three months to get all up on this.”

 

+++

 

A whine escapes when Leon stops kissing along his neck and pulls away. Leon sits back on Matthew’s thighs, laughing as he stops Matthew from following, palm warm against Matthew’s sternum. “For someone who waited just as long for this—you’re not very patient.”

Matthew snorts. “That’s the difference between you and me, baby.”

“Our patience?”

“No.” Matthew rolls his eyes. “Well, yes. But if I knew this was actually going to happen, I probably would’ve slid into your DMs two months ago.”

“Yeah?” Leon asks, moving his hand to trail his fingers across Matthew’s collarbones, down his ribs, along the skin above his waistband. Matthew rises into the touch and Leon makes himself heavier. Matthew kind of hates how much he likes being pinned down like this, how much he likes Leon’s smug grin as he clocks it on Matthew’s face. “And to think I worked so hard to be an All Star for you.”

Matthew snorts. “You’re so full of shit.”

Leon kisses him then, their hips lining up to finally give Matthew the friction he wanted. But when Matthew bucks his hips, Leon pulls away again, laughing when Matthew groans, “Come on.”

“Ever heard of savoring the moment?”

“In situations like this? Can’t say I have.”

Leon arches an eyebrow, mocking almost. “Big fan of instant gratification?”

Matthew blows out as breath, impatience flaring up. “Do you want to get off or not?”

“If I’d known you’d be so eager I would’ve let Yamo give me your number.”

“Oof,” Matthew says, stomach turning unpleasantly. “Waiting this long for a quick fuck with a guy you didn’t even want to contact? You’re an interesting guy, Draisaitl.”

Leon frowns. “You took that the wrong way.”

Matthew scoffs. “Don’t worry, man. I’m not about to blue-ball you because you didn’t want my number. I know what this is. And I’d really like to get back to it.”

He wiggles beneath Leon to punctuate the point, satisfied by the tiny hitch of a breath he takes before schooling his expression again. He does it again and Leon drops to his elbows, eyes blown wide, and face so close Matthew can feel the warmth of his breath when he says, “I didn’t take it because I figured if you wanted me to have it—you would've given it to me before you left that bar.”

Matthew doesn’t know Leon, has no reason to believe him, probably shouldn’t get any ideas about this being something more than for the night, but Leon says it so simply and it sends a giddy rush of butterflies through his stomach. He gets his hand behind Leon’s neck and crushes their mouths together—unwilling to get swept up and sidetracked by this feeling.

Their teeth clash and Leon laughs into it, gives Matthew’s hair a gentle tug and slows the kiss. Matthew’s lips are tingling by the time he pulls away for air, and he shivers when Leon scrapes his teeth across the soft skin below his jaw. He starts squirming as Leon works hot, open mouthed kisses down his neck and along his collarbones, gasping when Leon grinds his hips down before looking back at Matthew.

There’s a smirk on his slick, red mouth, and a spark of challenge behind his eyes. “Come on, savor it—I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

Matthew swallows, curls his fingers into Leon’s shirt. “Jesus, okay. Will you please just get naked already?”

“Since you asked so nicely,” Leon says, working the buttons of his shirt open as he slips off the bed.

Matthew rolls his eyes as he works his jeans and underwear off, catches Leon staring, naked and unmoving, and throws his clothes at him with an impatient huff. “Thought you wanted to show me what I was missing?”

Matthew’s never been with someone who’s taken the time to look at him and it’s electrifying in a way that makes him want to slow down and speed up all at once. He's desperate already and he can’t take it anymore.

“Can’t savor it if I get myself off first,” Matthew says, curling his fingers around himself in a taunt.

Leon’s on him before Matthew’s even jerked himself once.

 

+ + +

 

Leon touches him like no one else ever has. It’s so unlike anything he’s experienced, not just in how unrushed it is, but in how purposeful Leon is. He touches Matthew like every reaction matters, like getting there is just as enjoyable as the orgasm, like there’s time to waste and Matthew’s where he wants to spend it. He touches him like they’re not just two guys chasing an orgasm and Matthew feels crazed with it, desperate and panting by the time Leon closes his mouth around the head of Matthew’s dick.

He feels just as frantic after he comes, tries to chase it away with the weight of Leon against his tongue, and somehow ends up wound tighter and wanting more, more, more, as Leon fucks into his mouth one last time and comes.

Leon lingers after, tucked up against Matthew’s side, tracing nonsensical patterns against Matthew’s sternum, his ribs, his hips. It’s unexpectedly tender and exhilarating in how different it is to what Matthew’s used to.

Leon grazes Matthew’s nipple and he sucks in a sharp breath. His voice sounds fucked when he says, “If you’re not up for another round—you gotta stop touching me like this.”

Leon’s fingers still, a slow smile spreading across his mouth as he meets Matthew’s eyes. “Did you think I was done with you?”

“No?”

Leon laughs, traces his thumb along Matthew’s bottom lip. “Are you up for another round?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” He bends down and kisses Matthew then, tongue swiping hot against the seam of Matthew’s lips until he opens for it. The kiss is sweet and then it’s not, mouth hot and insistent, pressure perfect when he bites into Matthew’s bottom lip and really, Matthew doesn’t mean to laugh, but—

Leon pulls back with an offended huff. “What?”

Leon’s pupils are blown, cheeks rosy with exertion. He's just as hot scowling as he is when he smiles. It’s unbearable and with dawning horror Matthew realizes he wants to keep him.

He pushes the thought away. “I wasn’t laughing at you.”

“You already used that one today.”

Matthew reaches up and taps on Leon’s bottom lip. “Don’t pout. I was thinking about how—” Matthew can barely say it without laughing which only makes Leon frown more. “Stop, it’s stupid and you’re going to laugh when I say it, but it just popped into my head that you’d get the Lady Byng if they gave it out for sex.”

Leon’s mouth twitches. “Oh my god. You’re so—”

“I told you it was bad!”

Leon’s still not laughing, but his eyes are sparkling, mouth tipped up on one side, and it leaves Matthew fizzing with giddy satisfaction.

They’re both still halfway hard from their hips brushing as they made out and Matthew is sure that’s an answer of its own, but he still asks. “Did I ruin the mood? Finally gonna kick me out?”

Leon hums like he’s actually considering it and Matthew swats his hip. “You’re an ass.”

His grin is sharp. “Yeah. Now, tell me what you want.”

“You pick, wow me with your leadership skills.”

“Jesus Christ,” Leon whispers to himself and Matthew feels like he’s won something when he catches him biting down on a smile before he rubs a hand over his mouth. “Leaders have to take everyone’s input into consideration.”

Leon almost manages to say it with a straight face, just the hint of a smile in the very corner of his mouth, and it only makes it funnier.

Matthew’s shoulders shake with laughter and Leon grins, self-satisfied and annoying, before he slots their mouths together and grinds down until Matthew’s gasping into his mouth. He’s never had this much fun during sex and for once, he can’t hear constant timer in the back of his mind telling him to hurry.

He pulls at Leon’s hair, directs his mouth to his neck, and shivers when Leon trails searing hot kisses down the side of his neck, whispering “I’ve got you,” into the juncture of his shoulder before kissing the hollow of his throat and starting up the other side.

He’s squirming again, desperation rearing back up, and Matthew gets his hand in Leon’s hair and pulls.

“How prepared did you come for this weekend?”

Matthew can’t tell if the thoughtful look Leon’s giving him is because he can hear the nerves in his voice, or just because Leon’s been looking at him like he’s been trying to figure him out since the first time they met. Whatever he’s looking for, he finds, mouth curling on one side as he says, “Very.”

“Yeah? Had a contingency plan for if I shot you down again?”

“No, I packed for if you didn’t.”

“Okay.” Matthew has no reason to believe Leon’s telling the truth, but he says it so simply Matthew does anyway. He bites his lip, lets the hunger in Leon’s eyes bolster his resolve, and finally says the one thing he’s never had the time—or nerve—to pursue. “I want you to fuck me, then.”

 

+ + +

 

He thinks back to that morning when he sees the photos.

Leon had ordered room service while Matthew was still asleep. The knock is what woke him, but he doesn’t remember catching who delivered it, let alone the door being opened. What he remembers is the small, quiet smile Leon gave him as he said good morning. The way he’d blown Matthew after breakfast and sucked a mark into the inside of his thigh. The gentle pressure of Leon’s fingers in Matthew’s hair as they showered. He remembers the way Leon had tackled him to the bed and kissed him until his lips were sore when Matthew told him not to be a stranger this time. He remembers the swoop of his stomach and the jump of his pulse when Leon handed Matthew his phone and said, “Give me your number. I’ll text you.”

He remembers how good he felt leaving Florida.

He remembers how good he’d felt about breaking his own rules with Leon.

A week passes before the photos drop and they could be a lot worse, but they’re still enough to make a mess. The first is a shot from the elevator, Leon’s hands on Matthew’s waist, Matthew’s hand on his chest, their faces close. The second is taken from the door of Leon’s hotel room. From the angle, Leon’s barely even in it. He’s been caught smiling mid turn, but Matthew’s in his underwear, one hand rubbing at his eye. There’s a mark on his collarbone, another peeking out above his waistband. Matthew’s not sure which is worse, he just knows together they paint a pretty picture.

When Matthew sees the photos, he laughs about the timing until he cries.

It’s the morning the Oilers are set to play the Blues and he should probably be angry or panicked or appalled that someone would violate their privacy like this. But mostly, Matthew’s just disappointed he couldn’t even be outed with a guy who kept his word.

 

+ ++

 

Leon calls twenty minutes later.

Matthew doesn’t answer.

Two hours later he’s sitting across from Leon in a conference room at Enterprise as the magnitude of the situation crashes over him.

Their teams keep them there for hours discussing what the best course of action is. Matthew's people suggest the storm would be easier to weather if Matthew and Leon were a couple. Leon’s agent and the Oilers’ representative are quick enough to agree that news always lands better when people are in love. Leon doesn’t object, Matthew doesn’t feel like he can, and they’re kept in the same chairs for hours as they discuss everything from when they got together to when the appropriate time to call the charade off will be and Matthew is exhausted by the time the door clicks shut behind Leon’s agent.

Matthew slumps down in his chair, presses the heel of his hands to his eyes and takes three deep breaths. “I hope you’re ready to wine and dine me on Valentine’s day, man.”

“What?”

When Matthew looks up, Leon has one eyebrow raised and a smile in the corner of his mouth, so small Matthew doesn’t even think it’s intentional.

“Oooh, you should send me one of those over-the-top teddy bears too.”

The light in Leon's eyes doesn’t match the hard set to his mouth and Matthew hates how thrilled he is when he recognizes it for what it is—Leon trying not to smile.

He arches an eyebrow. “And why would I do that?”

“Because teddy bears are, like, our fans’ thing for me and you seem like the kind of guy who’d play into it to be an ass.”

“But you’d like it.”

It’s not a question and Matthew hates how good he looks when he smirks. Hates how good it still feels to have it turned on him too.

“A good ol’ momma’s boy like me? Baby, you could get me anything at all and I’d thank you like I meant it.”

Something hot flashes in Leon’s eyes and his smile turns sharp. “Gonna thank me the same way you did for getting you a drink you liked?”

Matthew smiles, heat crackling in his veins. “Might do you one better if you get me the right color bear.”

 

+ + +

 

They film one interview to address the situation, an exclusive for Sportsnet, and then nothing else. It’s supposed to be easy, just a quick relay of the facts they agreed on and a statement about how they wish they could have come out on their own terms, how horrified they are that the choice was taken from them.

Matthew’s hands shake the entire time. Leon laces their fingers together, gives him a sad smile, and does most of the talking.

It’s hard to keep being angry at him for not texting after that.

 

+ + +

 

“You didn’t tell me you had friends in the league.”

Matthew furrows his brow. “I told you I was going to lunch with Mitch today.”

“I didn’t think you meant Marner!”

Matthew grins, delighted by Leon’s petulant tone.

“Oh my god, he said something to you, didn’t he? I didn’t think he actually would. I told him he wasn’t intimidating enough for a center ice shovel talk.”

“He’s not,” Leon grumbles.

Matthew tries not to laugh. But— “Enough to get under your skin, though.”

Leon blows out a loud breath through his nose, crosses his arms. “No. But you know, fucking, Matthews is standing right next to him—aggressively looming the entire time Mitch is saying he’ll fuck me up if I hurt you—” Matthew snorts and Leon glares. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. You and Connor think this is real funny.”

“Ah man, was Connor there when it happened?”

“Stop laughing!”

“You gotta admit,” Matthew says, laying back so he can rest his head on Leon’s lap, a small, contented sigh escaping without his permission when Leon’s hand drops to his hair. “It’s a little funny. Like, what’s Mitch gonna do—spider monkey you?”

There’s that small smile again, tucked in the corner of his mouth like he doesn’t want to give it to Matthew just yet. “Spider monkey me right into Matthews’s trap, maybe.”

“Maybe.”

Leon works his fingers through Matthew’s hair and Matthew’s eyes slip shut. He gets lost in the touch until Leon shifts, tensing a little as he clears his throat. Matthew blinks up at him and Leon looks serious again, grumpy.

“What?”

“Did you—I know it’s not my business, but did you and Mitch ever…?”

He trails off and Matthew blinks in confusion. “What? Like, sleep together?”

Leon frowns. “Sure. Or date, I don’t know.”

“Mitch didn’t even know before this happened.”

Leon looks surprised, but he puts his hand back in Matthew’s hair and relaxes. “He really cares about you.”

“Yeah, would’ve sucked if he didn’t anymore. After—”

“Yeah.”

Silence settles over them, but the mood lingers. It feels too serious, too heavy for what this is, too real. He reaches up, trails his fingers across Leon’s cheek, down and across his jaw. The small, tucked away smile grows.

“When the time comes, I guess we’ll have to tell everyone I broke up with you.”

The smile drops. “Yeah? Why’s that.”

He wants the smile back. He cups Leon’s face, runs his thumb along his bottom lip, watches as something hot flashes across Leon’s face; does it again. “Can’t let anyone fuck up your pretty face, can we?”

Leon laughs, a quiet huff before he purses his lips, but it’s too late. Matthew grins, dizzy with delight. “You try so hard, but you think I’m funny.”

Leon rolls his eyes, but there’s that smile again, less hidden. “I think you’re annoying.”

“Sure,” Matthew says, tapping the corner of Leon’s mouth. “Still think I’m funny, though.”

 

+ + +

 

Leon’s on a road trip on Valentine’s Day, but he sends roses, a bouquet of these beautiful pink chocolates, and a dozen cookies iced to look like candy hearts.

There is no bear.

Matthew isn’t disappointed.

When he gets back, though, Leon brings Matthew the largest teddy bear he’s ever seen. It’s brown with a red heart nose and matching hearts on its feet instead of paw prints. It’s stuffed in an Oilers jersey. When Matthew turns it around, he expects it to be Draisaitl’s, but it’s not. Or it’s his number but the nameplate says Tkachuk and Matthew grins, stomach swooping. “You didn’t actually have to get me a bear.”

“You told me to.”

Matthew shrugs, running a hand over the soft fur of the bear. “50 percent on follow through. Nice”

Leon’s smile slips. “What?”

Matthew rolls his eyes. “We wouldn’t even be talking right now if this didn’t happen.” He rubs a hand over the back of his neck, heat rising in his cheeks. “If someone didn’t make a quick buck off those—if we weren’t outed you would be just another guy I couldn’t have because I’m supposed to be a nice, chaste, boy next door. But we’re here and even though you don’t owe me anything, even though we were never going to see each other again, you’ve, like, spoiled me for Valentine’s Day—” Matthew huffs. “Sorry man, I don’t know. This has been so fucking weird and I know pretending this is real is more for my image than yours and you should probably be resentful, but you’re still being nice, and I appreciate it. This was nice. You definitely earned yourself a better thank you.”

“Were you not serious when you told me to text you?”

“What?”

“Because you keep saying we wouldn’t have seen each other again, but you told me to text you.”

“And you didn’t. So.”

“But I was going to.” He grimaces. “Maybe I should’ve done it sooner, but we were in St. Louis, and I was going to see if you wanted to grab dinner after the game. But you know how that morning went. I never got the chance.”

Matthew’s skepticism must show.

“You don’t believe me.”

“I have no reason to. We got thrown together because of a really shitty situation—we don’t actually know each other.”

“But you can.”

“What?”

“We might’ve been put in this situation by someone else, but I did have a good time with you. And I was going to text you. This doesn’t have to be miserable when we can obviously have fun together. Everything out there sucks, and it’s overwhelming, and I don’t want it to feel the same way in my own house. I don’t want you to hate it here.”

There’d been that moment on the couch before Leon left, where everything felt simple and settled, his stomach fluttering like it had back in Leon’s bed in Florida, and Matthew thought maybe the easy way Leon seemed to read him wasn’t a product of the weekend, maybe he and Leon just clicked, chemistry making it easy to communicate with their bodies even if they didn’t have the foundation for words.

But Leon hadn’t made a move, not even when Matthew kissed him. He let him until his lips were swollen red and tingly from Leon’s beard, but never let it get too heated, pulled Matthew’s hair, and softened the kiss when Matthew got too eager.

“Are you saying you want to keep sleeping with me?”

“Why do you sound so shocked?”

“Because before you left—” Matthew’s flustered, maybe a little embarrassed now that he’s thinking about it. “I was trying to start something with you! And you didn’t want to.”

Leon makes an incredulous sort of sound, a choked off kind of laugh. “Yes, I did! But we hadn’t done anything more than hold hands during an interview with Elliott Friedman since everything happened! I thought it’d be pretty shitty to do anything more when I was about to leave, and we hadn’t established what we’re doing here!”

“What do you mean what we’re doing here? We’re stuck together, Leon.”

A series of emotions flicker across Leon’s face that Matthew has no tools to interpret, and then he’s pursing his lips. “I know! That’s what I’m trying to say. We can be friends, we should be friends.”

“Friends who fuck,” Matthew says. “Because we have no one else.”

Leon rolls his eyes, still frowning. “If you don’t want to—”

“No, we already established I did—I do.”

Leon doesn’t smile, but his face softens. “Okay.”

“So just to be clear,” Matthew starts, heart heavy, stomach twisting. “We’re going to make the most of this situation by fooling around and getting to know each other until Breakup Day.”

Leon’s mouth flattens and something Matthew can’t read, but thinks might be unamusement, flickers across his face. “Are you going to refer to it as that the whole time?”

Matthew shrugs. “Dunno, can’t exactly call it B-Day, can I?”

Leon opens his mouth like he’s going to say something and then sighs, shaking his head a little. “No, I guess not.”

 

+ + +

 

The first time Leon answers one of Matthew’s FaceTimes instead of rejecting it and calling him back a moment later, he scowls and says, “Tyler Seguin wants to fuck you.”

Matthew breathes in funny, choking. “What?”

“Or be fucked by you. He didn’t specify.”

“You’re joking.” A nervous laugh bubbles out of him and Leon glares. “You’re not joking?”

“No, Matthew,” Leon grumbles. “I’m not joking.”

“I don’t—what? He really said that?”

“I summarized.”

“What exactly did he say?”

“Does it matter?” Leon snaps.

Matthew frowns. “Yeah, I think it does. You’re upset about it.”

“You’ve met him.”

“In passing. Baby,” Matthew says without thinking, but Leon’s mouth twitches at the corner and his face softens a little, more pout than glare, so Matthew lets it go. “Are you jealous?”

“No.” Leon looks away. “I’m irritated.”

“And a little jealous,” Matthew says, stunned.

Leon’s eyes snap back to him. “Am I supposed to like hearing Seguin tell me how lucky I was to get you first? That if he’d known it was an option, he would’ve invited you home that night you met backstage?”

“That’s what he said?”

Leon huffs, slumping against the hotel headboard like the words took the last of his energy. “Yes.” He rolls his eyes. “I think he was trying to be supportive.”

Matthew snorts. “Hell of a way to show it.”

“Exactly!” Leon says, smiling a little. “Could’ve just said ‘me too’ or some shit if he was so pressed to tell me I wasn’t the only one in the league.”

“Guess that’s too easy,” Matthew says, chest warm with an emotion he doesn’t want to look too closely at. “But just so you know, I wouldn’t have gone with him. Even if he asked.”

Leon arches a brow. “It’s okay if you would have. We didn’t even—I hadn’t even met you yet.”

“My reputation as a virginal boy next door wouldn’t have gotten this far if I was hooking up with guys the first time I met them without someone vouching for them. Even if I was interested, I would’ve said no.”

Leon blinks in surprise, brow furrowed like he’s confused. “But you almost—after the game—you said you wanted to, but you had an early flight.”

“I lied about the flight,” Matthew says, heart hammering against his ribs. “I was so close to saying yes.” Matthew swallows, looks away. He’s being stupid. Leon already knows Matthew’s easy for him. When he looks back, Leon’s watching him carefully, his neutral expression broken up by his wide eyes. Matthew takes a deep breath, tells the truth, “You’re the only one I’ve ever wanted to break my own rules for.”

“Oh.” A bright smile blooms across Leon’s face before he can stop it, and Matthew expects him to tuck it away so Matthew can’t look at it directly. But this time, Leon lets Matthew see the pleased grin on his face without any attempt to temper the emotions playing across his face.

 

+ + +

 

Leon starts accepting Matthew’s FaceTimes after that, even surprises him by initiating one a couple weeks later when Matthew’s so caught up in his own head, he loses track of time and doesn’t call.

Leon looks irritated when the video first connects, but when Matthew says hi, it drops into something like concern, voice all soft when he asks, “Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, it’s just been a long day.”

“Didn’t you and Brady have that Zoom meeting with your team today? Did it not go well?”

He doesn’t even remember mentioning it. He cycles through so many topics in one conversation when Leon’s on the road, picking up the slack when he goes quiet, and he’s surprised Leon’s been paying attention that closely. It makes his chest ache for no apparent reason. “It went.”

Leon raises his eyebrows, mouth opened to ask something, but Matthew cuts him off. “Can we talk about you first? I’ll tell you about it, but I want—” He can’t explain it, but listening to Leon has quieted the frenzied buzz of his thoughts and he doesn’t want to give it up yet. “Tell me about your game.”

Leon looks like he wants to argue, but he doesn’t. “Did you watch?”

“I always watch.”

Matthew likes the way he’s realized what gets to Leon now, likes the way he knew Leon’s mouth would twitch at the corner, quietly pleased by what Matthew said, but unwilling to let on how much. Matthew can’t help the huff of laughter that escapes him when Leon just keeps looking at him. He thinks it’s cute how unaffected Leon pretends to be.

“You wanna tell me what you did to piss the Flyers off?”

“You, apparently,” he says, grinning at his own joke.

“What’d you really do?”

“I’m being serious. You could’ve warned me your cousin would sic his entire fucking team on me."

Matthew laughs in disbelief. “How do you even know? They make sure to tell you ‘this one’s from Kev’ every time they landed a hit?”

Leon rolls his eyes, but he looks a lot more amused than annoyed. “No, but Hayes and Konecny were waiting for me outside the visitor’s locker room to make sure I knew I had more of that coming if I ever fucked you over.”

Matthew’s mouth drops open. “Konency? I’ve never even met him!”

“Doesn’t matter; he’s apparently Hayes’s attack chihuahua. And a huge fan.”

He’s still grinning, but Matthew’s stomach churns at the memory of Leon’s last encounter with a fan of his. “Oh yeah? What’d he say?”

“You mean after he was done threatening me just because Kevin Hayes told him to?”

“Yes, after that.”

“He wanted to know if I thought you’d be cool with meeting his kid sometime. Apparently one of your songs is their tried-and-true method of getting him to calm down when he’s crying.”

“He told you all that?”

“Yeah, he’s got a real mouth on him,” Leon says.

“Why didn’t he try to set something up through Kev?”

Leon huffs. “Could not tell you. Maybe he just wanted to talk about how great you are.”

“God,” Matthew groans, face heating. “I don’t know if Kev getting his friend to talk me up is better or worse than him giving the Flyers an extra reason to hit you.”

Leon’s face softens a little. “I don’t think he was doing it for Hayes. It was good—how he talked about you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know.” Leon shrugs, mouth twisting like it does when he’s lost for words. “Like you’re a person who matters. Like you’re interesting outside of who you’re sleeping with. Like you’re more than the guy who got outed with the first queer player in the NHL.”

Something about the way Leon’s looking at him sends a rush of emotion through Matthew so quickly, it’s dizzying. His throat is tight and he’s warm all over, the fondness he’s grown to associate with Leon dangerously close to bubbling over and out. He pushes it aside, tries to tease, “Of course I am, who’s making you think I’m not?”

Something flickers across Leon’s face, there and gone before Matthew can decipher it, and he answers, too sincere for what the question was meant to be, “I don’t think that.”

It stuns Matthew, words not coming, and Leon takes advantage of the silence to change the subject. “Tell me about your meeting.”

He’s so off-kilter from Leon’s response, he answers on instinct, brain latching onto what he does know before Matthew can think to brush it off again. “It was a shit show.”

“How so?”

The stress of the day crashes over Matthew and he’s suddenly exhausted, too tired to pretend. “We’re pivoting.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Yeah, I barely do either.” Matthew scrubs a hand over his face. “I guess now that the cat’s outta the bag, we can—we should be more open about my sex life in our music?” Leon’s face twists in horror and it startles a genuine laugh out of Matthew. “Not like, god, they’re not making us sing about all the sex we’re having. But apparently if I’m no longer a virgin we can stop only alluding to—” He grimaces, rolling his eyes. “All the love Brady’s making with Emma and start including my relationships now, too.”

Leon’s mouth twitches again, eyes dancing in the shitty lighting. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

It’s a real half-assed attempt at not laughing and annoyance flares up. “Don’t laugh at me. This is fucking weird, okay? I’m not, like, embarrassed about sex! But this isn’t just about sex, man. It’s about you and me having sex! It’s about putting our relationship on display!”

The smile slips from Leon’s face. “What?”

“Like I said, we’re pivoting!”

“Matthew.” He says it so softly and out of nowhere Matthew is hit with the overwhelming need to be next to Leon, to have Leon's hand in his hair, to lean into him and let him take some of this weight. It only grows as Leon continues, “I’m not trying to be a dick. I don’t understand what you’re saying or what love songs about sex have to do with putting our relationship on display.”

“With allusions to sex,” Matthew grumbles. “We’re still family friendly.”

“Okay, I still don’t understand.”

“This is all just really fucking stupid! It was never supposed to be—it was a joke! For fuck’s sake, no one was supposed to take it seriously when I said I was saving myself for marriage! And I don’t regret it, because it was—we were on tour, still a supporting act, but we were blowing up, and we were doing so many interviews to capitalize on the buzz, and the co-host was asking if we’d had a chance to see any of the major attractions of the cities we’d been to, and when Brady said we’d been too busy, the fucking host rolls with it, makes some comment about how that probably means we haven’t had time to enjoy the company of any of the girls who’ve been throwing themselves at us, and how hard that must be when we’re young and can do whatever we want.”

His chest is a little tight and he has to breathe in deep, let it out, and push through. “Brady was still eighteen at that point, and he’d just started talking to Emma but they weren’t—they obviously weren’t at the point of going official on the fucking radio—and he was uncomfortable, I mean who fucking—whatever—so I crack a joke about Catholic school preparing us for avoiding temptation, and how we wouldn’t want to let Sister Maryanne down by breaking the purity pledges we had to take —and they both laugh, right, and the co-host, she makes a joke, too. Says we’re doing better than her because she let her nun down before she even graduated, and the conversation keeps moving. They didn’t make it anything more than it was. But that clip got picked up a couple months later by some Christian blog talking about how refreshing it was to see two young men saving themselves for marriage and it just got out of control. The next thing we know, someone’s found and posted a copy of the actual fucking purity pledges they had us sign in school and it didn’t go away.”

Matthew loses his momentum, but Leon doesn't fill the silence—he waits Matthew out. He doesn’t look expectant, just thoughtful, patient.

Matthew swallows around the emotions welling up hot in his throat, runs a hand through his hair, starts back up, “We’re on our parents’ record label—”

Leon makes a surprised noise and Matthew stops short. “Did you not know that?”

“Why would I know that?”

Matthew smiles, a wave of fondness rolling over him. “I forget, sometimes, that you truly don’t give a shit about country music.”

“Hey,” Leon whines. “I give a shit about your country music.”

“But not enough to know my mom and dad are, like, one of country music’s It couples with their own label.”

“I knew they sang!”

“Yeah, I’ll give you that.” Matthew grins. “Anyway, it’s always been a family affair. We’re on our parents’ label, my mom’s cousin is our manager, our publicist’s from the same firm that’s been working with them their whole careers. Like, everyone knew I was gay. So, this has never been—no one’s ever told me to stay in the closet. It’s always been up to me. But I didn’t want to come out, hadn’t even considered it at that point, so when the purity pledge thing really started getting teeth my parents sat us down and asked me what I wanted to do. Brady’s properly dating Emma by then, so any time it comes up, he gets to play polite and well mannered, charmingly bashful as he says the relationship is new and she knows about the pledge, of course, and that right now they’re just getting to know each other, but out of respect for Emma’s privacy he won’t be answering any questions about their relationship. And it’s as easy as that for him, people assume what they want about them, but it wasn’t the same for me. I wasn’t in a relationship and my dad—he said we could play it one of two ways. I could just keep skirting the issue, play it coy, keep deflecting with some version of ‘oh, wouldn’t you like to know—’”

Leon snorts and Matthew laughs again, feeling lighter. “Yeah, where do you think I get it from? Or I could make a statement about how I’ve changed since high school and don’t know what the future holds or how my relationships will play out. And, at first, those sound like the same fucking thing to me, y'know? Like neither option was denying being a virgin, right? But then my mom explains how the second option would give more room for people wanting to know who’d be the one to get me to break it, which girl was worth breaking it for. Like, every relationship would be under even more of a microscope than normal.”

“So, you chose the former?”

“Yeah, which was fine in theory. But, uh, I mean, I obviously never had a girlfriend, and I was never really linked to anyone in the industry, either, and there weren’t any girls going around spreading details about our hookups so even when— Like, people stopped asking about it eventually, but it never really went away because there was no one around to assume I had sex with. So even though interviewers aren’t asking about it or anything, not directly like they first did, but y'know, if I’m always saying I’m single and there’s no rumors of me fucking around, it just never goes away. People assume what they want. I'm either too awkward, don't have any game, can’t get a girl, or I’m this nice young man waiting for the right person, but whatever it is—it’s all the same. And now, Nat says it’ll look bad if we keep singing the same straight love songs. Like, now that I’m out and in a public relationship, if we only sing songs about women, it’ll look like I’m ashamed of who I am, or worse, like we’re trying to keep the fans who have a problem with it by not addressing it.”

Leon frowns. “I still don’t understand. Do you not want to sing songs about men?”

“It’s not about the fucking songs, Leon!”

Leon’s nostrils flare, he purses his lips, doesn’t rise to the bait, calm and steady as he says, “Then what is it about? You’ve only talked about the songs.”

“Ugh,” Matthew groans. Why can't Leon just pick a fight like Matthew wants? This is too much. He flops over in the bed; buries his face in the pillow and screams.

When he brings the phone back, Leon’s smiling, a small, private little thing. “Do you feel better now?”

“A bit,” Matthew says, quiet for another moment, irritated and thankful all at once that Leon is still waiting him out. “It’s maybe a little about the songs. We’d usually have more time after the tour before we started writing again, but with everything, everyone thinks it’ll be best to get people talking about the music again, and not—” He swallows, eyes stinging, sudden and intense. “The photos. Which means we have to—we’re supposed to be performing at the Billboard Music Awards this summer, and it’ll be a tight squeeze probably, but Nat and Joe think it’ll be good to get a new single out before then, preferably one about you, so that can be our first public performance of it. Y'know, really make a splash or whatever.”

“They want you to write a song about me?”

Leon’s voice sounds a little wonky and Matthew’s stomach churns at his obvious discomfort. “I mean, I don’t have to, but, uh, you’re the realest boyfriend I’ve ever had so, people would assume.”

“Okay. Are you—do you want my permission or something?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. The song’s not the problem! Writing a song on a deadline is annoying but I can do it. And if you’re not going to get squirmy about it, then I—yeah. The song’s not the problem. The problem is you’d have to come with me. Walk the red carpet with me.”

“Okay.”

Matthew hadn’t been looking, too afraid to see Leon’s reaction, and his head spins a little with how fast his attention snaps back. “What? You’d be fine with that?”

“Yes?”

“I thought you didn’t want to be photographed with me.”

Wild disbelief plays across Leon’s face. “What?”

“Don’t ‘what’ me! Why is that—why is it shocking for you that I think that?”

“Because I’ve never said anything to suggest that.”

“You don’t have to say anything when the only photos of us together are the ones that outed us and the ones we did for your team’s pride night.”

Leon looks annoyed now. “Are you mad because you’re not all over my Instagram?”

“No, that'd be ridiculous.”

“Yeah, it would be,” Leon says, annoyance quickly approaching anger, eyes blazing, voice rising, “Especially since that’s what you wanted.”

“I what?”

“Don’t play dumb, Matthew!”

“I’m not,” Matthew snaps. “What the hell are you talking about? I never said anything about Instagram!”

“At Connor’s team thing. Lenny had his head in your lap and when you saw me take a photo you said, ‘Be careful what you post on socials—it’s gonna be hell when we have to scrub the evidence of all this from our lives.”

It knocks the wind right out of his sails, and he slumps down. “I don’t remember that.”

It sounds just like him, though. He sucks in a ragged breath; the exhale comes out as a bitter laugh. “Here I am thinking, maybe we wouldn’t even have to walk the red carpet if we’d just take a fucking photo together every once in a while. No one can claim we’re not singing songs about dudes because I’m ashamed of who I am if people actually see us together! And the whole time—god, I’m the reason it even looks like I might be up here hiding because I can’t handle people knowing I’m actively gay!”

Leon’s face is doing something complicated, and Matthew might laugh at how it looks a bit like he’s short circuiting if there weren’t tears burning at the back of his eyes and his throat didn’t feel so thick. “I’m sorry. Fuck, you were just trying to be accommodating and it’s not your fault fans aren’t stopping us for photos at the grocery store. It’s not your fault paparazzi aren’t waiting around Rogers to get a photo of us in the car. None of this is your fault.”

“Are you crying?” Leon looks truly horrified now.

“No, shut up.” He rubs at his eyes, palm coming away wet, cheeks burning. “It’s just been a long day. I just need to sleep. Besides, you’re up way past your bedtime. I’ll let you go.”

“No, it’s fine,” Leon says, looking far too concerned—Matthew’s not even crying, there’s maybe four tears in all. He’s fine.

“No, you’re not. You’re upset. I don’t need to hang up. Tomorrow’s a travel day and I can sleep on the plane. I have time.”

“I’m all talked out, Leon. I don’t have anything else to say.”

“I’ll talk.”

“Yeah, alright,” Matthew scoffs. “You’re not exactly the talker here—that’s my job.”

Leon rolls his eyes; he still looks worried. “I’ll talk.”

Matthew’s too tired to argue. He rolls to his side, props his phone up with Leon’s pillow and pulls the comforter up to his chin, eyes drooping as he gets comfortable.

“Fine, tell me about the rookies. They set off any more fire alarms lately?”

 

+ + +

 

Matthew is over it by the time Leon gets home and he goes hot with embarrassment when he gets the notification saying he’s been tagged in one of Leon’s Instagram posts.

“You didn’t have to do this.”

Leon looks up from his phone frowning. “It’s cute.”

It’s a photo with Lenny from earlier in the day. Lauren had been in the middle of showing Matthew a photo of the playoff jacket design she and the other WAGs had decided on when Lenny wriggled his way between the two of them. Leon captured the moment right as Lenny got settled across both their laps, they’re both still laughing.

The photo is cute.

“You still didn’t need to post it,” Matthew grumbles. “I told you to forget about that. I was in a shitty mood, and it wasn’t fair.”

“Do you want me to take it down?”

“That’s not the point,” Matthew snaps, shoulders slumping immediately. “Sorry, that’s not fair either. I just don’t want you to feel obli—”

“I don’t,” Leon cuts him off. Matthew makes a frustrated noise in his throat and Leon’s eyes flash in annoyance, and he repeats himself more firmly. “I don’t.”

“Okay.”

Leon raises an eyebrow and frowns. “Do you actually believe me?”

Matthew doesn’t even have to think about it now that the embarrassment has passed. Matthew’s seen Leon beg off enough stuff to know he doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to.

“Yes. I believe you.”

Leon’s responding smile is so unbearable Matthew has to kiss it away so he can ignore how much it makes him want to keep this—to keep Leon.

 

+ + +

 

Leon comes home with a split lip.

“Saw your fight.”

Leon grunts.

“You did pretty well. Sucks he got your pretty face, but I guess that’s what happens when you pick a fight.”

I didn’t pick a fight.”

“Uh, yeah you did. You dropped the gloves. Right after the faceoff and everything.”

“Should’ve kept his fucking mouth shut then.”

“Oh. Uh. What’d he say?”

“Nothing you need to hear.”

Matthew blinks, surprised until he remembers their conversation after his run in with Kevin. “It was about me?”

Leon looks at him for a long time. “It’s always about you.”

“What do you mean?”

Leon laughs, it’s a mean, hollow sound. “I guess I should be happy, right? Because it’s not even—most of it’s not even about liking dick. Everyone’s just obsessed with your fucking virginity!”

“What?” Matthew squawks.

“You know what that guy said to me? Fucking asked me what it felt like to deflower America’s most famous virgin. Wanted to know if having a clean slate is worth the trouble.”

“Well, is it?”

“That’s your image. That’s not you. I wasn’t—you’re not a clean slate for me to, like, mold into what I want or whatever he was trying to imply. And even if I was your first—you shouldn’t be talked about like that.”

“You were my first, though.”

“What?” Leon looks shocked, his anger momentarily replaced by amused disbelief. “There’s no fucking way you’d never had a dick in your mouth before Florida.”

“No, but I had never hooked up in a bed before.”

Leon’s eyes go wide

“Definitely never been fucked.”

Leon swallows, jaw working. His voice is rough, kind of strangled when he says, “But you made it seem—”

“I know what I made it seem. I didn’t want it to be weird.”

“It wouldn’t have been—”

Matthew cuts him off with a raised eyebrow. “I didn’t want to do the whole ‘are you sure’ song and dance, man. I’ve never—” Heat’s creeping across his cheeks, down his throat; he refuses to be embarrassed. “There’s never been time for—I’ve never been with anyone who’s taken their time. It’s always been with guys Lisa knows who are willing to sign an NDA for something quick and impersonal in the back of a tour bus to minimize the risk of getting seen together. And I told you! I said you’re the first guy I’ve ever wanted to break my rules for. I told you that.”

“But that was about—” Leon runs his hand over his mouth, palms along the underside of his jaw. “Are you saying you had a no fucking rule, too?”

“God, no, nothing so drastic. But guys don’t really like to linger in a tour bus so the ‘don’t get photographed with a hookup’ rule quickly turned into one anyway. But we were staying in the same hotel, and it wouldn’t have been weird to get photographed together by a fan and we had the time. You took your time! I wanted to take the time with you. Why is that a problem?”

“It’s not.”

“If it’s not, then why are we even talking about it? Please, don’t make this something it’s not.”

Leon’s quiet for so long it makes him nervous, stomach twisting until Leon says, “Okay. I won’t.” Then he huffs and gives Matthew a wry smile. “Sorry your first time got you outed.”

The laugh bursts through Matthew, loosening the knots in his stomach. “We really outdid ourselves in making it something to remember, didn’t we?”

Leon grins reluctantly but his shoulders are loose as he steps into Matthew’s space. He pulls Matthew in for a hug, presses a kiss to Matthew’s cheek, breath warm against his skin as he mumbles, “Go big or go home, I guess.”

 

+ + +

 

“Is there something you want to try—” Matthew can feel Leon swallow from where he has his face tucked against Matthew’s neck. “That you—that we haven’t done before?”

Annoyance flares through Matthew. He pushes at Leon until he can look at his face. “I told you not to make this into something it’s not.”

Leon looks away. “I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. Does it look like I’m bored?”

“No.”

“Do I look like I’m the type of person who doesn’t ask for what he wants?”

“No, but—”

“Leon, look at me,” Matthew says. He’s slow to meet Matthew’s eyes, and when he does there’s a stubborn set to his jaw and a pink flush high on his cheeks. “I asked you to slap me, like, three weeks ago—what do you think I want that I haven’t gotten?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is there something you want to try? Are you angling for something here?”

“No, I’m trying to make sure you’re not limited by my preferences. I’m trying to give you what you want. Whatever it might be.”

“Whatever you wanna give me. That’s what I want.”

Leon drops his weight, pinning Matthew down with his body, eyes hot as he watches Matthew’s face. “Whatever I want?”

Leon ghosts his fingers up and down Matthew’s side and heat prickles beneath his skin. Matthew’s breath catches, words coming out more sincere than he intends, “Anything you want, baby. I’m yours.”

“I want to take my time with you. I want to linger.”

Matthew swallows, throat gone all weird. “That’s not exactly new.”

“This will be different.”

“How so?”

“I want to see how long I can draw this out before you start to beg. Is that something you’d like?”

Matthew goes hot all over, desire burning through him, voice cracking as he says, “Only one way to find out.”

A pleased smile spreads across Leon’s face. “How long do you think you’ll last?”

“I think I’ll surprise you.”

“You always surprise me.”

And before Matthew can respond, Leon’s moving in for a kiss, and words leave him completely.

 

+ + +

 

After, when his breath has evened out and he’s started to come back down from his post-orgasm haze, he says into the quiet room, “Don’t take penalties for me.”

Matthew gives him a moment, but Leon doesn’t respond. He rolls over, fits his body to Leon’s and presses his palm flat against Leon’s stomach. Leon’s breathing goes deliberately slow, and Matthew buries his laugh into Leon’s neck. “I know you’re not asleep yet.”

Leon grumbles, “I could’ve been.”

“Not before you’ve manhandled me into a shower.”

Leon sighs. “Matthew they can’t—”

Matthew nips at his shoulder. “Stop. Just listen to me for a minute. This is the playoffs. If they scored on that power play the game could’ve gone a completely different way.” He drops a kiss to the same spot, noses against his neck, presses a kiss to the soft skin behind Leon's ear. “Don’t put your team at a disadvantage because some guy knows how to get under your skin. If you want to do something for me—win.”

 

+ + +

 

Leon doesn’t stay out of the box. He doesn’t get into another fight, though, and given the stormy expression he wears after every game—even the wins—Matthew knows it hasn’t been easy. Leon won’t tell Matthew anything else that gets said, doesn’t want to talk about the games at all. When they’re in Edmonton, Leon takes Matthew home and takes him apart with how focused and methodical he is about pleasing him.

When he’s away, he FaceTimes Matthew until the murderous look in his eyes has subsided and his blinks start to slow, pouting when Matthew teases him for being a sap who wants to fall asleep to Matthew’s voice but never denying it.

They win the series in seven and when Matthew picks him up from the airport, Leon looks hungover but happy. He leans over the center console, kissing Matthew slow and sweet.

He pulls back with a soft pleased little grin and asks, “Did you see me win it for you?”

He asks it like they didn’t talk last night, like he doesn’t know the answer, like hockey isn’t a team sport and he’s playing just for Matthew.

His fondness for Leon isn’t new, but it hits him so hard his stomach bottoms out, heart bursting with affection he doesn’t know where to put.

“Yeah, Leon. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” he says, and if his voice sounds weird, Leon doesn’t say anything. He just keeps looking at Matthew, smile growing like Matthew gave him exactly what he wanted.

Maybe he did.

 

+ + +

 

The Oilers get swept in the second round and when Matthew asks if Leon wants him to clear out for a little bit, hurt flashes across his face before his mouth twists in a sneer. “Sorry, I’m not good enough company for you right now.”

Matthew bristles, the urge to fight rearing up hot and fast. He takes a breath, counts to five, blows it out. “That’s not what I said.”

“If you don’t want to be here, you can leave. I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do. I’ll stay.”

It’s like Leon relaxes on instinct. One moment the tension is bleeding out of his shoulders, the next he’s straightening to his full height, spine ramrod straight as he glares at Matthew.

“Will you stop? Jesus, Leon, I don’t want to upset you. I was just trying to see if it’d be—I don’t know—better for you to mope alone! I didn’t want you to have to ask for the space you might need.”

His face softens, but he’s still not happy. “I don’t need space.”

“Come here.” Leon crosses his arms, pouting, and Matthew rolls his eyes. “God, look at you. I was trying to be proactive! I’ll make sure to never do that again.”

Leon’s mouth twitches at the corner and Matthew climbs into his lap, cradles his face, presses a kiss to each cheek, his forehead, his nose, to the corner of his mouth. He pulls back when Leon tries to capture his mouth in an actual kiss.

Leon lets out a quiet whine, dropping his hands to Matthew’s waist, grip tight like he thinks Matthew might leave. He kisses Leon then, a slow hot drag of their mouths until Leon relaxes underneath him and his hands go slack.

“I’ll give you whatever you want, okay? You want me here—I’m here. You don’t—I’m gone.”

Leon’s hands flex, thumbs pressing in hard. “No. Don’t go. I want you here.”

 

+ + +

 

Leon wins the Masterton and doesn’t smile until the end of his speech when he says, “Matthew makes it easy to persevere and without him, I’m sure I would’ve broken too many noses during the first round for anyone to associate sportsmanship with me for a long time.”

So many emotions run through Matthew at once and he doesn’t know how to articulate a single one of them. Leon takes his hand when he gets back to his seat and Matthew whispers, “I’m glad we had each other for this.”

If Leon notices how choked up Matthew sounds, Matthew hopes he attributes it to the way he let Leon fuck his face in the bathroom before they took their seats.

 

+ + +

 

They go to the Bahamas with Connor and Lauren after the NHL Awards—a week of quiet reprieve where time seems to stretch and slow while they recharge in the summer sun.

On the last night, Lauren insists on a group photo and when she settles in Connor’s lap after setting the camera up, Leon wraps his arms around Matthew’s waist and yanks him down—Matthew’s wide-eyed and laughing when the camera goes off. They take a few more but Leon asks Lauren to send him the first one and Matthew feels funny when he sees the way Leon’s looking at him like Matthew’s surprised laugh is the best thing he’s ever seen.

They’re sun drunk and tipsy as they sit around the firepit for one last sunset. Lauren’s half in Matthew’s lap, giggling as she shows him the most recent photos the dog sitter has sent of Lenny, when Leon comes up behind them. He hooks his chin over Matthew’s shoulder to get a good look at the phone, their faces pressed so close Matthew can feel when Leon smiles.

Matthew’s heart lurches when Leon kisses his cheek and says, “We should get a dog next season.”

“Oh, yes!” Lauren says. “Lenny will have a friend when we do wine nights now.”

Ever since Leon asked Matthew to stay after the sweep, Lauren’s been convinced Leon’s going to ask Matthew to move in for real once this is all over. When he told Leon about it, he didn’t laugh like Matthew meant for him to, he’d just said, “She’s right about one thing—I don’t like to be around anyone right after the season’s done.” A nervous giggle escaped Matthew as his stomach flipped, and said, “Good thing I’m not just anyone.” Leon had grinned and the moment had passed as easy as it came.

Annoyance cuts through Matthew’s buzz and he turns to glare at Leon for encouraging her, but the irritation dies, breath catching when he sees that soft, sweet smile on Leon’s lips. He clears his throat, “You want to get a dog?”

Leon’s smile grows. “Been thinking we should. Yeah.”

There are alarm bells going off in the back of Matthew’s mind. Things have felt different for a long time, but this is veering too far off track—this is not something they should be talking about buzzed. “And what if I want a purse dog?”

Leon rolls his eyes, but he still looks so fond. “Whatever you want. It’s yours.”

Leon kisses his cheek and goes to join Connor before Matthew finds his voice.

“Told you,” Lauren whispers conspiratorially and there’s a warm hope blooming through him that makes it difficult for Matthew to disagree.

Connor gives Matthew a look he can’t parse after that, but Matthew doesn’t find out what it means until Connor offers to come with him on Matthew’s coffee run at the airport and tells him with unnerving gravity, “Leon will let you walk right out of his life if that’s what he thinks you want.”

 

+ + +

 

Matthew is sprawled out on the couch, scrolling through Instagram with his legs thrown across Leon’s lap when his phone starts chiming—the long-forgotten reminder removing the possibility of perfection. He’s run out of time to figure out what to say.

“If that’s another dinner plan you forgot to tell me about, I’m not going.”

Matthew digs his heel into Leon’s thigh. “That happened one time.”

“One too many.”

Leon still hasn’t looked up from his phone and for a fleeting second Matthew considers not mentioning it, wondering how long Leon will let this go if Matthew never acknowledges the time their teams set has come to an end.

It hits him so suddenly, then, that Connor was right. Leon’s been giving Matthew anything he wants since the very beginning. This has been real the entire time and if he wants to keep it, all he has to do is tell Leon. He has to use his words, because Leon won’t ask for anything Matthew is unwilling to give.

Matthew pushes himself up and removes himself from Leon’s space. It makes him frown. He sets his phone aside, hand dropping to where Matthew still has his legs stretched out, fingers curling loosely around his ankle. “Cancel the dinner plans. I’m comfortable, you’re comfortable. Let’s just stay in.”

He’s practically pouting, and Matthew is overcome with emotion, fondness and affection buzzing through him until he can’t help but grin, words spilling out without thought, “You’re not going to break up with me.”

Leon furrows his brow. “No?”

He’s so adorably confused; Matthew feels like he’s bursting. “You like me.”

“What? Of course I—”

“Our time’s up. It’s Breakup Day. That’s what the alarm was for.”

Leon’s face goes carefully blank. He doesn’t move his hand. “Is this how you’re breaking up with me then?”

“No. I don’t want to break up with you at all. Is that going to be a problem with you?”

Leon’s eyes light up, smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. “‘Is that going to be—’ god, you’re so fucking annoying.”

“But you’re still dating me. For real now.”

Leon swipes his thumb across the knob of Matthew’s ankle, eyes wide and innocent as he asks, “Don’t you think it’s been 'for real' since you made Brady sing a song about how good I am at fucking you on national television?”

“That is not—”

Leon cuts him off with an arched brow and Matthew would kiss the smug grin right off his mouth if it weren't exactly what he wanted.

“That’s not what Brady thinks it’s about.”

“Brady’s a moron.”

Matthew snorts, the moment stretching on silently. He’s just started scrolling through Instagram again when Leon takes his phone from his hands and settles atop Matthew’s thighs. He curls his hand around Matthew’s neck, thumb stroking across his jaw.

He doesn’t say anything until Matthew raises an eyebrow. “Just so we’re clear—” He bites his lip, but he doesn’t look away, doesn’t stop stroking Matthew’s jaw. “None of this has been fake. I’ve been into you this whole time.”

“I know.” Matthew grins, happiness fizzing through him. “And really, how could you not be? I’m a pretty lovable guy.”

Leon doesn’t roll his eyes like Matthew expects. “You are. And I do. Is that going to be a problem for you?”

Matthew blinks in surprise. His throat feels tight, heart hammering as he searches for the joke in Leon’s expression. But his smile is soft and quiet, eyes full of the fondness Matthew has seen him try to hide so many times before.

“No,” he croaks, flushing as his voice betrays the depths of his feelings. He pushes aside the worry and lets the giddiness consume him. He doesn’t have to measure his feelings anymore, he can give them to Leon fully, without reservation, because this is real. This was always real. He clears his throat, starts again, steady and sincere, “No, that won’t be a problem for me at all.”

“Good,” Leon says, surging forward with a pleased grin, mouth hot and insistent as he kisses the ‘I love you, too’ right off of Matthew’s tongue.