The first time Tom thinks something’s up is when he takes out the trash one morning in March. They’d just been beaten at home by the Stars the night before, and Latts and Burky are still sleeping. Tom’s decided to get up early to go food shopping because there’s only so many breakfasts of cold hot dogs he can take before he needs to buy some orange juice. But the moment he left his bedroom, he was overwhelmed by a stench coming from the apartment, and he couldn’t leave without taking care of that.
Which is why he’s cleaning up the kitchen and living room and grumbling to himself at 7am on a Saturday. Mostly it’s just harmless trash, but he’s too pissed and grossed out to even consider sorting things out for recycling, so everything is going in one giant black bag to be rehomed to the dumpster outside. He’s shoving used napkins and empty water bottles alike into the bag, and he knows logically that a third of this is his mess, so he’s not too mad at the other guys. Until he reaches under the couch and feels something wet, and that is it.
“Guys,” he yells out to his probably still-sleeping roommates. “There is a—” He pulls out the offending object from under the couch. “A fucking hamburger under the couch. Clean up after yourselves.”
He puts the burger in the bag, careful not to inspect it for mold in case he sees any and gags, and drops the trash bag to wash his hands in the kitchen sink.
Latts comes out of his room, rubbing at his eyes. “Grumpy!” he says, using the nickname Tom hates. “Chill, it’s too early to be yelling.”
“Well, who the hell leaves a half-eaten burger under the couch?”
“Oh,” Mike says, looking guilty.
“It was you?”
“Yeah, sorry. Kinda forgot about that. Here, lemme get it,” Mike says, but Tom stops him.
“I already got it,” he says, drying his hands on a dishrag on the kitchen table. Mike is getting himself a glass of chocolate milk behind him. “Maybe you and Burky can just like swiffer the floor or something later, yeah?” Tom suggests.
“Sure thing,” Mike says, and sits down at the breakfast bar.
Tom does his usual pocket pats, checking for his keys, wallet, and phone, and after finding them all in place looks around for his jacket. It’s nowhere near, but Latts’s is thrown on the ping pong table. “Dude can I borrow your coat? I dunno where mine is.”
Mike is sipping at his milk, eyes closed, and grunts his acceptance.
“Thanks,” Tom says, and puts the coat on. He shoves his hands in the pockets, but stops when he feels some paper in there. “Huh?” he says, and pulls it out. He snorts. “Mike, why do you have a receipt from a Michael’s in your coat?”
Mike jumps out of the chair and walks the few steps over to Tom, plucking the receipt out of his hand. “No reason.”
“God, you’re so weird,” Tom says, and heads for the door. “Text me if you want something from Whole Foods.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Mike grumbles, but he’s too busy smoothing out the receipt on the counter.
Tom shakes his head and leaves.
Tom finds three more Michael’s receipts before the offseason, one of which has “Dye lot 4186C” scrawled on the back, which, when he googles it, produces a result for a hair salon in Vancouver. Tom thinks it might be a thing, but it seems unlikely, as Mike’s morning routine consists of wiping the drool off his face and downing a protein shake.
Tom even visits a Michael’s once, but got distracted in the cake decorating aisle and then recognized by a fan, so he decides not to go back. He eventually gives up on it, figuring that it’s probably nothing, and decides to not think about it again.
So when Tom shows up at Mike’s Toronto apartment over the summer he is completely blindsided by Mike sprawled on his couch, in nothing but his underwear, surrounded by yarn.
Tom stops dead in the doorway. “Uh…” he says, staring at Mike, who looks up, startled. “Do you want me to come back?”
Mike stares at him, mouth contorted in an uncomfortable grimace. He starts to say a word, but lets it trail off in an unintelligible noise. He nods his head, deciding on what to say, then clearly settles on, “So this is weird.”
“Yeah,” Tom says, pulling the door shut behind him and walking over to the couch. He pushes some of the yarn aside and plops down next to Mike. “So are you like, knitting or something?”
“Nah,” Mike says. His shoulders are tense like he’s waiting for the punchline. “It’s crochet. See the hook, that’s how you know. Knitting has two needles.”
“Oh,” Tom says, the pauses. “Cool, I guess. Is it hard?”
Mike visibly relaxes. “No, I taught myself on Youtube videos. I couldn’t sleep one night, and I read it was good for stress and stuff, so I thought, why not?”
“So why are you completely surrounded by yarn right now?” To prove his point, Tom reaches under his ass and pulls a skein out from where he’d been sitting on it.
“Well I was gonna make everyone a hat or something for Christmas, and we won’t have time during the season, so…”
Tom sighs, fond. “Well it’ll go faster if I help. Here, teach me,” he says, and grabs some soft-looking grey yarn.
“Really?” Mike asks, his face lighting up.
Mike jumps off the couch and yarn flies all over the living room. “Ah, shit. Gimme a minute; I’ll go get you a hook.”
Tom watches him go, and thinks, It’s a good thing he can play hockey.
It’s not a normal off day unless Tom grabs his laptop and heads off into his bedroom when he thinks Mike isn’t paying attention, only to disappear for an hour and a half. When Mike asked him what he was doing the first few times, Tom had blushed and refused to talk about it. So, for the first few months they lived together, Mike was absolutely sure that Tom was in there jerking off, until Mike learned that Tom prefers to masturbate loudly in the shower with the door unlocked.
Shortly after that discovery, Mike decides he’ll just casually walk into Tom’s room with some snacks to “hang out,” but when Mike tries to open the door, balancing a huge plate of nachos in his other hand, he discovers the door is locked. He knocks a few times, but Tom doesn’t respond, and, when Mike presses his ear to the door, the room is completely silent. Which rules out video games and Skyping his family because Tom is exceptionally loud when it comes to both of those things. It also means that Tom is probably wearing headphones in there for some reason.
Mike plops down outside of Tom’s door to do some snooping. He puts the nachos off to the side, and lays flat on his stomach, peeking under Tom’s door. Mike sees nothing but the carpet. Scowling, he sits back up, his back against the door frame and shoves a handful of nachos in his mouth.
He sits outside of Tom’s room for a half an hour, just listening. He doesn’t hear anything overly suspicious, just a few giggles and, once, a muffled gasp. When the nachos are finished, Mike grabs the plate and goes in the kitchen to rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. He sits at the breakfast bar, messing around on his phone until Tom finally comes out.
When Mike looks at him, Tom’s eyes and nose are red, like he’s been crying. And it seems like Tom doesn’t want to acknowledge it because after spotting the fixings for nachos left on the counter, he just says, “Dude you made nachos and didn’t save me any?”
Mike’s voice is abnormally high when he splutters out, “I brough—You were—I canno—You know what?” Then he stands up and goes to his own room, but not before shaking his pointer finger in Tom’s face.
By the time André moves in with them, Mike has forgotten that this behavior is not exactly normal, so when Burky asks him about it the first time it happens, he just shrugs. “Tom’s kinda weird.”
“Well, do you know what he’s doing in there? Is he, you know…?” he makes a gesture with his hand.
“What, jerking off? No he does that in the bathroom. Don’t worry, you walk in on it soon enough.” André blanches, then shakes his head. “So he just goes in his room for an hour and won’t tell you what he’s doing?”
“I mean I know what he’s doing; I checked his browser history a while back. He’s watching rom coms.”
André gives him a look.
Mike says, “We watch the Bachelor together every week, of course he watches rom coms. I watch rom coms.”
André gives him another look.
“I don’t know what that face means.”
“It means why does he not invite you watch with him?
“I don’t know. Maybe he thinks I’d make fun of him.”
“Of course not.”
André sighs. “Then tell him. Why you two hide things from each other is beyond me.”
“Fine, I will tell him. And dude, I don’t know why he thought he could hide it from me. I’m so far up his ass I can read his mind,” Mike says to Burky.
Burky puts his hand on his forehead and groans.
“Jesus, that’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“If that’s not what you meant, then what were those noises I was hearing last week?” Burky says, head still in his hand.
“Oh, shit. Sorry, dude. Point taken.”
“Mike put the laptop down; the movie’s starting,” Tom says, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the communal bowl and reaching over to dip it in the ketchup-based sauce Burky whipped up. “That’s really not that bad,” he says to Burky through a mouthful of food.
“Thanks,” André says. “Can we start the movie, then?”
“Not ‘til Mike shuts his computer off.”
“Oh my god,” Mike says, rolling his eyes.
“Gimme a minute, I’m trying to find out which Hogwarts house Buzzfeed’s gonna put me in.” Mike pauses, then asks, “Where would you find me on a Saturday night?”
“At the rink?” André says, grabbing some popcorn for himself.
“The options are at the movies or a concert, staying in with friends, bar hopping, or sleeping.”
“Sleeping, definitely,” Tom says. “You can fall asleep faster than anyone I’ve ever met.
"‘Kay.” Mike clicks a few more times, then says, “I’m a Hufflepuff.”
“Lame,” Tom and Burky say at the same time.
“One,” Mike says, “That harmonizing was incredible. Two, fuck off, Hufflepuffs are the best.”
“What do they even do?” Tom says, grabbing for Mike’s laptop to shut if off.
“They’re loyal! Which is why I stick with your dumb ass even though you insult my people. Plus we’re great friends.”
“No, you aren’t,” Tom says. Burky shakes his head and shoves more popcorn in his mouth, clearly not wanting to get involved.
“It says people flock to me ‘cause I’m a great friend. See? The computer says I’m a great friend,” Mike says.
Tom leans over to look, then says, “If I say you’re a great friend, can we watch the damn movie?”
“You’re a great friend."
“I know.” Mike shuts his laptop and puts it on the floor. “Alright, let’s do this. I wanna see Sandra Bullock win the beauty pageant.”
When Tom finds the antique teacup collection, he doesn’t even bat an eyelid. His favorite is the one with the rabbits.
Mike is on the couch playing NHL 15 when Tom barges in, hands filled with plastic “Thank You!!!” bags.
“What are you doing here?” Tom asks immediately, trying and failing to shove the bags behind his legs and out of sight.
Mike blinks. “I live here.”
“Yeah, but you were supposed to be out with your brother tonight.”
“He cancelled. What are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
"Good to know.” Mike goes back to his game.
Tom lingers in the entryway. “You’re not going to ask what I’m doing?”
“I’ll find out soon enough,” Mike says, then scores a goal from a slapshot at the point. “Hell fucking yes!”
“I’m just gonna go then,” Tom says, and shuffles off to his room, eyeing Mike the whole way.
“‘Kay.” Mike looks over at him. “You dropped… The Hockey Sweater?” Mike says, reaching over the edge of the couch to pick the children’s book off the floor. “Why do you have The—”
Tom comes back out of his room, hands free of the bags, and snatches the book from Mike. “Give me that,” he says, and goes back to his room, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Mike shakes his head and goes back to his game.
Mike finds out that Braden Holtby is involved before a game in Ottawa. Mike is sitting in his stall pulling on his garter when Braden sidles up to him, already fully dressed in his gear.
“Look, so I know Wilson is cheating.”
Mike stops clipping on his socks, and asks, slowly, “Cheating? What do you mean?” Mike is one hundred percent sure that Tom would never cheat on him, but if Braden has evidence to the contrary, then he has to at least listen.
“Look, I don’t know how he’s beating me, but there’s no way he’s doing it without cheating.”
Mike sighs in relief and goes back to his socks. He feels rather upset with himself for even thinking Willy would cheat on him. “Look, Holts, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Holts scoffs in frustration. “The challenge thi—”
“Hi, guys,” Tom says, stepping over from seemingly nowhere, stopping Holtby immediately. “What are we talking about?”
Holts grumbles and walks back over to his stall, running a hand through his obscenely perfect hair.
Mike, satisfied with the state of his gear, looks up at Tom and says, “Tommy, are you cheating in whatever weird-o competition you have going with Holts?”
“Mike, I would never cheat. How dare you even insinuate that I would.”
“So I’m totally cheating,” Tom says in their hotel room after the game that night.
“I don’t even know what it is you two are competing over, but I know that,” Mike says, unbuttoning his shirt and kicking off his shoes. “And I guess you’ve finally stopped hiding this from me? You’re not very good at keeping secrets.”
“Yes, I am,” Tom says, indignant.
Mike raises his eyebrows in response.
“Fine,” Tom concedes. “So do you want to know my genius plan?”
“Yes, Tom, dazzle me.” Mike pulls off his pants in one quick movement, and crawls into bed in his underwear.
“Okay, so you know how Holts is always reading those huge books on the plane?” Tom is busying himself setting their alarms and plugging in their phones to charge.
“So I challenged him right after the Winter Classic to see who could read the most books in a year,” Tom says, puffing his chest proudly.
“You what?” Mike asks, dumbfounded. “I know you like to read and all, but there’s no way you can beat him. He’s like a speed reader or something.”
"I know. That’s where the cheating comes in. Well, I mean technically it’s not cheating; it’s bending the rules a bit. See, we never said how long the books had to be, so I’ve been buying children’s books from thrift stores and using those to boost my count.” Tom emphasizes his point by pulling Goodnight Moon out of his duffel bag.
“You are absolutely ridiculous,” Mike says. “Get in bed.”
“I’m a genius.”
“You’re that, too.” Mike kisses Tom’s temple, and Tom reaches over to shut off the lamp on the bedside table. They fall asleep to the noises of the city dying down below them.
Tom wins. Mike knows this because it’s December, and, after the final tally (Holts 34; Tom 206), Mike is helping deliver the boxes of children’s books Tom acquired over the year to Braden’s house.
Braden opens the door with a stink eye already plastered onto his face. “Oh it’s you.”
“Where do you want me to put these? They’re heavy as hell.”
“Upstairs,” he says to Tom, then turns to Mike. “Here, let me get those for you.” He grabs the box of children’s books from Mike’s arms and plops them down on top of Tom’s.
“Oh, you are an asshole,” Tom grumbles, nearly staggering with the weight.
“Don’t say shit like that in front of my kids,” Braden calls after him.
The thing is, Mike never locks his bedroom door, not since he and Tom started hooking up, and definitely not since they started dating. So when Tom comes home in the third year and finds Mike’s door not only closed, but locked, he know something’s up.
“Mike?” Tom calls, trying not to sound suspicious.
“Gimme a minute!” comes Mike’s frantic call, followed by a loud crashing noise and a string of profanity.
“Right,” Tom says, and drops down onto the couch, flipping through the channels idly and ignoring the racket in Mike’s room.
The next day in the locker room, Mike pulls off his shirt to reveal a crisscross of red lines on his chest and shoulders, like he’d somehow fallen into a bathtub full of glass shards.
“Uh, everything okay, Latts?” Chimera asks, and a quarter of the guys look over to see what’s going on.
"Yeah, yeah, of course,” Mike says, waving his hands in front of him. “Just had a little accident rearranging furniture yesterday.”
“Right,” Jason says, but turns away to lace up his skates.
It’s two days later when Mike barges into Tom’s room at 7am holding a mangy looking orange cat, and, honestly, Tom should have known.
Tom looks up at him through one squinted eye and asks, “What did you do, Latts?”
“I was sad about Snoop, so I went to a shelter to pet the dogs, and I found Garfield, and I couldn’t leave her there.”
“When I was petting her, she bit my face. I had to get her, Tom.”
Tom is not awake enough to see the logic there, but he sits up anyway. “So why are you telling me now? You were doing such a great job hiding him before.”
"She’s a she.”
“You named your girl cat Gar—You know what? I don’t care. Why are you waking me up?”
“She has a respiratory infection and I need help giving her her medicine. Please, Tom.”
Tom groans, but gets out of bed and follows Mike to the kitchen.
“‘Kay so she needs to take this pill twice a day for two weeks. I tried putting it in her food, but she won’t eat it, and she won’t take it in a treat, so we’re just gonna have to shove it down her throat.”
“I’m not putting my fingers anywhere near her mouth,” Tom says, eyeing Garfield’s sharp teeth glinting in her yawning mouth.
“No, no. You just hold her, and I’ll shove it in.
Which is how Tom ends up with a strange cat in his arms, a gagging Mike, and cat drool on his bare chest before he’s even had breakfast.
When Mike finally gets the pill down her throat, he grabs her and holds her close to his chest, kissing her fur and apologizing over and over again.
Tom feels a tightening in his chest and thinks that even diseased and dirty, the cat is kind of cute.
Tom fucking moans around Mike’s dick, and Mike has to pull Tom off him by the hair to stop himself coming.
Tom pulls off with a pop. “Too much?” His voice is on the way to hoarse, and Mike drops his head against the wall he’s leaning on with a thunk that would be painful if he weren’t getting his dick sucked.
“Just gimme a second,” Mike says, and reaches a hand down to rub a thumb over Tom’s bottom lip. “I love your mouth.”
Tom half-laughs. “Yeah, well I love your dick, so if you could pull yourself together, that’d be great.” He’s clearly teasing, but he’s also pushing his face at Mike’s hand, so Mike moves to cup Tom’s cheek.
Mike can’t take his eyes off Tom, and it seems like the same goes for Tom because they just sort of stare at each other for a full minute. It should be awkward because neither of them says anything, and Mike’s dick is just hanging out in Tom’s face, but it’s not.
“I love you,” Tom says.
Mike feels like she should be taken aback, like he was in every other relationship he’d been in when this conversation happened, but he’s not. He already knew that Tom loved him.
“I love you,” Mike says back, not wanting to tack a “too” on to the end because his love is not an addendum, it’s whole and genuine. He loves Tom.
“Cool.” Tom pauses. “I’m gonna suck your dick now, though.”
“Okay,” Mike says and shuts his eyes.
Tom loves him, and nothing, not first line minutes, not Olympic gold, not winning the Stanley cup could be better than that.