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Auston’s got a nagging suspicion it’s probably arranged by management as one of those voluntary-but-actually-not team bonding things, but he goes to the Jays game anyway after getting a Facebook invite in the new team groupchat.

Canada only has one pro baseball team, and it’s in Toronto. So that’s pretty lucky, he supposes, and he distracts himself by looking at the Blue Jays Wikipedia page for a few minutes, lingering in the entrance. 

He’s not nervous about meeting the team. That’d be dumb. He’s just- he’s going to be here for a while, with them. It’d suck if they all hated him, is all.

So he’s maybe a little nervous.

“Hey, Auston!”

Morgan Reilly waves him over from in the box, decked out in enough Jays gear to look like a walking advertisement. Auston’s just relieved to recognize someone: They’ve met a couple of times before, promo stuff for Worlds and all. Seems like a good dude.

“Glad you could make it, man.”

“Me too,” Auston says, and means it, lets Morgan lead him over to a group of guys standing by the rail.

“Boys,” he kicks at the nearest guy’s shins to get his attention. “Say hi.” 

The guy turns around and Auston recognizes him – Mitch Marner, went fourth the year before Auston. He’s short, for a hockey player. Sick dangles. Kind of cute, in a scrappy way, if you’re into that sort of thing.

“Hey!” he says, reaching up to hug Auston like they’re long-lost brothers instead of two guys who literally are having their first conversation not consisting of being tagged in the same instagram posts. Mo and one of the other Leafs – ginger, so either Anderson or Brown – exchange grins, and Auston gets the impression that maybe the hugging thing is normal for this guy.

 Auston pats him on the back, more than a little awkward. “Hi,” he says. “Uh. Mitch, right? I’m Auston.”

Marner pulls back and his smile gets even bigger, which shouldn’t be possible.

“Dude,” he says, like it should be obvious, like Auston’s stupid, “I know who you are.”

“Aw, leave him alone, Marns,” says possibly-Anderson, “He just got here.”

“Brownie’s just jealous ‘cause he can tell you like me best,” Mitch stage whispers to Auston, then, at a more normal volume, “Hey, gimme your phone, let me add you on snapchat and everything.”

Auston stares, but the guy doesn’t look like he’s joking, so he unlocks his phone and hands it over.

“Put me in too,” Brownie – Connor Brown, then – says, draping himself over Marner’s shoulders to stare at the phone.

“Put yourself in,” Mitch retorts, and they start shoving each other around, laughing until it turns into a semi-wrestling match. The other people in the box don’t pay any attention. Auston’s not sure if that’s a hockey thing or a Toronto thing.

Mo flings an arm around Auston’s shoulder, walks him over to the seats where their stuff is piled. “I promise most of us are more normal than those two,” he says. “It’s a good group of guys.”

“Yeah,” Auston says. “Thanks.” He’s not sure exactly what he’s saying thank you for, but Mo seems to get it anyways, patting his back before going to join the others.

 Auston sets his bag on a seat. He’ll go over and meet the rest of the guys in a second, but he can hear Marner laughing from the other side of the box and – okay, he knows he’s not supposed to judge people based on a first meeting. Books and covers and stuff. He gets it.

He’s judging anyways, just a little.

-------

The thing no one tells you about joining the NHL is that there’s a lot of boring shit to wade through before you can get to the good part.

They haven’t even been on the ice together, but all the new Leafs – so, like, half the roster – have to sit through a million lectures on how to behave on social media, a how not to behave presentation that’s mostly just screenshots of Tyler Seguin’s twitter, and then a whole seminar about creating a ‘safe and supportive locker room’.

They get through the homophobia part without anyone making any comments, which – honestly, it’s whatever, the bar could not be any lower at this point, so Auston’s not dumb enough to start planning a coming out party.

He’s kind of relieved, anyways.

It’s stupid. Probably no one reacts ‘cause they’re not paying enough attention – most of the guys sitting at the back with Auston are dicking around on their phones, pretending to be into it when the teacher looks their way. Auston kills a solid twenty minutes watching Zaitsev text someone in Russian. It’s a whole different alphabet. Pretty cool.

Marner sits right at the front next to Zach, who actually has a degree, which Auston knows because the guy tells everyone who’ll listen. Even he starts tuning out eventually, leaning back and staring at the ceiling tiles.

Not Mitch.

He pays attention the whole time, even raises his hand and asks a couple questions. The lady giving the talk looks like she’s going to cry, she’s so grateful. Something about it puts a sour taste in Auston’s mouth. No one pays that much attention to this stuff. No one. He doesn’t know what Marner thinks he’s going to achieve, being all teacher’s pet and everything. Not like he’s going to get bumped up to the first line for being more of a nerd than the guy who went to college

“Enjoyed that lecture, eh?” Marty asks when they’re all leaving, after, tugging Mitch in and messing up his hair. Auston’s pretty sure Matt’s been trying to legally adopt Mitch since about the first time they met.

“It’s good stuff to know.” Marner smiles and swats Marty’s hand away, not even embarrassed by the chirping. “I didn’t know they taught us all this.”

“Kissass,” Auston chirps. Mostly chirps. Or, fine, he just says it because it’s true. The guys laugh, like haha oh those rookies, that kind of thing; but Auston catches the look Mitch shoots him. It’s scrutinizing, like he knows that Auston didn’t mean it as a joke. There’s a long moment where their eyes meet, too intense, ‘til Nylander – “Willy,” he introduced himself a couple days ago, “not William” – gets in between them and blocks Auston’s view.

“Fucking brutal, Matts,” Willy-not-William laughs, flinging his arms around Auston and Mitch’s shoulders and tugging them both in, oblivious. “Boys,” he says fondly, “this is going to be great.”  

-------

The hockey gods hate Auston, apparently, because it takes him ‘til forty minutes before their first on-ice practice to realize he has no idea how to get from his apartment to the practice rink.

He panics for a couple of minutes, considering his options and coming up short every time. His dad’s on a conference call with work and doesn’t know any more about Toronto than Auston. He’s in the group chat, but he doesn’t feel like embarrassing himself in front of the guys he’s going to spending the next few years with. Same goes for Coach. Which means-

Mitch is the only one whose actual phone number he has, from that first day, next to a stupid selfie that he must’ve taken as his contact photo without Auston noticing.

Fucking hockey gods.

Hey, Auston sends before he can overthink it.

His phone starts ringing not even thirty seconds later. Auston stares, kind of at a loss. Who even calls someone in 2016, holy fuck. This was a terrible idea. He considers just letting it go to voicemail, but it’s almost ten o’clock and he really doesn’t want to be scratched for his first ever NHL game, so he accepts the call.

“Hey,” he says again, gingerly.

“What’s up, man?” Mitch asks, all casual, like Auston’s the one who called. His voice is all tinny, like he’s got Auston on speaker. “Couldn’t wait half an hour to see me at practice? I get it.”

“Right,” Auston says, and doesn’t bother arguing. Priorities. “Do you know how I can get from downtown to the practice rink? I looked it up on Google Maps,” he hastens to add. “But there’s, like, three highways called the 400 all in the same place, and all the signs are in kilometers-”

“I just left my place,” Mitch says. “I’ll come get you.”

“No,” Auston blurts, then winces at how rude that sounds, ‘cause his mom taught him right, even if this guy is next-level presumptuous. “I mean no, thank you. Just directions or something, I can tell you my address-”

“Don’t worry about it, dude, it’s like ten extra minutes. But I am going to need your address, though.”

“You really don’t have to drive me,” Auston protests, because ten extra minutes in a car with Mitch Marner sounds like the subject of a stress nightmare, but Mitch is talking before he’s even done his sentence.

“Too late,” he says, cheerful. “Already took the exit. Text me your address or I’m going to be driving around downtown forever and we’ll both miss practice and get sent down and you’ll have to room with me in ‘Sauga.”

“But-”

“Text me it!” Mitch says, and hangs up.

Auston stays holding his phone to his ear for a couple seconds too long, listening to the dial tone. There’s this weird feeling in his stomach, same as every time he talks to Mitch; like Auston’s been playing catch-up since the second they met without knowing how he fell behind. And that’s- he doesn’t fall behind. He’s Auston Matthews.

Mitch has to be screwing with him. Has to be putting on this overly-friendly Canadian act to fuck with him. No one’s actually this... much all the time, right? So he has to be screwing with Auston, and Auston half wants to call him on it, only he can’t fucking tell.   

The drive is about what Auston was expecting. Mitch pulls up in some SUV that’s way too big for him, and they make small talk then listen to the radio when they run out of stuff to say. Mitch has shit taste in music. And he sings.

“You nervous?” he asks, once they’ve parked at the practice facility, in one of the spots marked ‘Players Only’. It’s pretty surreal.

“No,” Auston says, automatic. “You?”

Mitch shakes his head. “Nah.”  He doesn’t meet Auston’s eyes, staring at the entrance across the parking lot. It’s a normal-sized arena, probably. Right now it looks huge. 

They sit there a couple seconds too long, neither willing to call the other out for lying, then Auston steels himself and opens the car door.

Practice is fine, mostly. Closest thing to normal Auston’s had in a while, ‘cause NHL or not, hockey is hockey and that’s maybe the only thing he’s never had to question. They run a couple basic drills, passing and stuff so the coaching staff can see where they’re at.

Auston shatters the glass off Mitch’s one-timer twenty minutes in. The guys crowd around, chirping, and there’s a camera guy filming while Auston tries to sweep up the shards.

It feels like an omen, and not the good kind.

 Mitch drops him back home after, chattering about practice and the new jerseys and holy shit did Auston see the look on Coach’s face when the glass broke, all the way ‘til Auston gets out and shuts the car door. Then after that too, actually, because Mitch rolls down the window to keep talking, because of course he does.

“I’ll come get you same time tomorrow,” he calls after Auston while he climbs the front steps. When he looks back, Mitch is leaning on the door, chin in his hands, all innocent. “Hey, maybe this time you won’t break the whole arena.”

And that – that’s definitely Mitch screwing with him.

-------

It takes about the length of that first practice for Toronto media to decide that him and Mitch are best friends. And, like, Auston’s been warned about the press in the city a million times – he gets it. They want a story. He’d be fine with it, honestly, except for the small issue that Mitch Marner is the most annoying person on the entire planet.

And Auston tries. God, he tries. He’s always gotten along with his teammates – not necessarily like, making-friendship-bracelets-BFFs, fine, but bros. He gets along with his teammates now, actually. Like- He knows Reemer from the USNTDP. Him and Zach bond over liking all the same stuff at Starbucks. Or Willy. Why can’t they be doing the whole star-crossed hockey bros thing with Willy? Willy’s fucking awesome.

None of that matters, not even a little. Every reporter in the city seems to have decided that Auston and Mitch are the story of the season. Seems like Auston can’t read his own name without seeing Mitch’s next to it, which is some kind of bullshit.

Mitch doesn’t make it better. Mitch makes it worse, actually, because he doesn’t seem bothered by it at all, hamming it up in interviews and texting Auston screenshots of tweets about the two of them with comments like another one for the scrapbook ;). 

Auston isn’t sure if he’s being sarcastic. He isn’t sure about a lot of things, with Mitch. It’s just – he never stops flirting.

It’s nothing, like, blatant. Not just Auston either – Mitch is touchy-feely with all the guys, giving out compliments and hugs like it’s his job. And it’s not even like it’s a Canadian thing, because most of the guys on the team are Canadian and they’re mostly normal, even if they’re way too into Tim Hortons and not dressing sensibly for the weather and, yeah, Mitch.

So Mitch keeps chirping Auston and flirting like it’s nothing, and the guys keep lapping it up, and the entire thing is dripping in enough ‘no homo’ that Auston kind of wants to throw up.

Everyone just seems to love Mitch. It’s inexplicable and irritating and, after Auston’s family comes down for a visit, it’s his mom. He can’t even blame her – Mitch holds the door for everyone and calls her Mrs. Matthews and offers to help carry their suitcases.

Auston kind of hates him.

“Such a polite boy,” Auston’s mom says, eyes shining. “I’m so glad that you two have each other.”

And she looks so happy and relieved, and Auston knows how nervous she was about him being here, that he can’t bring himself to correct her.

“Yeah,” he says, and tries for a smile. “Pretty great.”

-------

He scores four in his first ever NHL game. That’s a record, if you believe the analyst guys on twitter. 

Mitch doesn’t even score one, not ‘til their first game at the ACC.

Auston doesn’t, like, dwell on it. He sort of hopes Mitch does.

Leo brings a copy of the paper to practice the next morning, just like he did for Auston’s goals, because he’s a good guy like that. There’s an article about Mitch’s goal on the front page of the sports section, except when Auston gets a chance to read it, half of it’s about how Mitch and him are becoming “friends and friendly rivals”.  

There’re four columns of that crap, all the weird sports bromance clichés that they usually reserve for thinkpieces in The Athletic. “We know how to get under each other’s skin pretty well,” the article quotes Mitch as saying. “It’s fun.” And, okay, fun is not how Auston would describe any of this. If Marner is under his skin at all it’s in, like, a bloodsucking mosquito kind of way. Maybe a leech. 

“What d’you think?” says a voice in Auston’s ear, making him jump. Mitch is leaning on the side of Auston’s stall, reading over his shoulder, too close. “Cool article, huh?”

“Don’t know why they mentioned me so much,” Auston says. “It was your goal.” If it was him, he’d be pretty pissed at having to share the spotlight, but Mitch either isn’t or is good at hiding it, because he just shrugs with the same dumb grin as usual. Auston wonders if his face is physically capable of anything else.

“Think they’re going to come up with a name for us next?” Mitch asks. “Like a Brangelina kind of thing?” He’s still all up in Auston’s space, and Auston’s suddenly too aware of Mitch’s adam’s apple bobbing up and down when he speaks, his collarbone peeking out from the neck of his shirt like a dare. And, just, fuck that.

“We aren’t even on the same line,” he says, blunt, and shoves the newspaper at Mitch’s chest in a gesture that avoids being openly hostile, if not by a lot. Mitch frowns, more surprised than pissed. Auston avoids his gaze.

Fuck that.

-------

The first couple of weeks of the season are a blur of locker rooms and practice facilities and more airports than Auston’s seen in his life. They’re losing more than they’re winning, and every muscle in his body is screaming pretty much 24/7, and Auston never wants to not be doing this.

It’s like some kind of drug, this mix of adrenaline and hanging out with the guys and no more school, no nothing except his sport. Fucking awesome.

“Left,” Willy says, tapping on Auston’s shoulder. “Go left, left, left-”

“I hear you,” Auston snaps, toggling the controls too late – Brownie’s shot hits him right between the shoulderblades and Auston’s half of the screen goes red. Again. “Ah, fuck Call of Duty.”

“That’s what you said about NHL17,” Brownie says, brow furrowed, focused on the game. He’s sitting on the floor while Auston and Willy are on the couch, which doesn’t seem quite fair since it’s his house. He doesn’t seem to mind.

“Hey guys,” Willy says, still doing the videogame equivalent of being a backseat driver, ‘cause he got killed on a flukey hit thirty seconds after starting. “Guys, we finally found something Matts sucks at.” 

Auston pushes him into the arm of the sofa and Willy shoves his socked feet at Auston’s face. Auston swats him away, laughing.

“You’re fucking gross.”

“And you’re really bad at videogames, I win.”

“Technically I win, since I’m the only one still alive,” Mitch chimes in from his seat on the floor with Brownie. Auston’s been trying to politely ignore him, recently, with varying degrees of success. He’s, like, freakishly good at videogames. All of them. It’s not fair.

“Hey, I’m still-” Connor starts, except then the grenade that Mitch tossed explodes and his screen goes red, too. He sighs, puts down his controller. “Nevermind. I’m almost as bad as Matts.”

Willy loses it at that, safely on the other side of the couch from Auston, who flips him off good-naturedly.

Mitch reaches up and pats Auston’s knee without taking his eyes off the screen. “Don’t worry,” he says, oblivious to how Auston immediately tenses up. Ignore, ignore, ignore. “I’ll help you get better. Rocky style, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ montage, all that.” 

“Thanks,” Auston says, through gritted teeth.

Turns out it’s hard to ignore someone when they think you’re friends.

Anyone else would’ve gotten the hint by now. Mitch hasn’t, doesn’t, because he seems to be buying into whatever misguided fever dream’s made all of Toronto think they’re besties. Special kind of clueless, this kid.

He suggested coordinating their suits last week, like they’re in fucking middle school. Auston was so caught off guard he just straight up said, “No chance.” Their suits matched anyways when Mitch came to pick him up for the game that night, completely by accident, because the hockey gods are still out to get Auston.

“Hey,” Mitch said as Auston’ climbed into the car. “Twinsies!”

“We’re not twinsies,” Auston said, doing up his seatbelt and scowling.  “It was an accident.”

Mitch just grinned like he knew something Auston didn’t, turned up whatever weird dad rock he’d been listening to. “That’s fate, man.”

“You’re so weird,” Auston said, but Mitch didn’t even hear him, already singing along to Nickelback or something equally awful.

-------

It takes a few weeks for Auston to get a car. It’s the first really big purchase he makes, and it hardly makes a dent in his account, which is still going to take a while to get used to. He could probably buy, like, five cars, if he really wanted to.

Weird.

He drives them to the game that night, eager to start getting things square with Mitch so they can put this carpool thing to rest once and for all. For all Mitch’s faults, he’s suitably enthusiastic about the car, fawning over the leather seats, and only mocks Auston a little for still using his GPS to get to the ACC. The end result is that Auston’s actually in a pretty decent mood when they head in for the game, and it only gets better when they’re up by three goals with five minutes left of the third.

He gets caught up in it all. He should know better, but they keep scoring and the crowd keeps getting louder and this is the kind of night he’s been dreaming about for as long as he can remember, so when Mitch starts scream-singing to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ right in his ear, he joins in.

It’s fine. It’s a nothing, throwaway moment that he’s had a million of with every guy on the team, except this one is apparently broadcast on national television and Auston gets off the ice to find his phone blowing up with notifications and gifs of him and Mitch singing. He reads a couple of the tweets before he can stop himself, hardly has time to register cutest nhl couple of the year tbh and #baegoals before his stomach is sinking.

He somehow makes it through media, barely, before he books it to the shower and stays under the water for way too long, breathing really slowly through his nose so he won’t freak out. This is the kind of shit that he’s trying to avoid, attention for anything other than his hockey, attention for being considered cute with Mitch Marner. He can’t be the gay, Mexican NHL guy; can’t deal with everything that carries with it. And for what? Singing on the bench with a guy he doesn’t even like, what kind of an idiot move-

“Hey, you okay in there, Matty?” Willy peers past a corner of the curtain, because boundaries are apparently not a thing on this team. Auston tugs it shut again.

“I’d be better if you weren’t creeping on my shower,” Auston retorts, and Willy must throw something at him because the curtain bulges then falls normally again. It’s Willy being concerned, in his own dumb way, but Auston can’t fake it with him now.

It still takes him a few minutes to get out of the shower without his hands shaking. Not the place, he keeps thinking to himself, keep it together.

He’s back at his stall pulling on his pants when Mitch walks past, hair still wet from his own shower. He doesn’t seem phased by all the singing questions, has been taking the guys’ chirps with a smile. And then-

“Killed it, papi,” Mitch says, patting Auston on the back all casual, letting his hand linger there. And it’s like everything crystallizes into this one surreal moment of Mitch calling him that nickname like he has any right, like they’re friends, like they’re anything; like it hasn’t occurred to him that he just made them the fucking laughingstock of the National Hockey League over a Bon Jovi song.

Auston shrugs out from under Mitch’s hand, rough, practically spits, “Don’t fucking call me that,” and doesn’t feel anything but vindicated when Mitch takes a step back, stunned. He’s not smiling anymore. Good, Auston thinks, and shrugs into his shirt, turning his back so he’s facing the wall.

It takes a few seconds, but he hears Mitch’s footsteps as he walks away. Auston still can’t relax.

He finishes getting dressed, is planning on just begging a ride off of Brownie or someone until he remembers that, fuck, he drove them in tonight.

He could just leave. Mitch is still getting dressed. Guy could ask anyone on the team, they’d drive him anywhere in a second.

Auston sighs. He’s not that much of a dick

Mitch is as quiet as he’s ever been the whole drive to his place. The only sound is the GPS giving instructions and the radio all quiet on the local top 40 station. Mitch doesn’t even try to change it, which probably should have been the first warning sign.

Auston pulls into the parking garage at Mitch’s place, comes to a stop under a flickering lightbulb.

“Well,” he says, as civil as he can, and drums his fingers once on the steering wheel. “See y-”

“Do you have a problem with me?” Mitch is staring at Auston, making no move to get out of the car. He doesn’t sound pissed, just genuinely curious. Auston returns his gaze, flatly.

 “Why would I have a problem with you?” he asks, already more than done with this conversation.

“That’s kind of what I was wondering,” Mitch says, toying with the air conditioning vent. He’s going to break Auston’s new car now, like he hasn’t done enough. “’Cause you’ve been looking like you want to stuff a sock in my mouth every time I’ve opened my mouth for the past couple weeks.”

Auston has to hold back a laugh at that one, because he’s had that exact thought, word for word. Mitch sits up straighter.

“You do have a problem with me,” he says. He looks way too proud of himself, like it’s some Sherlock Holmes level deduction. “What’d I do?”

Auston scoffs, lets his hand linger on the gearshift, waits for Mitch to get the message and leave. He doesn’t.

“Oh, come on,” Auston says, exasperated. “We’re not doing this.” 

“I think we should. We’re teammates, we’re supposed to be friends-”

Supposed to be friends,” Auston cuts in, incredulous. “It’s not summer camp.” 

“Wow,” Mitch says, raising his eyebrows. “You know you sound like the bitchy girl on The Bachelor, now, right?”

 Auston rolls his eyes. “Really mature, man.”

Mitch undoes his seatbelt, turning in his seat so he can face Auston. He’s got this bullish look on his face, the same as when reporters ask him how he’s going to perform as the smallest one on the team. “Dude, what is your deal with me?”

“There’s no deal,” Auston says, and can’t resist adding, “Not everything’s about you, actually.”

“Maybe if you’d stop acting like you’re too cool for the entire NHL-”

They’re getting loud now. “If you would just take something seriously for once in your life-”

“Why shouldn’t I be happy to be here?” Mitch demands. “We didn’t all have everything handed to us on a plate.”

Auston spits out a laugh, sharp and humourless. “You think stuff was handed- you’re so wrong, christ.” Mitch doesn’t look sorry, chin up all defiant. “Stick to falling all over every guy on the team, alright?”

Mitch frowns. The parking garage lighting makes him look muted and kind of alien, the flickering bulb above them casting shadows on his face like a strobe light. “Condescending and homophobic, real winning combo there, man.”

Auston doesn’t know if he wants to laugh or cry, would maybe do both if he didn’t kind of want to strangle Mitch, right now. The way he’s looking at Auston, all lit up and fucking pitying like he’s singlehandedly fighting for gay rights in the NHL. “I’m not- god, you’re so clueless, I don’t even-”

“Just saying,” Mitch says, all reasonable and self-righteous. “We had, like, a whole seminar-”

Auston kisses him.  

He doesn’t even know why he does it, doesn’t plan on it at all ‘til he’s already moving. It’s like – Mitch sitting right there with his stupid mouth too big for his face, two seconds away from smiling like fighting with Auston is just another vaguely amusing thing in his charmed existence; and then he’s talking and Auston needs for him to shut up and then he’s kissing him.

He gets that it’s a mistake almost the second he does it, barely has a chance to feel Mitch’s lips against his before he’s pulling back and plastering himself against his door, fast. Mitch hasn’t moved.

“Fuck,” Auston says, and his heart is going to beat out of his chest. He’s the world’s biggest idiot, ruining everything he’s ever worked for because he can’t get a grip about his teammate. He feels nauseous. “Fuck, sorry, I don’t know why I- please don’t tell anyone.”

“’kay,” Mitch says, and meets Auston’s eyes. “Were we going to keep making out, though, or...”

“Were we-” Auston blinks, blindsided.  The parking garage is silent around them. He wonders if Mitch can hear his heart hammering. “What.”

“Only if you still want to, obviously,” Mitch clarifies. He still looks entirely unperturbed by the fact that Auston just kissed him. “Like the consent video from the seminar. Tea.”

Auston’s brain still isn’t working, which is probably why the only thing that comes out is, “You talk about seminars too much.” Mitch grins, and this is just the most surreal thing that’s ever happened.

“It was a good seminar,” he says. Then he scrunches his nose up, all cute, and Auston swears to god he hates his guts. “Is the word ‘seminar’ starting to sound weird to you? Seminar, seminar, seminar – yep, definitely weird-”

“Shut up,” Auston says. “Just. Shut up. Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, we can go back to making out now,” he says, and manages to keep his voice steady. It feels like someone else is talking; like the words are leaving his mouth and he’s still half expecting Mitch to kick him out of his own car and immediately let the entire team know that Auston’s into dudes.

He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t do any of that.

What he does do is nod, say, “Sweet”, and tug Auston back across the gearstick to kiss him again, like a dare.

He kisses the same way he does everything else, which is to say enthusiastically enough that Auston would be embarrassed if he had any time to think about anything other than Mitch’s tongue in his mouth because, yeah, that’s apparently a thing that’s happening.

Auston kisses back. It’s a game of chicken, maybe, but like hell is he going to get beaten at it by Mitch Marner. He leans over further, ignores the gearshift digging into his ribs and presses Mitch back against his seat, pushing a hand up in the hair at the back of his neck to keep him close. It’s a good move, and, Auston notes somewhere in the part of his brain that’s still functional, it works how he intended it – Mitch does this shuddery breath against Auston’s lips, something that might be a “god”, and grips tighter to the front of his shirt.

He hasn’t kissed anyone in a while. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

Somewhere along the line Auston’s seatbelt locks. It’s digging into his chest, but he doesn’t pull back; just lets Mitch put his hands everywhere – ‘cause he doesn’t stay still for a second, even now –and trails his lips down Mitch’s neck, lingering long enough that he’s going to leave a mark. Mitch’s hand lands on his waistband, and every nerve in Auston’s body is a livewire. He’s not going to say no, even if this wasn’t exactly how he planned on breaking in his new car, except then-

 Mitch pulls back.

 “I should go inside,” he says, kind of out of breath but otherwise exactly the same as any other night. “My mom’s going to start thinking we died or something.” 

“Okay,” Auston says, when he can make his brain work again. He’s most of the way to hard, and when he peeks over at Mitch’s lap, he’s in about the same situation.

If Mitch sees where Auston’s looking he doesn’t show it, just reaches over to grab his bag from the backseat . “I’ll get you tomorrow for the flight?”

“Yeah,” Auston says, after a second.

“Cool.” Mitch holds his hand out for a fist bump, like bros, like they didn’t just break every unspoken rule Auston’s ever set. Auston can see the red where his lips were on Mitch’s neck.

He reaches out and bumps his knuckles against Mitch’s, still kind of stunned, and watches him get out and disappear up the stairs. He doesn’t look back.  

It’s barely been half an hour since they left the arena.

Auston sits there for too long, staring at his dashboard ‘til his eyes hurt.

“Make a U-turn when possible,” says the GPS, making him jump. And-

There’s some kind of irony there, probably.

-------

Auston seriously considers calling in sick so he doesn’t have to drive in with Mitch the next day.

Okay, not like, seriously-seriously. But he does consider it, or at least wishes that he was brave enough to do it when he gets the text from Mitch that he’s outside. Still- Auston doesn’t even know if calling in sick is a thing in the NHL, so he grabs his bag and treks down the stairs like he’s walking to his execution.

He mumbles some vague greeting when he gets in the car, stares at his phone the whole way to the airport. He hasn’t been to church since Christmas in maybe ninth grade, with his grandparents, but he prays to anyone who’s listening, don’t let him talk, don’t let him talk; like he’s somehow going to be able to tell that Auston got home and jerked himself off to the thought of his stupid face, twice.

Mitch doesn’t talk about it. He watches Auston toss his bag in the backseat, says “Mornin’” all cheery, then goes back to jamming to some predictably-awful dad rock while he pulls onto the road.

“Not going to join in?” he asks, grinning over at Auston when ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ starts playing a few songs in. They’ve both seen the Bon Jovi tweet by now. Auston wonders if he queued up the song on purpose.

“No,” Auston says, too fast. Mitch doesn’t push it, just cranks the volume up, and that’s it, neither says anything else ‘til they’re with the team at the airport.

It’s easy not to think about it, leading up to the game. Hockey’s hockey, and that’s the priority.

After the game, though. Different fucking story. Brownie heads out for drinks with some guy he knows from the O, so Auston’s alone in his hotel room without even a roommate to distract him from his thoughts.

Mitch Marner knows he likes guys. Mitch Marner kissed him. He kissed Mitch Marner.

What the fuck was Auston thinking?

The thought won’t stop buzzing around in his head, loud and persistent, no matter what he tries to do to make it go away. He flips through the TV channels, paces a couple of times, restless. Holds out until he feels like he’s going to explode if he stays there any longer, then grabs his phone and heads for the door. He doesn’t know where he’s going – the gym, maybe, or to try and find the guys, or just for a walk to clear his head – and it turns out not to matter, because he opens the door and almost walks right into Mitch, who’s standing there with one fist raised like he was about to knock.

“Oh,” Mitch says, and Auston makes this undignified noise that he only mostly manages to hide in a cough.

“What-” “Why’re-” They both start at the same time then break off.

“You go.” Auston says, after an immensely awkward pause.

 “Okay,” Mitch says, and waits. Auston doesn’t know for what, exactly, and they’re standing there in this silence that stretches for miles until Mitch raises an eyebrow, sort of bemused. “We gonna talk out here, or...”

Now it’s Auston’s turn to say, “Oh.” Feeling stupid, he backs up from where he’s blocking the doorway, lets Mitch follow him into the room and shut the door behind him. Auston feels clumsy, unsure what to do with himself, so he just stays there in the little entranceway, staring at Mitch a couple feet away. It’d probably be polite to invite Mitch to sit. He’s not feeling very polite, tonight.

“So,” Mitch says, light. He’s leaning on the wall, doesn’t even have the grace to look nervous. “This is a booty call.”

 “Sort of figured,” Auston says. He knows he’s being awkward, knows this is the kind of thing his sisters make fun of him for. Sue him – this isn’t exactly a normal situation. Everything feels magnified, too heavy. They both get that they’re treading some kind of ground where they aren’t supposed to be. 

Mitch crosses the little hall, slow motion like he’s approaching a cornered animal. Gets real close, ‘til he has to crane his neck to meet Auston’s eyes and there’s maybe an inch between their mouths. Auston swears he can feel it, that inch, like a tangible thing.

 “Just for the record,” Mitch says, “I’m still pissed about all the stuff you said last night. That I don’t take shit seriously and I’m stupid or whatever-”

“Clueless,” Auston corrects. He’s pinned between Mitch and the wall, is acutely aware of the rise and fall of Mitch’s chest, the hickey on his neck from the night before. “I said you’re clueless. I’ll say it again, if you want.”

“Not going to apologize, then?”

“You going to apologize for calling me condescending?” Auston retorts. It’s a rhetorical question, mostly what Mitch was expecting, if the glint in his eye is any indication.

There’s the smallest, resigned crook of his lips. “Well,” Mitch says, wry. “Now that that’s settled.”

Auston puts a hand on either side of Mitch’s face, pulls him in, and kisses him.   

And, okay. He’s been kind of thinking – hoping, maybe – that it was a one-time thing, that last night was just him getting something out of his system and he’d be able to go back to ignoring Mitch in peace. It takes about three seconds worth of kissing for him to get how entirely, miserably wrong he was, because, god, Mitch is a really good kisser.

 It shouldn’t be anywhere near as frantic as last night, arguing and crammed in the front seat of a car. It’s more, somehow, because this time they don’t have the excuse of the heat of the moment, this time it’s deliberate, a choice, gauntlet fucking thrown.

Auston lets Mitch press him back against the wall, shivers at Mitch’s hands dragging down Auston’s back under his shirt, taking everything Auston gives and returning it times ten.

He reaches up behind Mitch to fasten the deadbolt, ‘cause the last thing he needs is Brownie coming back early and learning just how bad Auston’s taste in guys actually is. Mitch doesn’t seem to notice or mind, focused like kissing Auston is a play they’re trying to master.  

“This doesn’t mean we’re friends,” Auston says, right up against his mouth. “Or that I’m, like, secretly into you or something-”

“Relax, Matts,” Mitch says. “You just want my bomb dick. I get it.”

“Maybe don’t call it that,” Auston suggests, frowning. “And don’t call me Matts.”

“Sure thing, Matty,” Mitch says, innocent, and drops to his knees.

The blood rushes to Auston’s dick so fast he feels a little lightheaded.

“God,” he says, raw, and watches Mitch tug down his pants, look at him kind of appraisingly. There’s this moment where he feels too exposed, standing there half-undressed in front of his asshole teammate, except then said teammate is licking a stripe down Auston’s dick and Auston forgets anything except the feeling of Mitch’s mouth on him.   

 “Jesus fucking fuck,” he says, all overwhelmed nonsense, and Mitch smirks before taking him into his mouth, all wet and hot and a million sensations that have Auston biting his lip to avoid babbling even more.

 Mitch is, like, irritatingly good at this, looks completely pornographic as he bobs up and down along the length of Auston’s cock, taking him almost all the way into his mouth. He’s done this before, he has to have done this a lot before, because, sure, it’s pretty impossible for a blowjob to be bad, but it’s definitely not easy for one to be this good.

Mitch does something with his tongue that makes Auston’s breath catch in his throat, gets a hand on the base of Auston’s dick to hold him in place when his hips buck, instinctive. His eyebrow quirks, and Auston has to admit he’s a little impressed, because he’s never actually been chirped by someone with a dick in their mouth before.

“Shut up,” Auston says anyways, shutting his eyes and leaning back against the wall; it’s an embarrassingly short amount of time before his legs are shaking and he’s tapping at the side of Mitch’s head, frantic. “I’m gonna-” Mitch hardly has time to pull off with this little ‘pop’ sound before Auston’s coming as hard as he ever has, all over Mitch’s shirt and maybe a little on his chin, hands scrabbling at the wall behind him for support.

God.

He knows before he even looks down that this is an ego boost Mitch definitely did not need. Sure enough, when Auston has it together enough to venture at eye contact, Mitch is leaning back on his hands, still on the floor, looking up at Auston with this smug look on his face.

“You owe me a new shirt,” he says. His lips are all pink and – fuck – wet, and it’s really not Auston’s fault that he has to drop down to his knees next to Mitch and kiss him, then. Mitch makes this surprised little noise against his mouth, but happy-surprised, Auston thinks, based on how enthusiastically he responds, grabbing at the collar of Auston’s shirt to tug him closer.  

He can taste himself on Mitch’s lips, can feel Mitch’s dick up against his knee, stiff. That thought’s enough to get Auston half-hard all over again, the idea that sucking Auston off was enough to get Mitch like this, pressing up against Auston, chasing the friction like it’s something he needs.

Mitch goes, easy, when Auston gets a hand on his back and shifts them so they’re at a better angle, bracketed over Mitch there on the floor. The thin carpet is killer on his knees and probably on Mitch’s back, but he’s not complaining. The time it’d take to get to the bed seems impossibly long, like if they stop for a second Auston’ll lose his nerve.

Auston’s hand hovers over Mitch’s fly. “Can I-”

Mitch barely pulls back enough to say, “Yes, yeah,” before he’s kissing Auston again, hard; and then Auston’s fumbling to undo Mitch’s pants, kind of hating him for not having the foresight to wear something other than skinny jeans, and not even cool ripped ones.

Mitch grins against him, teasing, because of course he does. “Nervous there, man?”

“Fuck off, it’s hard.”

“That’s what she sa- ah, fuck,” Mitch hisses, cutting himself off when Auston finally gets a hand around him, tight. “I’m not gonna last. At all.”

“I bet,” Auston says, and Mitch makes this face like he can’t decide whether or not to be insulted. He gets distracted pretty quick, though, when Auston starts working a hand along his dick, not bothering to start off slow. He presses his lips to Mitch’s again at the same time, licking into his mouth and savouring the weight of Mitch in his hand, silky and warm and already leaking, because he apparently wasn’t lying when he said this’d be fast.

 “Tighter,” Mitch says, and puts a hand over Auston’s, adjusting his grip. “Like- here.”

“I have done this before, you know,” Auston snaps, flicks his wrist so Mitch’ll let go. He does hold tighter, though, no point being careful if Mitch doesn’t want him to be.

“Sure doesn’t-” Mitch shudders, pushes up against Auston’s hand like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. “Doesn’t look like it. Rookie.”

He sounds taken apart, all flushed like the chirping is taking a real effort, so Auston doesn’t take it to heart. Whatever he’s doing, it’s clearly working for Mitch. He quickens his strokes, drags his teeth along Mitch’s jaw to make him shiver.

“Auston,” he’s saying, shaky, “Auston, Matty, fuck-”

“I like you better when your mouth is busy,” Auston says, honest, right into Mitch’s ear. It’s probably kind of fucked up that that’s what pushes Mitch over the edge, but it is, and it does, and he comes with this little gasp, all over Auston’s hand and the bottom of his own already-wrecked shirt, grabbing handfuls of Auston’s shirt and breathing out a bunch of mostly-nonsensical cursing.

Auston watches him through it, this fierce kind of prideful, and doesn’t get a chance to look away before Mitch is meeting his gaze, maybe accidentally.

It’s this weirdly loaded moment of eye contact, Auston still on top of him on his hands and knees, Mitch still on his back on the floor; the two of them breathing heavy, real close, like it’s just now hitting them what just happened. He can feel Mitch’s breath on his lips.

Auston flexes his fingers, still coated.

“Ew,” he says mildly, and then the tension’s gone and Mitch is laughing and going to steal a clean shirt from Auston’s bag and Auston doesn’t know what to think at all.  

-------

Here’s some stuff that Auston learns in the next couple of weeks:

Mitch doesn’t stop talking. Not when he’s about to come, not when he’s actually coming; this weird mix of chirps and demanding instructions that Auston’s definitely not into, but like, he’s also not not into it.    

It’s very confusing. This whole thing is very confusing. It’s kind of impossible to reconcile the Mitch that dekes him out in practice and won’t shut up about it with the Mitch that’s had his mouth on Auston’s dick.

So that’s another thing he learns: Turns out it is, in fact, possible to want to claw your brain out every time someone talks and to want to make out with them against the nearest available surface while touching their butt – ‘cause, yeah, touching Mitch’s butt is apparently a thing, now.

Still. Not not into it.

It’s weird. Would be weirder, probably, if Mitch wasn’t just as into it, if not more. He is, though; always ready and eager to trade handies or suck each other off or, once, when Auston’s dad goes home and they have the whole place to themselves for the entire weekend, to straddle Auston and rock up against his thigh, slow and filthy, drawing it out so Auston’s mostly incoherent by the time he comes in his pants, untouched.

He likes making Auston do that, always gets this smug look on his face like he won some contest Auston didn’t know they were having. One time he actually, no-joke starts singing that stupid “jizzed in my pants” song. That’s usually the point when Auston ends up pressing Mitch back into the mattress and kissing him hard, fucking into his mouth with his tongue ‘til he’s shaking with it, to get back the upper hand. It never lasts long, like some kind of tug of war.  

 It’s really easy for this thing to become a habit. One of them’s always driving the other one somewhere, and there’s probably that whole thing about adrenaline making you horny, and, yeah, it’s convenient.  That still feels a little sleazy for Auston to admit. It’s the truth, though. There’s no shortage of willing guys and girls all over Toronto, but there’s always the possibility of something ending up on the internet. Twitter already saw him sing, it does not need to see his dick as well.

There’s none of that risk, with Mitch. No worries that he’s secretly trying to bag a rich NHL boyfriend, either.

Yeah, Auston knows he’s justifying. Shut up. He’s nineteen years old, he’s allowed some bad decisions.

Mitch sends him a link to a clip on YouTube, the two of them on the bench at last night’s game and the announcers saying “Matthews obviously loves him”. The link is followed by a bunch of heart emojis – Mitch’s addition – and, as Auston’s debating whether or not to respond, another message comes through: never knew you felt that way bro.

pls know ur the worst hookup i ever had , Auston sends back. He wasn’t even really smiling at Mitch, in that clip. The rest of the team was all around. Mitch sends back a whole row of kissy faces not even a minute later.

So, okay. This decision is worse than most. He can deal. 

-------

Nothing changes when they’re with the team. Auston was sort of worried after that first time, that Mitch’d act weird, be obvious about it. He shouldn’t have bothered: after stealing Auston’s shirt, Mitch high fived him and left his hotel room, then hardly looked at him at practice except to join the rest of the boys in giving him shit about sucking at NHL17 again. And that’s that, and they keep hooking up, and nothing changes. 

Mitch is so normal – or, like, whatever the fuck counts as normal for Mitch Marner – that it’s actually kind of disconcerting. Auston wonders a couple times how many teammates he’s gotten with, to be this chill about it. He always forces himself to think about something else real quick, though, because thinking about how many current and future NHLers have seen Mitch’s dick is not his idea of a good time, thank you very much.

(That’s a lie. He’s gotten off to those thoughts exactly four times. It’s whatever.)

It’s probably good that the Mitch situation isn’t a distraction with the team, because there’s enough to deal with on that front already. It’s frustrating more than anything else, because Auston knows they can be good, sees these occasional flashes of brilliance that are fucking magical hockey, only they keep losing.

It all comes to a head when they get shut out by the Kings 7-0, and going down that bad feels worse than the next morning’s bag skate, but only barely.

“Fuck my entire life,” Mitch curses cheerfully when they finally get a water break, skating over to steal a drink from the bench. Auston watches him go, incredulous.

“No one’s that happy all the time,” he gasps, leaning against the boards. “That’s just not even a thing.”

Willy collapses, half against the boards and half against Auston. “That’s Marns for you.” He sounds all fond, that stupid Mitch voice people get, like they’re talking about a favourite dog or a cute kid.

Willy’s a shit judge of character. Auston likes him anyways.

Mitch spins back toward them as if he was summoned, crashing into Willy for a hug that leaves Auston supporting all three of them, struggling to stay on his feet. Hockey players are fucking heavy. Mitch notices, if the look on his face is any indication, but doesn’t move to get up, just lets Willy loop an arm around his shoulders, easy.

“Matts thinks you’re not human,” Willy snitches, and Mitch grins, peeking up to meet Auston’s eyes. It takes more effort than Auston’d like to admit to keep a straight face.

“Toronto Maple Humans,” Mitch says. “Nice ring to it.” He squirms out from the impromptu on-ice cuddle session, because staying in one spot longer than thirty seconds is probably asking too much of him, and starts handling the puck through Auston’s feet. “Nice slapper earlier, Aus,” he says, conversational, “Maybe eventually you’ll even hit the net.”

“Peewee practice is at the other rink,” Auston shoots back while Willy laughs, but Mitch is already halfway across the ice, on to the next distraction. He never really hangs around long when they’re with the rest of the guys. Not that Auston cares.

He’s not even surprised when the lights go out a few minutes later. It’s that kind of day.

-------

It stays like that, fuckbuddy Mitch and teammate Mitch completely separate entities, until it doesn’t.

“Pants,” Mitch orders, pulling back from Auston’s mouth for the first time in a million years, it feels like. They’re kissing on the couch at Auston’s place, shirts discarded somewhere along the way. He’s got Mitch pressed into the cushions, already pants-less, miles of skin stretched out underneath him like an invitation. Auston’s palming him through his boxers, chasing the sounds he makes, and can’t help but crack a smile when Mitch tugs at his waistband again, insistent. They beat the Sabres earlier, are both still kind of riding the high of the win.

 “Needy,” Auston chirps, but sits up to take off his jeans. It takes longer than it should because Mitch follows him, won’t stop kissing him for long enough to be anything but hopelessly distracting, but eventually Auston manages to kick his pants off.  

Mitch pats him on the head, ‘cause it wouldn’t be him if he wasn’t at least a little bit of an asshole. “Finally,” he says, and manoeuvres ‘til he’s half on top of Auston, gets a hand in between them and takes over where Auston left off. They’re close enough that he’s getting both of them off at once, fingers darting past the waistband of Auston’s boxers, dragging slow, teasing. “Good thing you’re better at hockey than at sex.”

“Fuck,” Auston gets out, rough. “Fuck, Mitch, just-”  

“Your goal tonight,” Mitch says, “fucking gorgeous, Matts, I swear-” He presses down on the tip with his thumb, and Auston breathes out, hard and ragged, gets both his hands on Mitch’s ass and pulls him closer, kisses him, messy. Getting off to hockey talk has never really been a thing before, but he probably should be beyond being surprised at this point, ‘cause it’s working for him, like, a lot. He’s not sure if that’s a hockey talk thing or a Mitch thing, and he doesn’t have to chance to figure it out, because his PS4 pings, the sound it makes when someone’s inviting him to join their party.  

It’s whatever, happens all the time. Auston’s all set on ignoring it until Mitch perks up, breaks the kiss.

“Hey, you downloaded the Battlefield expansion pack yet?”

Auston shakes his head, still preoccupied with the whole sex thing, and leans up to recapture Mitch’s lips, except then he’s talking again.

“Wait, so you haven’t tried the new map?” He sounds kind of offended, like it’s perfectly reasonable to go from undressing each other to discussing bro shit like this.

“Uh,” Auston says, thrown. “No, haven’t had a chance.”

“Oh, dude, you have to see it, it’s fucking awesome.” Mitch climbs off of Auston, just like that, and heads for the table to grab the remote, rambling about the sick new area effects. Auston’s left there, open mouthed, painfully hard, and entirely at a loss. Mitch does not seem concerned.

That’s how he ends up sitting next to Mitch on opposite ends of the couch, both of them in their underwear, watching his avatar die for the third time in a row on PvP.

He tosses his controller aside in disgust. Mitch looks at him, way too thoughtful for someone wearing boxers patterned with tiny little maple leaves. Auston doesn’t know what’s worse, if he was given them by the Leafs merch department or if he went out and actually paid money for them. Knowing Mitch, it’s probably the latter. 

“It’s okay,” Mitch says, oblivious. “We just gotta figure out your strength here.”

He looks deceptively gangly like this, all sprawled out limbs and pale skin on Auston’s couch like he belongs there. Auston wishes they were still making out. It’s easier like that, when the boundaries are defined; ‘cause sex is one thing but hanging out one on one, that basically requires them to actually like each other, and that’s just not them. 

“You don’t have to, like, help me,” he says, awkward. “I don’t mind the chirping.”

 “This isn’t about chirping,” Mitch says, very seriously. “This is about honour. You’re Mulan and I’m your Eddie Murphy dragon here to make you awesome.”

“Mushu,” Auston says. He and Alex used to watch Mulan at least once a week, when they were little. “He’s probably taller than you.”

“Fuck you,” Mitch says, easy. “Okay, let’s try snipers next.” He digs for the controller where it’s wedged between the couch cushions, and holds it out to Auston expectantly.  

Auston stares, kind of disbelieving. “You’re serious.”

Mitch shakes the controller in a way he probably thinks is tempting. “Win a round and I’ll let you blow me.”

“I’m not that desperate,” Auston says, disparaging. Too bad the rest of Mitch’s body isn’t the same size as his fucking head.

Mitch smirks, looks pointedly at Auston’s lap, then back up to meet his eyes. His smile grows. “’kay.”

Auston stares resolutely at the screen. Then he peeks across the couch, and Mitch hasn’t moved. “I’m not.”

“Okay,” Mitch repeats, innocent. “I believe you.”

Auston sighs, and takes the controller.

It takes him nearly an hour and a half to tie a round.

It’s probably the meanest blowjob he’s ever given, or at least close. The way things have been going today, he’ll call it a win.

-------

Some guys from the University of Ottawa make a rap about Auston. The chirping from the music video lasts for weeks. Auston doesn’t kill or even seriously maim Mitch for sending it to the groupchat, which is pretty big of him, he thinks.

Small victories, maybe.

-------

They lose to the Habs in OT and Auston wants nothing more than to go home and pass out, so of course they end up stuck in the airport at two in the morning after all outgoing flights are grounded with a snowstorm.

Babs is really into the chivalry thing, so no matter how much Naz tries to convince him that they need the chairs because ‘we’re athletes, Coach, being comfortable is our responsibility’, they still have to cede their seats to a bunch of old people and sit on the tiled floor. Auston winds up in a circle with some of the young guys, like the world’s lamest sleepover.

It’s pretty cozy, the kind of prolonged team time Mitch probably has wet dreams about – he’s lapping it up right now, leaning on Matt’s legs and toying with the zipper on Freddie’s carryon while Matt skypes Syd. Freddie doesn’t seem to mind, reading some bigass novel and ignoring the impromptu game of ‘would you rather’ that’s sprung up around him. Auston, sandwiched cross-legged between Willy and Zach and picking at a bag of trailmix from the duty free store, envies him.

“Okay,” Brownie says, “okay, you’re either trapped in a room with Steve Dangle for a full week or... or Babs adopts you for a month.” 

Willy chews his lip, thoughtful. “Most important question, does the Steve Dangle room have a toilet?” 

Zach frowns. “Obviously it has a toilet, what kind of room doesn’t-”

“Lots of rooms don’t have toilets, man. Most rooms, even.”

Mo nudges Freddie’s legs, careful not to disturb Gards, who’s passed out on his shoulder. “What d’you think, Fred?”

He doesn’t look up from his book. “Adopted by Coach. Obviously.” 

All the guys nod at that, ‘cause goalies are pretty wise and usually at least partly right. Freddie’s probably got a point.

“Babs after hours,” Auston muses. “Weird thought.”

“He has kids, it probably wouldn’t be that bad.”

“I bet he wears those face masks,” Willy says, grinning, “with cucumbers on the eyes and everything.” 

They all look across the terminal, where Coach has been arguing with a tired-looking airport official for the past half hour. Auston can pretty much see his forehead vein bulging from here.  It’s quiet for a few seconds while they consider the likelihood of spa day Babs chilling with his kids, then Mitch bursts out laughing.

“Do you think,” he says, then dissolves into giggles again, so hard it takes him a while to be able to gasp out, “d’you think he’d make you call him Daddy?”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Mo gapes, incredulous, while the rest of them groan. Freddie puts his headphones in, expressionless.

Auston can feel himself going red, shoves a handful of trailmix in his mouth to avoid looking at anyone. The shit that comes out of Mitch’s mouth sometimes, honest to god – Auston can’t help but check over his shoulder in case one of the seat-stealing old people is listening in. That’s the last thing they need, some retired reporter hearing them talking about toilets and weird fans and anything involving the word ‘daddy’. He can picture the headlines now: Leafs’ Young Core Get Personal After OT Loss, or maybe Arizona Native Forced to Endure Bizarre Canadian Bonding Ritual.

 “I got one,” says Carrick, recovering first. “Marns, fuck marry kill, anyone on the team.” 

Auston doesn’t visibly tense up, but it’s a close thing

“Hmm,” Mitch looks around, entirely unbothered, like he’s considering it. He’s still kind of giggly. “Kill Matts, ‘cause he’s a dick.” Absurdly relieved, Auston throws a piece of granola at Mitch, which he dodges like it’s nothing. “Marry.... Mo, because I feel like he’s definitely marriage material, and probably fuck Willy.”

 “Nice.” Willy high fives Mo, while Zach looks kind of offended. Auston- look, he doesn’t care. At all. Except-

“Why Will?” Zach asks.

Willy shrugs. “Well. Objectively? I’d do me.”

“Yeah, fully based on aesthetics here, but like, have you seen him?” Mitch explains, like it’s a common-sense kind of thing, and Auston is Not Jealous. “He’s basically flawless.”

Willy puts a hand over his heart, flattered. “Aw. Thanks, bro. Hashtag no homo.”

“Oh my god.” Mo rolls his eyes while Mitch loses it all over again.

“What? What’d I say?”

“You’re so insecure, Will,” Carrick says, unimpressed, and Willy pouts and steals a handful of Auston’s trailmix. Auston lets him, busy staring a hole through Mitch’s head.

“That’s right, man, eat your feelings,” Mitch chirps, not noticing or not caring about the look on Auston’s face. He gets to his feet, pushing on Marty’s knee for leverage. “Alright, I’m gonna go piss. Anyone want anything?”

“From the bathroom?” Brownie pulls a face.

“I was being polite, I don’t fucking know.”  Mitch rolls his eyes, stepping gingerly between the Connors to get out of the circle. Willy reaches across Auston to nudge Zach’s knee, nodding knowingly in Mitch’s direction.

“See, that’s a room with a toilet-”

“Yeah, ‘cause it’s a fucking bathroom, William.”

Auston shoves Willy’s arm off of him, leaves him to bicker with Hyman and gets up.

“Coffee,” he says, when Mo shoots him a questioning look. He doesn’t look entirely convinced, but Willy and Zach are still giving each other a hard time and Matt’s turned his phone around so Syd can laugh at them. Mo must decide that that’s a priority because he lets Auston go without any fuss.

He doesn’t get coffee. Duh, he doesn’t get coffee.

Mitch doesn’t even look remotely surprised to see him in the bathroom. They make eye contact in the mirror, wait for the middle-aged guy at the urinals to leave in silence. Drying his hands with a paper towel, Mitch is smirking like he sees exactly what’s going through Auston’s mind and is enjoying it way too much.

Auston crosses the room, backs Mitch up against the sink real slow. It’s a bad idea, doing this in public.

“Willy,” he says. “Really?”

“Figured you’d have an aneurysm if I outed you to half our friends and coworkers,” Mitch says, like it should be obvious.

“Oh,” Auston says, kind of thrown by how surprisingly considerate that is. It’s- he didn’t think Mitch actually thought, is all. “Uh. Thanks.”

“Yeah.” Mitch shrugs, and Auston barely has time to be disturbed by a weird rush of fondness – which, what the fuck – before Mitch goes on, “Plus, y’know, he’s the hottest one on the team. So.”

“Fuck off,” Auston says, fondness gone, and he’s not jealous, but- “Really?”

Mitch shrugs, crumples up his paper towel and tosses it into the garbage over Auston’s shoulder. It’s a pretty smooth move, and he knows it. “Going to prove me wrong?”

And, like, there are probably worse reasons to give a handjob in an airport bathroom. Auston can’t think of them right now, but they definitely exist, probably.

-------

Auston doesn’t realize how much he’s gotten used to screwing around with Mitch until they’re not. Not by choice, not even for any good reason other than the fact that they haven’t had more than a few minutes alone together for nineteen days. Yeah, Auston counted. Whatever.

He shouldn’t be complaining, ‘cause hockey-wise, things have never been better. They’re finally starting to win, and not just against the shitty teams, either. The reality of Toronto as a hockey city is really starting to hit: People are stopping Auston in the street, talking about the Leafs on the radio all excited. He sees at least one Matthews jersey every time he goes out.

Almost as many Marner jerseys. He doesn’t think about that part as much. They’re winning, is what’s important, and Babs is working them hard enough that they earn every point they get and more.

Auston thinks he’s maybe going crazy. He sort of gets it now, all the married guys complaining about never having a chance to see their wives. Not that Mitch is his wife, ‘cause gross. Fuck no. Just – they’ve got a pretty good thing going, orgasms and video games. He’d have to be stupid, not to enjoy that.

He could go find someone else. Lots of people in Toronto who’d be happy to get with Auston Matthews.

He doesn’t. Doesn’t quite know why, either, feels a little unsettled if he thinks about it too much, so he doesn’t; settles for exchanging glances with Mitch in the locker room and jacking off before passing out the second he hits his bed.

He’s tired enough that he turns down Brownie’s invite to go out for drinks with the guys after their game in Pittsburgh, planning on just going to bed even though it’s barely even midnight. Except then it occurs to him that he’s going to have the room to himself for the first time in nineteen days.

Feels like it takes Connor a million years to leave, after that.

come over room 618, he texts Mitch as soon as Brownie’s gone, not caring if he sounds like something from one of those ‘straight white boys sexting’ instagram accounts his sisters love to make fun of. He probably looks desperate as shit, and he’d feel worse about it, except that there’s a knock on the door maybe thirty seconds later and Mitch is kissing him the second Auston opens the door like maybe he’s desperate too.

Auston stumbles under the weight, barely manages to keep his balance and kick the door shut under the onslaught.

“About,” Mitch says, punctuating himself with kisses across Auston’s face in a way that’d be sweet if it was anyone else but them, “Damn. Time.”  

“Hi,” Auston says, because words have never really been his strong point. Mitch doesn’t seem to mind, because he lets Auston get a hand on either side of his face and bring their lips together, forceful. Mitch’s hands are already tugging on the hem of Auston’s shirt, even as he walks them backwards, kissing sloppy and way too eager ‘til the backs of Auston’s knees hit the bed. Mitch doesn’t even bother pulling away, just puts a palm on Auston’s chest and shoves him back so he’s sitting on the bed, follows so he’s straddling Auston’s hips.

Auston refuses to be embarrassed by how much that does it for him. Mitch Marner is bossy and Auston is ludicrously into it and that is just the way things are, apparently.

And, he realizes, he missed this. He missed this a lot, if he’s being honest, if how fast his dick showed up is any indication. Mitch feels it, presses down just enough to get Auston’s breath to hitch in his throat.

“You’re so fucking easy,” he gloats, all smug, and it’s all Auston can do not to kiss that stupid grin right off his face.

“I hate you,” he says instead of trying to argue, and then he really does try to kiss the stupid grin right off of Mitch’s face, because he’s only human and clearly willpower is not his strong suit.

“You don’t,” Mitch says, up against Auston’s mouth, and grinds down against his sweatpants, harder this time, so the friction nearly stops Auston breathing all over again. “You’re so into me, I bet you got off thinking about this.”   

It takes a beat too long for Auston to respond, and that’s enough of an answer for Mitch.

“You did!” he says, delighted. “I’m totally in your spank bank, oh my god!”

“Do you think before you say words, or do they just kind of come out?”

Mitch ignores Auston’s retort like he didn’t even speak, smacks his chest lightly. “How many times?”

“Shut up.” And Auston is not going to blush in front of Mitch, he’s not. 

“How many?” Mitch insists, looping his arms around Auston’s neck and holding his gaze. There’s- it doesn’t feel like the rest of the times they look at each other, something there that’s different enough from their usual dumb flirting to make Auston feel almost winded.

It occurs to him for the first time that if this is a tug of war, he might be losing.

“A few,” he admits, grudging.

“A few.” Mitch echoes. Auston nods, and he can feel Mitch smiling against his mouth when he leans down to kiss him. It’s clumsy, something lingering there, but it deepens quick, both of them hungry for more. They’re pushing up against each other like horny teenagers, which they technically are, Auston realizes, so that’s something.

 “Shirt off,” he says when they break apart for air. “I want to see you.”

“Fuck, Matts,” Mitch breathes, and he sounds shaken for the first time. Auston feels this fierce kind of pride at that, like, yeah, he can unbalance Mitch too, it’s not just him, so there.

He reaches up to help Mitch tug his shirt off, and a bunch of things happen at once: There’s this quiet clicking sound that Auston can’t quite place, and he ignores it until he can’t, until he realizes, too late, that it’s the door opening; the dots connect in his brain just in time to see a blonde head come around the corner, and he meets Willy’s eyes over Mitch’s shoulder.

“Fuck!” Auston yelps, shoving Mitch off of his lap on instinct, sending him tumbling to the floor.

“Ow,” Mitch says, muffled by his t-shirt that’s still over his head. Auston barely notices, because Willy is screaming like a girl and Auston thinks one or both of them might be having a heart attack.

“What the fuck?” Auston scrambles for the sheets or a pillow or anything to cover his lap, frantic.

Willy’s got his hands over his eyes, floundering by the wall. “I don’t know! I should be asking you that!”  

“Who just walks into someone’s hotel room?” Auston demands, more shrill than he’d like. He can hear his heart pounding in his ears. “Why do you even have a key?”     

“Brownie gave me his so I could borrow his headphones!” Willy says, still covering his eyes. He sounds even worse than Auston. “I didn’t know you guys were going to be kissing!” 

“Little more than kissing, dude,” Mitch says from the floor.

“Mitch!” Both of them snap at the same time, and it’d be funny, maybe, if this wasn’t the least funny thing that’s ever happened.

Mitch sits up and peers over the edge of the bed, untangling himself from his t-shirt. “Hey, Willy.”

 The sound Will makes is something like a whimper, small and pathetic.

Mitch rolls his eyes. “Okay, everyone just- be chill for, like, three seconds.”

He sounds perfectly calm and in control, and Auston’d even believe it if he didn’t see the way Mitch’s fingers are drumming on the floor, fidgeting like he does before a game. He’s nervous too, Auston realizes, and doesn’t know what to do with the twist that that puts in his stomach, this weird mix of camaraderie and empathy and nausea. Mostly nausea.

Over by the door, Willy’s collapsed into one of the straight-backed hotel armchairs. “I’m chill,” he’s saying, mostly to himself. “I’m so chill. My teammates are dating. It’s chill.” And that’s-

“We’re not dating.” Auston nearly trips over his words, he tries to get them out so fast. “At all. It’s just screwing around.” 

Mitch nods, still on the floor between the beds. “Like friends with benefits.”

“Minus the friends,” Auston finishes, and ignores the look that Mitch shoots him from the corner of his eye.

Willy looks directly at them for the first time since walking into the room, surprised. One for the scrapbook, Auston imagines Mitch saying. “Oh,” Willy says. “Really? You guys seem so close.” 

 Auston groans, and Mitch giggles.

“Oh, god, not like that,” Willy goes bright red all over again. For a second it feels like things are going to derail right there, except then Mitch is biting his hand to try and stifle his laughter and the sight of that is enough that Auston can’t help but snort, then he catches Willy’s eye and they’re all losing it laughing, like a dam breaking.

It’s a little hysterical, at least on Auston’s part, a combination of nerves and awkwardness and a million other things. Someone knows, he thinks, and it sticks in his head like a mantra, this impossible mix of defiant and relieved and utterly fucking terrified, someone knows someone knows someone knows; and it’s everything he’s been scared of since he was thirteen and playing truth or dare and someone asked what girl he wanted to kiss and the answer was ‘none of the above’. 

Willy’s still curled up in his chair, but he’s laughing, doesn’t look grossed out, doesn’t look anything but a little nervous, which is maybe an understandable side effect of walking in on one of your teammates sitting in another’s lap. He knows. He knows, and he’s still here.

“How-” Willy starts then stops a couple times. “Uh, how long’ve you guys been, uh-”

Mitch glances over at Auston, so quick he could almost miss it. “Couple of months,” he says. “So. Yeah.”

“Okay,” Willy says. “That’s- that’s cool.” 

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, man,” Will nods, then looks over to meet Auston’s eyes with a grin. It’s sincere, if a little forced, like an offering. “Can’t believe you’ve been Marns’ puck bunny for months.”

“Fuck off, maybe he’s been mine,” Auston retorts, sounding more casual than he feels. Willy rolls his eyes just like the millions of other times they’ve chirped each other, and Auston’s so relieved to still have his best friend that he could fucking cry.

 “You know what this means?” Mitch pipes up, leaning his chin on the edge of the bed.

 “None of us are ever going to be able to make eye contact again?” Auston quips, still kind of dizzy with relief.

 “No,” Mitch says. “Means we’re blood brothers now. Bonded by an embarrassing secret that we take to our graves.”

Auston’s brain remembers how to work just long enough for him to be offended. “Embarrassing?”

“Very,” Mitch says– which, screw him, getting to bang Auston Matthews is the kind of achievement that he should be putting in his autobiography – only then Willy’s laughing and Mitch is reaching up to link his pinky finger with Auston’s, low on the bed.   

It’s not really the kind of thing they do, ‘cause it’s close to holding hands and holding hands is for boyfriends and not whatever they are, and if Willy notices he’s going to get the wrong idea. Auston doesn’t pull away though, just this once, because he knows Mitch enough to know that he needs this, like reassurance. Maybe Auston does too, a little.

So he sits there and lets Mitch hold onto him in front of their friend and it’s cool. They’re okay. Someone knows, and they’re okay. 

-------

They get Freddy the shutout and Babs smiles on the bench and Auston knows it’s going to be a good night.

Someone’s hooked up a phone to the speakers in the locker room, blasting Leo’s Russian club remixes while everyone sings along, mostly gibberish. They’re changing in a row the way they always do, Auston then Willy then Mitch; the rest of the room celebrating in various states of undress.

A cheer goes up when Freddie enters the room, late after his postgame presser with Coach. 

“Atta boy, Fred!”

“Fucking beautiful shutty, man.”

Marty flings an arm around his shoulders, actually makes Freddie crack a smile. “Drinks on Freddie!” That earns another cheer, louder, everyone still buzzed off the win and the promise of a full day off tomorrow. Mitch quirks his eyebrow at Auston from behind Willy’s back, which means that Auston’s getting laid tonight, which puts him in an even better mood than before. God, he loves the NHL.

Naz elbows Auston as he passes by, towel around his neck. “You in, Matts?”

 “Nah, I’m bagged. Gotta sleep.” It’s not entirely a lie. He is going to sleep, eventually.

“Retweet,” Mitch says, and Auston restrains himself from rolling his eyes, but barely.

Zach whines from his stall, “How are you and Mitchy the boringest people on the planet, seriously-”

“’Boringest’ is not a word, please tell me you know that.”

“Trust Naz, he’s great at words.”

Kadri wheels around to glare at Jake, who’s looking way too proud of himself for that chirp. “Fuck you, Gardiner, don’t you fucking dare-”  

“Are you a friend or enemy of complacency, Nazem?” Gards asks, all innocent, even though Auston’s not entirely sure Jake knows what complacency means. He laughs when Naz flings his wet towel at him, anyways.  

 Mitch is goofing off, making dumb faces at Auston while everyone’s distracted; Auston’s distracted, so he doesn’t notice Brownie coming over ‘til he nudges Auston’s shoulder, gentle.

“You sure, man?”

Willy looks between the two of them, then tugs his shirt on and flings an arm around Brownie’s shoulders. “Their loss, man. Let’s go before the Raptors get all the tables.”

Connor makes what Auston thinks is supposed to be a dinosaur noise – god, this team is so fucking weird – but lets Willy lead him towards his stall, doesn’t notice the glance he exchanges with Auston, the ‘you owe me’ he mouths.

He’s going to give them shit for having to wingman, later. It’ll probably be worth it, Auston thinks, and peeks over at Mitch a couple of stalls away.

He has this pleased look on his face, the kind he gets when Auston chirps him really well or comes hard enough to forget himself and say something nice. Auston’s a fan of that look, or, like, he is until he realizes Mitch is looking over at Willy instead of him.

It shouldn’t matter. Not like Auston can own a look. That’d be stupid.

It’s more unsettling than it has any right to be, anyways; keeps nagging at Auston even when they’re back at his place and he’s got Mitch under him on his bed, making out lazy like they’ve got all the time in the world. He wonders if Mitch’d rather be making out with Willy, right now. It’s a weird thought.

Mitch can maybe tell that something’s bugging Auston, because he pulls back after a few minutes, stares at Auston searchingly. “How come you’re thinking so loud?”

Auston rolls his eyes, half-hearted, but Mitch looks insistent. Auston sighs. He doesn’t know what he’s going to ask until he asks it, “Is it weird, now that someone knows?”

 Mitch looks thoughtful. “Probably the same amount of weird that it was before.” 

“So very.”

“So very,” Mitch agrees, and they exchange smiles, small. It feels friendly and, yeah, a little weird, and the sensation is unfamiliar enough that Auston breaks eye contact, sitting back on his knees to give Mitch room to get up. He feels unsure, all of a sudden.

“We could stop.”

“Yeah.” Mitch says, and Auston’s stomach sinks. He goes to get off of Mitch completely, but Mitch grabs at his hips quick, stopping him. He watches Mitch prop himself up, slow, run his hands along Auston’s thighs until their fingertips are almost touching. When he looks back up, Mitch is already watching him.

 “I don’t want to stop,” Mitch says, serious. It feels bigger than it is, and Auston can’t help it, he laughs out loud and shatters the quiet, that’s how relieved he is.

“That’s-”

“What is it?” Mitch is laughing too, now, probably at the look on his face.

“Good,” Auston says emphatically. “It’s good.”

Mitch looks pleased. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, Marns,” he says, and Mitch’s eyes light up, and he leans down or Mitch leans up and they’re kissing again. Auston’s chest feels all lit up, huge, this comfortable kind of arousal mixed with happiness so big he can feel it.

He really, really doesn’t want to stop this either. Can’t imagine a time when he will.

He’s still thinking about that, whatever the fuck it means, when Mitch says, “Fuck me” and Auston’s whole entire brain just. Stops.

“I’m serious.” Mitch leans close, earnest, props himself up on his elbows and talks fast. “I mean it, I’ve been wanting to and I wasn’t sure how to ask but, like- I’m asking, Matts. I want that.”  

And Auston has to be dreaming, because that is the only explanation for having Mitch under him looking all, like, debauched and longing and asking Auston to fuck him. This is about the time when Auston’s relying on his brain to come in clutch with a witty one-liner or something suave, so, predictably, it doesn’t, and what comes out of his mouth is, “I never-”

“Oh,” Mitch says, and looks kind of endeared. Auston’d be annoyed, if his brain wasn’t still kind of on the ‘fuck me’ thing. “I can tell you how-”

 “I know how,” Auston interrupts. He can feel himself blushing. “God.”

For once, Mitch doesn’t push it, just looks at Auston appraisingly then nods like he has his answer. “Clothes,” he says, simple, a challenge, and Auston lets him tug his shirt off. He can’t help but kiss Mitch when he goes for the waistband of Auston’s jeans, and again when he shrugs out of his own hoodie; then Marns kicks off his boxers and Auston catches sight of his dick already at attention, red and stiff, and has to lean down and press his lips to the skin right above it, drag his mouth along Mitch’s hip.

Mitch laughs, kind of breathless. “Did you just kiss my dick?”

“I’ll do more than that,” Auston promises. “If you want.”

Mitch hauls him up, strength that Auston stopped being surprised by a while ago, tilts his chin so he can meet his eyes. “You know what I want,” he says, all low, and there was probably some time in Auston’s life when that sentence coming out of Mitchell Marner’s mouth wasn’t the best thing he could ever imagine, but that time is done, goodbye-adios-catch you never.

They’re kissing, hard, working up to a bruising pace when Auston slides a hand down Mitch’s back to cup his ass, ends up pulling back in surprise at what he feels. 

“When’d you-” he asks, hoarse enough that he’d be embarrassed if most of his attention wasn’t so thoroughly occupied.

“Shower,” Mitch says, simple, and the mental image that that creates – Mitch, working himself open, biting on his lip to keep from making noise with the rest of the guys a few feet away – is overwhelming enough that Auston finds himself pushing against the mattress to do something about the pressure in his dick, almost painfully sensitive by now. He realizes belatedly that Mitch is still waiting for a response.

 “Fuck,” Auston says, utterly dumb. “Fuck, Mitch, that’s the hottest thing I’ve ever heard.” He doesn’t mean to be that honest, stupid-horny, but Mitch smirks and tugs Auston’s hand back to set it on his ass again.

“You’re welcome,” he says against Auston’s lips. Asshole. He’s squirming around under Auston, and it takes Auston a couple seconds to figure out that he’s trying to get in a better position, knees up around Auston’s hips. Auston lifts his hand to Mitch’s hips, stills him.

“Wait,” he says. “Can you- I want you to ride me.”

Mitch stares at him, this weird mix of bemused and something Auston can’t name, then he slips out from under Auston, gets to his feet. For a second Auston thinks he was too honest, made things so awkward that Mitch is just going to leave, but then Mitch is heading for Auston’s bedside table.

“Do you have-” he starts, looking over his shoulder, and Auston nods, suddenly kind of breathless.

He doesn’t do anything but watch as Mitch grabs the condom and the little bottle from the drawer, coming back towards Auston like he’s deciding how to proceed. One of them’d usually be chirping, giving the other shit for messing up some play or getting all emotional about stuff. Neither does, now.

Auston doesn’t know if it means something, that Mitch is the first guy he’s doing this with. Can’t decide if he wants it to.

They’re both quiet while Mitch works the condom onto Auston, squeezes the lube into one of his hands and works it up and down the length of Auston’s dick. His bedsheets are going to be gross, after this. He reaches out a hand to steady Mitch when he clambers on top of Auston, straddling him.

 “Okay?” Mitch asks, and Auston nods, fast.

“Yeah,” he says, rougher than he means to, kind of hushed. Can’t really do anything but watch.

 “Okay then,” Mitch says, and then he’s lowering himself down on Auston, slow.

And Auston’s watched porn, has come decently close to this, or so he thought, fucking someone’s thighs or whatever. It’s not the same. It’s nowhere near the same, no way he could have imagined the heat and the tightness and the lube dripping down him until right this second, the sound of Mitch breathing deep, the feeling of him everywhere at once.

It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest. Auston’s not used to feeling surrounded like this, looking up at Mitch like he’s this larger-than-life thing. Like fuck is he going to put any of that into words, though. There’s nowhere to go but in, so he tilts his hips up and does, achingly slow, until Mitch makes this noise in the back of his throat. Auston stops right away, guilty. “Did I-”

“No,” Mitch says. “No, just- You’ve got kind of. A lot down there,” he explains, and Auston can’t help it, he puffs up his chest a little. He knows he’s got a decent-sized dick, thank you very much. Still nice to hear it.

“Thanks.”

Mitch rolls his eyes, laughs a little. “You’re such a douche.”

“Jerk.”

“Loser,” Mitch says, and then Auston rolls his hips and gets this shuddery breath instead of whatever Mitch was going to say. “Ah, Aus-”

It’s like some spell breaks, then, like they get their legs under them and something clicks. Mitch lifts up a little, lowers himself down; does that again and again ‘til they’ve got a rhythm going; Auston’s brave enough to snap his hips up against Mitch after a few times, can’t help the sound he makes at the look on Mitch’s face.

“God,” he says, wrecked enough that he should probably be embarrassed. “God, it’s-”

“I know,” Mitch says, then, “don’t stop”, like there’s any chance in hell Auston’s going to.

He gets a hand around Mitch’s dick, hard against his abs, and works it in time with Mitch’s movements, faster and faster. It’s maybe a little unnecessary, because Mitch is already leaking, already talking all unintelligible the way he does when he’s close.

Auston kisses him, clumsy, offers up a little prayer of thanks for hockey athleticism as Mitch rolls his hips into Auston’s, balanced over him.

“Mitch,” he says, only a little aware of what he’s saying, “Marns-”

Mitch buries his head in the crook of Auston’s shoulder. “I can’t-” He doesn’t even finish his sentence, clenching around Auston and pulsing in his hand. There’s one absurd second where Auston’s almost disappointed, wishes he could draw this out for longer, for hours; and then he’s coming too, right inside of Mitch with a groan at the sensation of it.

It’s this dizzy, crazy-big thing that makes Auston’s vision blur at the edges. He leans more into Mitch, squeezes his eyes shut, presses his lips into his hair in a clumsy attempt at a kiss, and just feels it.

They stay like that for a long time, pressed together at so many places that all Auston’s aware of is Mitch’s skin against him, flushed hot and sticky with sweat and probably Mitch’s jizz. He can feel Mitch’s chest rising and falling as he breathes.

“I should-” he says, ‘cause he’s going soft, all spent, and holds onto Mitch’s shoulders while he pulls out of him. Mitch kind of winces, but crawls off of him, slumps down against the pillows and doesn’t complain, so Auston figures he’s fine.

There’s a smile tugging at the corners of Mitch’s mouth while Auston peels off the condom, ties it clumsily and flings it at the trashcan. He should get a washcloth, clean them up a little – his hand’s still sticky with Mitch’s come, and he can see the lube drying on the inside of Mitch’s thighs. They’re all gross, but Auston can’t bring himself to get up. Can’t bring himself do to anything except flop down next to Mitch on the other side of the bed, collapsing with a sigh. If Mitch wants to be un-gross he can worry about that himself, he figures.

Auston reaches down and pulls the sheets up over them, because it’s chilly and he’s not entirely an asshole, sometimes. It takes him a while, but he works up the nerve to look over at Mitch, only to find that he’s already looking at Auston. He’s got this happy, open look on his face, and he buries his face in his pillow at the eye contact. He almost looks shy, which is ridiculous considering that Auston’s literal dick was just in his literal ass, but-

It’s maybe the cutest thing Auston’s ever seen. His heart feels kind of like it wants to explode. His heart’s a fucking traitor.

Auston reaches over, nudges Mitch’s toes with his own. He doesn’t know why the first thing that comes out of his mouth is “When we were at the airport,” in this wannabe nonchalant voice. “During the snowstorm. You actually like Willy?”   

If Mitch is thrown by the question, he doesn’t show it. “Willy’s straight,” he says. “Like, offensively straight.” 

And that’s not a no. “So you do.”

Mitch rolls over on his side to look at Auston, this look on his face that Auston can’t read. “You’re seriously asking me if I have a crush on Willy?” he asks. “Now? Are you for real?”

 “Whatever,” Auston says, self-conscious. It was dumb to bring this up, weeks after the fact. He couldn’t care less about who Mitch has a crush on. “Just making conversation.”

“Oh, is that what we do?” Mitch asks, stretching, languid, under the covers. Auston can see the shape of him through the sheets. “Conversation?”

It takes a second too long for Auston to say, “Shut up.”

“Make me,” Mitch says, but there’s no heat behind it. He trails his fingers down Auston’s chest, this weirdly proprietary gesture that catches Auston off guard, before rolling onto his other side. “I’m sleeping over, ‘kay?”

“No,” Auston says, but Mitch is already tugging the sheets up around him and scooting back so they’re basically spooning. Auston doesn’t know what to do with his hands. 

“’kay,” Mitch says, already most of the way to asleep.  

Auston doesn’t have the heart to kick him out. He should; does, maybe, until he finds himself staring at the freckles on Mitch’s back, shifting while he breathes, strangely hypnotic. Auston doesn’t think he’d get bored, looking at Mitch like this.

He ends up with his arm draped over Mitch’s waist, tentative. Mitch cuddles up a little closer in his sleep, and his hair is tickling Auston’s nose, but Auston doesn’t move away.

It’s quiet, this easy kind of contentment that feels big in his chest.

He falls asleep thinking of freckles.

-------

 Things are good, after that. Things are really good, because people are placing bets on when Auston’s going to break the rookie scoring record, and he and Mitch are getting fucking awesome at the sex thing, and he’s the first one on the team to reach the twenty-goal bonus. Like he said, really good, except-

The Willy thing. Auston can’t get it out of his head.

He can’t tell, is the problem. Can’t even ask anyone for advice, ‘cause “hey, do you think our teammate that I’ve been lowkey fucking for months is secretly in love with our other teammate” isn’t exactly chill roadie conversation.

And yeah, sure, Mitch is like this with everyone – he hugged Coach once, christ, the look on Babs’ face – but Auston can’t stop noticing the little differences. Mitch sitting next to Willy on the bus to the hotel, Mitch sleeping on Willy’s shoulder on the plane, Mitch sending swooning emojis when someone links a clip of Willy speaking Swedish in the groupchat.

It’s none of Auston’s business. He’s not even sure he wants it to be, knows he’s got more important things to be thinking about than who his regular hookup is getting feelings for.

Like: Mitch is in the lead for rookie scoring. Three months ago, that would’ve sat in Auston’s stomach like something bitter, but now it just. Is, a fact like anything else, something for Auston to aim for and Mitch to chirp him about. And there’s a lot of that, the chirping. It doesn’t get on Auston’s nerves as much as it used to.

He still wants that scoring lead back.

Mitch gives Auston a congratulatory handjob when he has a three-point night against the Devils anyways, like he doesn’t get that they’re competition. It’d be easy for Auston to forget, too. He almost does, after they’ve both come a couple times and are lazing around on the thick knit carpet in Mitch’s room, spent.

Auston should go home, ‘cause since Mitch slept over, hanging around after sex is becoming a habit he’s not sure he wants. Except he’s using Mitch’s stomach as a pillow, half-listening to him ramble sleepily about whatever bet he and Marty have going, and moving seems like more of a chore than it’d be worth.

He can feel the contentment coming off Mitch in waves, and it throws him, a little.

“How are you so...” Auston trails off. There’s not really a word for it, how Mitch he is, so Auston settles for gesturing in Mitch’s general direction.  

Mitch traces up and down the lines of Auston’s arm. “So what?”

“You’re always happy,” Auston says, and it’s not exactly what he wants to say, but Mitch seems to get it anyways.

Auston feels him shrug.  “What’s there to be sad about?” There’s no trace of irony in his response, no room for Auston to retort without sounding like a complete asshole. It’s the kind of comment he could’ve hated Mitch for, a couple months ago, but now it just hangs there and Auston doesn’t know what to think.

“I don’t understand you,” he says, and he means it to be an insult, but it comes out sort of vaguely confused.

“Good,” Mitch says, decisive. “Gotta keep you guessing.”

-------

Auston’s leaning on Mitch’s kitchen counter, watching Mitch use his teeth to open a pizza pocket and stick it in the microwave. That’s the latest thing Auston’s learned: Mitch gets hungry after sex. No way he should be as skinny as he is, the way he eats.

Auston’s thinking about how he can turn that into a chirp when Mitch speaks up.

“My mom told me to invite you over for our New Years party,” Mitch says. “Your dad, too.”

 “Uh,” Auston says, caught off guard. “Why?”

Marns shrugs, eyes still on the microwave. “Doesn’t want you guys to be lonely to start 2017, I guess.” He taps his fingers on the counter in time with the seconds on the timer. He’s avoiding Auston’s gaze, trying to be casual about it. “It’s not, like, a big deal. Just my family and people we know. I mostly play Just Dance with my little cousins.” 

“Oh,” Auston says. It’s pretty neutral, mostly because he’s not sure exactly what he’s supposed to say to any of that, but Mitch shoots him a sidelong glance anyways, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t make it a thing.”

“I’m not,” Auston says, even though he sort of was, at least internally. The microwave beeps, and he watches Mitch grab at his plate without even waiting for it to cool. “Maybe you’re making it a thing.”

Mitch doesn’t dignify that with a response, instead taking a giant bite of his pizza pocket and making just the dirtiest sound Auston’s ever heard. “Ooh mama, that’s good,” he says. Fucking dork. He holds out his plate like an offering. “Want some?”

“It’s not in our diet plan,” Auston says, and Mitch rolls his eyes, licking a spot of tomato sauce off his bottom lip. It should definitely not be attractive, like, at all. Sort of is, anyways.

“Serious question,” Mitch says, “do you actually, physically get off on being a buzzkill? Because I’d be happy to incorporate it into our extracurricular activities if that’s a thing that works for you.”

“Did you just refer to sex as ‘extracurricular activities’?” 

“Don’t try to change the subject,” Marns says, setting his plate on the counter so he can jab at Auston’s chest. “I have iron focus. I am un-distractable.”   

“I will bet you ten dollars you’re not.”

“Cheapskate,” Mitch retorts, but by that point Auston’s up close, mouthing at his collarbone, and whatever else he was going to say comes out as a shaky breath. “My food’s going to get cold,” he bitches, but he tilts his neck so Auston has more room, is gripping a handful of Auston’s shirt like he doesn’t know he’s doing it.  

“I’m better than pizza pockets,” Auston says, making his way up Mitch’s jaw, enjoying the way he shivers under his mouth and still manages to roll his eyes.

“Very debatable, my guy,” Mitch says, and waits ‘til Auston’s hovering over his mouth before leaning in and closing the gap.

Mitch’s snack ends up forgotten on the counter, and Auston doesn’t even feel guilty. He finds a ten dollar bill tucked into his pocket when he goes home later, the dumb purple Canadian money, and is glad Mitch isn’t around to see how hard he laughs when he realizes where it’s from.

He sort of forgets Mitch’s invitation, except then his mom messages Auston on instagram to repeat it. The ‘not taking no for an answer’ thing is maybe a Marner family trademark, so Auston ends up spending the last hours of 2016 in the Marners’ rec room in Thornhill, getting schooled at Just Dance by a bunch of mini-Mitches. He beats actual Mitch when they do Tic Toc, at least, even though Mitch makes him be the girl dancer, so ha.

It’s not the worst New Years he’s ever had, not even close; then they win the Winter Classic in OT and it just might be the best.

They both score in the game, then they Leaf it and blow the lead, but Auston scores the OT winner and just about has time to revel at how much of a fucking storybook win it is before the guys are piling on top of him, this ridiculous over-the-top celly. It’s too much for a regular season game, only they’re outside and the crowd is going just as wild and he knows this is going to be one of those days that he never forgets.

Auston can’t even bring himself to be pissed that they send him and Mitch out to do a bunch of interviews together, then a presser. It’s easier being in front of the cameras with someone at his side, even if it’s Mitch joshing him about his goals and spouting all the media shit that he somehow manages to make sound charming.

Auston sits there in his suit in front of a room full of reporters, watches Marns answering some question from the CTV lady, and doesn’t feel anything but happy to be there. Happy to be there with him.

It’s maybe the stupidest thing he could do, getting swept up in the whole ‘Matthews and Marner’ narrative.

He finds himself doing it anyways, doesn’t even try that hard to stop.

-------

They’re both just chilling on Auston’s couch on their phones, Mitch’s feet in Auston’s lap, when Mitch speaks up.

“Yo,” he says, pokes at Auston’s stomach with his toes to get his attention. “I found one of those apps, where it smushes your face with someone else’s to show what your kid would look like?”

“I regret where this is going already,” Auston says, and Mitch cheerfully ignores him.

“Check it,” he says, holding his phone up so Auston can see. “I like to call him Mitchston.”

The creature on the screen is objectively horrifying, this supremely unfortunate combo of Auston’s nose and Mitch’s smile. “Our kid’s pretty ugly,” Auston says, and Mitch slaps a hand over his heart, fake-offended.

“You wound me, Matts.” Auston grabs for his phone half-heartedly, and Mitch snatches it back, protective. “Remind me again why I willingly associate with you?”

“I’m pretty good at hockey,” Auston offers. “And blowies.”

“Eh,” Mitch shrugs. “You’re okay.” 

 “Your mom thinks I’m better than okay,” Auston chirps back, on autopilot.

“Gross,” Mitch says, pulling a face. “Not in front of Mitchston.” 

Auston scoffs, “Mitchston.” It doesn’t come out as derisive as he means it to, and Mitch shoots him a smile that can only be described as fond before going back to whatever he was doing on his phone.

It’s only later that it occurs to Auston that neither of them has made a move to start something. He doesn’t know what to do with that fact, that he’s hanging out with Mitch Marner without the excuse of sex.

It’s not terrible. Not even close to terrible.

-------

Their big Saturday night home game.

That’s terrible.

Auston doesn’t know if the refs hear what the other team is saying, every time he skates past their bench or gets caught in a corner. Doesn’t know if it counts as a strategy, something to try and get in Auston’s head, stop him from being on his A game. He scores, so maybe it doesn’t work.

They lose anyway, so maybe it does.

He traipses upstairs after Marns, because that’s what they do, lets Mitch lay him out on the bed and kiss a trail up his chest, this slow kind of commiserating. It’s not- Auston can’t get out of his own head, can’t stop thinking about what people were saying to him, hates them for not letting him enjoy a perfectly good pity-fuck.

Mitch drops a kiss right next to his mouth, experimental, and Auston turns his head away, just a little.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m not really feeling...”

Mitch pulls back right away, backs off fast enough that Auston sort of misses his touch. He doesn’t know what he wants.

“That’s cool,” Mitch says, then, when Auston still looks miserable, “Don’t look so emo. Want to watch a movie or something?”

That makes Auston feel even worse, him being all understanding. “You don’t- sorry, you don’t have to hang around.”

Mitch shrugs, perched a couple feet away from Auston on the bed. “I don’t mind,” he says, then looks a little unsure. “I mean, I can leave, if you want-”

“No,” Auston says, and realizes too late how needy that sounds, feels himself going red. “I mean- fuck.” He sits up, rolling over so he can sit on the edge of the bed, facing away from Mitch until he can get a grip. It’s been a while since something’s gotten to him like this, no reason why this should’ve.

He runs a hand through his hair, forceful, can feel Mitch staring at his back.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Mitch repeats, firm. “Are you?”

He sounds genuinely concerned, and that’s probably why Auston speaks, even though he wasn’t planning to.  “Did you hear what they were saying?” Auston says. “At the other bench?”

Mitch shakes his head. “I- no, why?”

Auston looks over his shoulder, trying to gage if Mitch is telling the truth. He looks entirely at a loss, one hand outstretched halfway between them like he wants to reach out to Auston and doesn’t know how.

“Matts, what-”

“It’s the usual stuff. Calling me papi, stuff about getting my mom a green card, ‘time to build a wall’, I don’t know.” Auston turns away from Mitch again, can’t stand the look on his face, completely aghast. “People have been saying racist shit since I was a kid,” he says. “It doesn’t matter.”

“That’s fucking awful,” Mitch says, sounding stricken. “Auston, that’s- what the fuck.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he says again. “It’s just- I thought it would stop, now. I have almost thirty goals.” He tries for a laugh, ends up just making this pathetic little ‘ha’ sound. “I don’t know what else I can do,” he says finally, helpless, and Mitch hugs him from behind, hard.

He’s got his arms locked around Auston, tight enough to almost hurt, to anchor him; face pressed into the back of Auston’s neck. 

Auston exhales, shaky, lets Marns hold him. Relaxes into his grip, just a little. His brain’s still all loud, but he focuses on Mitch’s arms, manages to get out a few deep breaths.

“Are you going to cry?” Mitch asks, quiet; not like he’s making fun, like he’s genuinely asking. Still –

No.”

“Okay,” Mitch says, easy, placating. Then, “It’d be okay, if you were.” 

“I’m not,” Auston says, “I’m just. Ugh.”

“I get it,” Mitch says, and Auston bites down a retort about how Mitch hasn’t gotten anything for a day in his life, ‘cause something in his voice- he’s trying. He’s trying to get it. Auston believes that much, at least.

Auston reaches up and breaks Mitch’s grip on him, gently, just for long enough that he can turn and pull him into a better hug, so they’re facing each other this time. If Mitch is surprised he doesn’t show it, just locks his arms around Auston’s torso and snuggles right up, for once letting them sit in silence.

It should be weirder than it is, hugging Mitch like this.

“Sorry for calling you Papi,” he says, once Auston’s breathing a little more normal. He pulls back just enough to meet Auston’s eyes. “That time. I didn’t know. Sorry.”  

Auston runs his thumb along Mitch’s hip. “Thanks, Marns.”

The thought occurs to him, intrusive and unexpected, that he doesn’t think he’d mind if Mitch called him that, now. It’s stupid, cheesy as hell, and there’s a panicked second when he thinks that Mitch might be able to read his mind, because he half-smiles, ducking his head to try and hide it. Auston catches it anyways.  

“What?”

Mitch leans into Auston’s space, just a little. “This is the nicest you’ve ever been to me,” he says, and he still sounds light enough, but Auston hears the weight of his words. There’s this little tug in his chest, something close to guilty.

“Guess I should be sad more often,” he says, trying to brush it off. Mitch shakes his head.

“Never want you to be sad, Matts,” he says, too sincere. Auston kisses him, then; and sure, it’s technically still to shut him up, but it feels different. More honest, somehow.

It feels, he realizes, like a kiss.     

Mitch pulls back, says almost like an afterthought, “Except when it comes to me brutalizing the rookie points leaderboard, though. Then I want you to eat my dust and weep.”

Auston laughs, which makes Mitch smile, proud of himself. He presses one quick, chaste kiss to Auston’s lips before cozying up and leaning his head on Auston’s shoulder like he’s planning on staying there for a while. There’s no way he doesn’t feel how hard Auston’s heart is pounding, now, because he’s reading too much into everything and he knows it and can’t make himself stop.

 And yeah, he realizes with a sinking feeling in his stomach, this is bad.  

This is really bad.

-------

“Prepare to die, Nylander.”

They’re playing online in Battlefield, Auston and Mitch on one team and Willy on another. It's coming right down the wire, barely fifteen players left on each side. Auston’s still one of them, which is an achievement in itself, except now he's getting competitive.      

“Fuckfuckfuck,” Mitch jams his thumb down on his controller, kneeling on the couch and way too into it like always, as if they're in a real war. “Do the plan, do the plan-”

“I'm doing the plan,” Auston snaps, tense. One of the randoms on Willy’s team gets within his sights and Auston takes him down, headshot from up in the sniper’s nest like Marns has been making him practice for months. Eight- no seven left on their team, five on Will’s.

“What plan?” Willy demands, crackling to life over the mic. “No secret plans, this isnt fair, I'm not there to yell at you!”

“You're yelling at us right now,” Mitch points out, and Auston tunes out their bickering, leans forward and bites his lip, focused. 

On Mitch’s half of the screen, his avatar sprints across the open field, Willy’s running after him. They don't even have to talk about it: Auston whacks the A button like he's firing off a slapshot, knows he got the shot when Willy starts cursing up a storm. ‘Your team won’ his screen reads, and he drops his controller, more psyched than is probably cool to admit.

“Yes, Matts!” Mitch whoops, springing across three couch cushions to throttle Auston in a celly that nearly sends them both to the floor. “Fucking gorgeous, holy shit!”   

“That was flukey as shit,” Willy complains, sore loser. “I miss Kappy.”

“New phone, who dis,” Mitch crows, ruffling Auston’s hair like they just won the Stanley Cup. “Dream team over here, honest to god.”

Auston elbows him, laughing, “Shut up,” and then they’re shoving at each other all playful until they’re not. He’s not sure which one of them kisses the other first. Not sure it really matters. He could get used to cellies like this.  

“You’re making out, aren’t you?” Willy asks, flatly, right about when Auston starts to forget they never actually ended the call.

He draws back to answer, but Mitch puts a hand over his mouth, gestures like ‘wait’ and reaches past Auston to grab one of the discarded remotes. Auston waits.

“You definitely are,” Willy’s complaining. “Oh, I need new friends. This is ridiculous.”

“Oh, Auston,” Mitch moans right into the mic, exaggerated and so ridiculous that Auston can’t help but laugh. Willy lets out a godawful screech, and that’s enough to make Mitch completely lose it, burying his face in Auston’s shoulder and cackling.

“You’re fucking awful,” Willy says. “Both of you are, you’re terrible and I’m requesting a trade to as far as possible from here.”   

“Sweden?” Auston suggests, innocent, and Mitch shakes against him even more.

“Fuck you,” Willy says, but they can both hear him laughing before he hangs up.

It’s dumb, how cozy Auston feels then, his best friend giving him shit for winning at video games with his boyfr- his Mitch, whatever they are, and it’s just. Nice. Things could stay like they are right now forever, Auston thinks, and he’d be okay with it.

Mitch is still giggling, controller abandoned on the floor.

“You’re such an asshole,” Auston says, and it doesn’t sound anything but hopelessly fond.

“Eh, Willy’s fine, he loves me.” Mitch cards his fingers through the hair falling in Auston’s face, easy, but he has a blush on his cheeks, pink and faint enough to hit Auston like a punch to the gut.

He wishes he could hate Willy, for making Mitch blush like that. He wishes he could still hate Mitch for anything, really, because it’d be easier than whatever’s twisting inside him now at the realization that this is all it’s ever going to be, and that’s if he’s lucky.

He should pull back, do the decent thing and let Mitch go after Willy, even if it’s a hopeless straight-guy crush. Except then Mitch is nudging at Auston’s nose with his own, cheeks still flushed all perfect, and Auston- he just wants this, today. He’ll be decent later, he decides, and catches Mitch in a kiss, lets himself have what he can.  

-------

There’s a lot of stuff going through Auston’s head, after Mitch fights Ristolainen.

He’s terrified, at first, that Mitch is going to get killed by this guy; then, once the refs have broken it up, he’s confused, completely blindsided by what the hell Mitch was thinking.

Most of all, though, he’s fucking humiliated.

He knows what it looked like, 6’4’’ Auston Matthews getting rescued by 5’11’’ Mitch Marner like some kind of damsel in distress. The press doesn’t miss that detail, of course, blowing up Auston’s timeline with a million comments about how hilarious the fight was to watch; clips of the announcers joking about what a mismatch it was. Even Babs joins in teasing Auston about it, pats him on the back and cracks some joke about training Mitchy as a goon. Auston thinks he would have preferred a lecture. 

So, yeah, he’s humiliated, and when that starts to dull he’s nothing else but angry.

It sits there in the pit of his stomach, this festering thing that gets bigger and bigger ‘til Mitch chases him down outside the locker room, laughing from whatever the guys in the room just said.

“Hey,” he calls, and jumps on Auston’s back like he weighs nothing, all jovial. “Done saying nice stuff about me in interviews already?”

Auston stiffens, waits for Mitch to slide off of him and glares. “What were you thinking?” he demands. “He’s got forty pounds on you, you looked like a fucking kid.”

Mitch kind of scoffs, still mostly-smiling like this is just a fun joke. “You’re welcome, bud. Want me to go get my keys so we can-”

“You don’t think I could’ve handled it?”

“I think he had you in a headlock and you weren’t getting away,” Mitch says, slow, like he’s explaining something to a dumb little kid.

He doesn’t get it. He’ll never fucking get it.

“That’s not your job!” Auston bursts out, forgets that he’s supposed to be chill. “Marty’s supposed to fight, you’re supposed to fucking score. What about that is so hard for you to get?”

Mitch blinks, stares at Auston. He’s got a shit poker face, stands there like an open book so Auston can see the realization dawn on his face, real slow. “You’re not mad that someone had to protect you,” Mitch realizes out loud. “You’re mad that it was me.”

Auston’s heart’s thumping in his chest. He wouldn’t have articulated it like that, ‘cause it sounds bad. It must be true, though, because he feels himself go red as soon as Mitch says it, is in too deep to turn back. “You shouldn’t have gotten involved, Mitch.”

Mitch is still looking at him, confused and too earnest, like he doesn’t understand why Auston’s making such a big deal out of this. “Someone goes after my best friend, I’m supposed to stand there and do nothing?”

“We’re not best friends,” Auston snaps, and laughs, this awful, humourless thing. “We’re barely even- we’re not anything.”  

He regrets it as soon as he says it, immediately wants to take the words back and can’t. Mitch steps back, reeling like Auston hit him.  He looks small, standing there in his t-shirt and leggings and thick socks.

“Well,” Mitch says, quiet as he’s ever been after a too-long pause. “Fuck you, I guess.”

And there’s nothing really to say, after that. Auston wants to, anyways, but by the time he opens his mouth, Mitch is already back in the locker room, slamming the door behind him. Auston’s left standing there in the hall, this weird mix of anger and regret and lingering embarrassment. He hasn’t fought with Mitch – really fought, angry and intent to hurt – since the first night they kissed. He can’t remember it feeling this bad.

 He’s not sure if it’s still called a breakup, when you weren’t actually dating.

It sure feels like one.

-------

It should be easier than it is, for Auston to get used to Mitch hating him. They hardly talked the first few weeks they knew each other, it should be simple enough to go back to that. Not like there’s nothing to keep them busy – they’ve got a real shot at the playoffs, going hard at practice like every game’ll make or break them, because they will. Auston’s two goals away from breaking the Leafs rookie scoring record. His agent says every sporting goods company in Toronto wants to work with him.

Auston’s fucking miserable.

And Mitch-

Mitch isn’t.

It doesn’t make sense, ‘cause everything that could be going wrong for him is. A pipe bursts at his condo, Sportsnet publishes some editorial about how they think he’s the weak link of the Leafs rookies, then he gets rammed into the boards when they play Columbus and ends up out for the next five games. The press keeps asking Auston about it, and for the first time in weeks, he’s not lying when he tells them that he has no idea what’s going on with Mitch.

It doesn’t even feel good when Auston takes over the scoring lead, because now it doesn’t matter if he wins the Calder, if he wins the fucking Art Ross, there’s always going to be a ‘but look how many Marner got in five less games’, a ‘what if’.

Mitch doesn’t stop smiling and joking around with the guys, not for a second. He doesn’t even pay Auston a second glance.

Auston doesn’t get it.

He lets things simmer like that for a couple weeks, ‘til he can’t anymore, pulls Mitch aside while they’re all filing into Real Sports to celebrate going 3-0 in the week’s homestand.

“Mitch,” he says, and catches Mitch’s arm before he can go through the door. “Can we talk?”

“You’re talking already,” Mitch says, looking over Auston’s shoulder, grinning at whatever the guys are up to like he’s not even listening. Auston’s stomach sinks. “Atta boy, Zaits!”

“Right,” Auston says. “Look, about what I said- I didn’t mean for things to be awkward with the team.”

Mitch rolls his eyes and tugs his arm out of Auston’s grip. “Things aren’t awkward.”

Auston sighs, exasperated. “Yeah, only they are-”

“Matthews,” Mitch cuts him off. He sounds every inch the guy Auston met at the beginning of the year, cocky and shallow and all bro-ed out like when he’s talking to guys he hardly knows. “I don’t care, okay? We don’t have to be friends. It’s not summer camp.” He throws Auston’s words back at him like he knows they’re a trump card. He’s right.

“Can we go get drunk now?” Mitch asks, already elbowing past Auston through the doorway. Auston steps out of his way, still kind of stunned.

“Fine,” he says, and Mitch is already gone, hollering at Willy to tell him the score of the Raptors’ game that’s playing on the big screens.

Auston stands in the entrance for too long, even though the wind is cutting into his skin, freezing cold. He hates Mitch, a little. Hates himself more for fucking things up with them so bad he can’t fix it. And like- he tried. He doesn’t know what else to do. Maybe there is nothing to do.

So Auston ends up traipsing into the bar, sliding into a seat next to Freddy and Mac because he knows they won’t bug him. The three of them sit pretty quietly, watch the game together. Freddy keeps Auston’s glass full, which is probably his way of showing affection. Auston’s not complaining, listens to Mac’s running commentary and thinks he’s doing a pretty dece job of not looking too miserable until Mo swoops in like his dad senses are tingling.  

“Careful, Matts,” says Mo, jabbing at Auston’s cheek. He’s got a can of Molson in his hand, spills a little on Auston’s pants. “Keep making that face and you’re going to get stuck like that.”

Auston swats him away, surly. Across the bar, Mitch is doing shots with Marty, matching him drink for drink. That’s going to end terribly. “Not tonight, dude.”  

Mo pats Auston’s shoulder, perceptive even when he’s mostly smashed. “Chin up, bud. Bet it’s not as bad as you think.”

And it’s- Auston appreciates the gesture, has kind of come to depend on the way all the old guys seem determined to big-brother him, but what Mo doesn’t get is that it’s exactly as bad as Auston thinks. The truth is real simple: Everything is going wrong for Mitch and he’s completely fine. And it’s not like Auston wants him not to be fine, but it’s just- before, he could pretend like Mitch needed him, and now he knows he didn’t. And Mitch has got a fucked-up shoulder and a scoring slump and people saying he should be traded, but Auston still feels like he’s the one losing.

-------

He doesn’t push things with Mitch, hardly talks to him over the next few days, which is part of the reason that Auston has no clue what to do when he runs into him in the hall after off-ice practice on Friday.

The other part of the reason is that Mitch is doubled over, coughing; these huge, hacking things that are making his shoulders heave.

“Fuck,” Auston says, and he’s closing the distance between them before he even knows what he’s doing; getting a hand on the small of Mitch’s back like that’s going to do anything. “What do I- do you need water, or should I get Coach, or Boyler, or-”

Mitch shakes his head no, straightens up and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He’s still red, still looks out of breath. “Just tired,” he says, and Auston’s not a fucking idiot, would be insulted if he wasn’t so worried. There’re strands of hair clinging to Mitch’s forehead, damp. They didn’t go that hard at practice.

“Mitch,” Auston says. “What-”

Mitch makes a face, inscrutable. He’s avoiding Auston’s gaze. “It’s nothing,” 

“That wasn’t nothing,” Auston argues, still shaken. He’s connecting all the dots, the way Marns hasn’t been himself in practice, sat out optional skate for the first time ever on Tuesday.

His brain’s making up all these worst case scenarios, like, Mitch is dying from cancer or asbestos exposure or some other fucked-up Lifetime movie thing; all that is running through his head so that it’s actually kind of a relief when Mitch shrugs him off, says, “It’s just mono.”

That lasts about a second until it hits Auston that ‘just mono’ is still fucking mono. He gapes at Mitch, incredulous – how the actual fuck is he playing? – and Mitch still doesn’t meet his eyes.

“You’re kidding.”

“The trainers know,” Mitch says, like he’s had this argument before. “They said I’m fine to play as long as I feel up to it. I feel up to it.”   

First his shoulder, now this. “Do your parents-”

“No,” Mitch says, and now he glares at Auston, fierce enough to catch him off guard. “And I don’t need their permission, or yours, so just- leave it, okay?”

Auston doesn’t even know who he’s more pissed at – Mitch for being a stubborn asshole, the medical staff for clearing Mitch to be a stubborn asshole, or himself and the rest of the team for being not-good enough that a sick Mitch Marner is still their only hope of clinging to a wildcard spot.

He looks so tired. Auston has to stop himself from reaching out to pull him into a hug, has to remind himself that they don’t do that anymore. By the time he does, Mitch is already backing away, like he’s maybe remembering the same thing.

Auston watches him, helpless. “You don’t have to prove anything, Marns-”

Mitch levels him with a look, colder than Auston thought he was capable of. It stops him in his tracks. “My friends call me Marns.”

And that’s-

There’s nothing he can really say, to that, is there?

-------

“God,” Willy moans, flops over the back of the couch, hanging upside down next to Auston. “You’re awful to be around when you’re pining.”  

“I’m not pining.” Auston says. It’s the biggest lie in the world, ‘cause he’s been listening to ‘She’s Gone’ by Hall & Oates on repeat for maybe four days straight while creeping Mitch’s instagram, but Willy doesn’t have to know that. He maybe does, anyways, because he fixes Auston with the most Mom look a twenty-three year old guy can muster up.

“You’re very pining,” Willy says. “You’re so pining my grandmother can hear you from across the ocean. You’re breaking mormor’s heart.”

“I’m not,” Auston repeats, refusing to be guilt-tripped by innocent Swedish grannies. “It was just a sex thing. Not that you’d know about that.”

Willy flicks at Auston’s nose, flipping so he can sit the right way up again. “Don’t be a dick.”

 Auston shoves him away, tucks his knees up under him and continues not-pining. He’s getting real good at it.

He’s wondering kind of absentmindedly how Willy feels about Hall & Oates when Willy speaks up. He has this weird look on his face, like he’s been thinking. That’s probably the first warning sign.

“I know what you need,” Will announces, too grand for just the two of them.

“And what’s that?” If he says to watch Pretty Woman again, Auston’s going to kill him.

“A rebound,” Willy says, proud of himself. Auston opens his mouth to argue, but he doesn’t get a chance, because Willy turns so they’re facing each other, leans in close enough that Auston’s eyes cross when he tries to look right at him. “Okay,” he says, “Bring it,” and purses his lips.

“Um,” Auston says, entirely at a loss. “What?”

Willy punches his arm, light. He doesn’t move his lips, sounds all muffled when he says, “Kiss me, man.” 

“I- what?” 

Willy rolls his eyes. “I’m being a rebound,” he explains, like it’s obvious, like it’s a completely normal thing to say. “What’re friends for?”

Auston scoots back a little more onto his side of the couch. “Not that.”

“Rude.”

Auston sighs, recovering past the shock enough to be a little exasperated. “You don’t like guys, Willy.”

 “I mean,” Willy says, looking determined, “it can’t be that different.”

“It’s different,” Auston says. He’s kissed enough people to know. “It is very much different.”

“Do you know what?” Willy asks, all self-satisfied. “I knew it. I knew you’d say this, because you’re still hung up on Marns, because it wasn’t just a sex thing.”

“Please shut up,” Auston says, and isn’t even surprised when that doesn’t happen.

“Dude, you don’t have to be embarrassed! Mitchy’s awesome. So what if you fell for him-”

“I didn’t.”

“Then kiss me,” Willy dares, and he looks like he’s already won, and there was probably a time in Auston’s life when he won arguments without kissing people, but that time is apparently not now. 

“Fuck it,” he says, and bridges the gap between them to catch Willy’s mouth with his own.

So, a couple of things he gets from this: One, Willy’s a decent kisser. Which – no surprise, Auston’s seen him pick up, he’s had a lot of practice. Two, okay, he sort of gets why Mitch picked him as the ‘Fuck’ in ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’.

Three, Willy’s not Mitch. Willy’s Willy. That shouldn’t matter, but it does, and Auston pulls back before the kiss can deepen.

“Sorry,” he says. “Sorry, I just-” He’s kind of worried that Will’s going to be offended, but he just makes a face then laughs, that weird honk he does.

“It’s weird, right?”

Auston smiles too, kind of sheepish. “So weird.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Willy wipes his mouth on his t-shirt, good-natured. “I could feel your stubble all prickly, eugh.”

Auston rubs a hand over his face, kind of self-conscious. He just shaved last night. “It was your idea!”

 “Because I’m a supportive friend who doesn’t like when his friends are sad!” Auston kind of wants to shove him off the couch, but he also knows that this is Willy looking out for him, in his own weird European way. If Auston had to touch tongues with someone on the team to realize that he only wants Mitch, he’s glad it was him.

If he had to lose Mitch to someone, he’s glad it was him.

“Thanks for trying, I guess.”

 Willy holds his arms out for a hug, and Auston slumps against him, sighing.

The ‘he only wants Mitch’ thing. That’s maybe going to be a problem.

“Will?” he asks, after a while.

“Yeah?”

Auston chews on his lip. “I don’t think it was just a sex thing. With Marns.”

Willy sighs, pats Auston’s head. “Matty,” he says, very gently, “you are really fucking slow, you know that?”

-------

If he's doing the romantic gesture thing, Auston figures, may as well swallow his pride and do it right.

Somehow that leads to him sitting on a bench by the Toronto harbor in late February holding Tim Hortons. He’s not sure if that really counts as doing it right, like, traditionally speaking, but Mitch shows up, so he figures he’s doing okay.

Mitch pulls his car up to the curb right next to where Auston’s sitting, idling right next to a no-parking sign. He rolls down the window to stare at Auston, kind of suspicious, and sighs.

“Your car didn’t really break down, did it?”

Auston shakes his head. He texted Mitch maybe twenty minutes ago, can’t help but be impressed that he showed up so quick, or at all. “Sorry. I got iced capps.” He holds up the cardboard tray like an offering, and Mitch doesn’t soften, exactly, but he doesn’t look quite as eager to run Auston over with his SUV, either.

“Iced capps,” Mitch echoes, and Auston nods. It takes him a while to pull one of the drinks out of the tray, clumsy with his thick gloves, but he manages to get one out for Mitch, jogs over to the car window and hands it over. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Auston waves him off, bounces on the balls of his feet a couple of times. “Want to go for a walk?” he asks, then, when Mitch looks skeptical. “Please?”

“I'm going to get a parking ticket,” Mitch says, but he shuts off his car and gets out, stands a couple feet away from Auston on the icy path. “Only because you bribed me with Tims,” he warns. It’s kind of hard to look threatening while sipping on a frozen drink in the middle of winter, but he makes a decent attempt.

“Fair,” Auston says, and ventures a small smile. Mitch just shoves his free hand in his jacket pocket, follows when Auston starts walking down the sidewalk. 

The pier’s mostly deserted, a bunch of ‘not maintained in winter’ signs keeping most people at on the main streets, or the outdoor rink a few blocks away. They walk along the side of the lake in silence, breath coming in puffs in the cold. Auston bets people feed ducks here, in summer. It looks like that kind of place.  

“I’m sorry,” he says, once they’ve been walking for a couple of minutes. “Everything I said, after you fought that guy for me, that was me being an asshole, nothing else.”

“No kidding,” Mitch says, wry. He chews the end of his straw, doesn’t look at Auston.

“I was embarrassed,” Auston admits.  He’s shivering, not sure if it’s because of the cold or because of what he’s trying to say. “And I was fucking terrified that you'd get hurt and it'd be my fault-”

“-and that'd be easier if we weren't friends,” Mitch finishes, inscrutable. “That’s kind of dumb, Auston.”

“Yeah,” Auston says, looking down at his feet.

Mitch sighs. He leans on the rail next to the water even though the metal’s freezing, kicks at the bottom so a couple tiny icicles fall off. “I wasn’t trying to embarrass you,” he says, eventually. “I realized you might’ve thought that, after, but I wouldn’t have done that to you.”

“I know,” Auston says, quick. He leans on the rail next to Mitch, keeps about a foot between them, like a buffer. “I know, ‘cause what I said was stupid, we are friends. Or,” he hesitates, suddenly insecure. “We were. I might have ruined that, I don’t-”

“You didn’t,” Mitch says, like it’s easy, like Auston hasn’t been stressing about this for weeks. “We can- you want to be friends?” He’s staring at Auston now, piercing, like he’s trying to look in his brain.

Auston nods, vehement. He may have blown his chance at ever kissing Mitch again, at ever being anything other than a friend, but he wants this, needs something. “More than anything.”

Mitch’s face goes through a bunch of expressions in the span of a second; Auston thinks he catches a flash of something like disappointment, but it’s gone before he can be sure that it wasn’t wishful thinking, and then Mitch is grinning, small but there, and he’s distracted.

“More than a Stanley Cup?” Mitch asks, and he gets this shit-eating smirk on his face, and Auston knows just like that, they’re good.

It feels like a weight’s off his shoulders. “Nah,” Auston says, ‘cause he thinks they’re okay to chirp, now. “Maybe more than, like, the Lady Byng or something-”

“Fuck you,” Mitch laughs, elbowing Auston, and Auston shoves him back, and that space that was between them is gone, and they’re side by side looking out at the lake and Auston hasn’t felt this good in weeks.

Mitch nudges him, gentler, this time. “I can’t believe you got us iced capps in February.”

“They’re your favourite,” Auston says, and Mitch laughs, fond. His cheeks are pink as he takes a swig at his drink, and Auston makes himself look away, knows it’s probably just because of the weather.

“Listen,” he says, because he needs Mitch to know this. “I know I was acting weird for a while, but I just- I’m going to be a better friend now. I won't even be weird about you and Willy, promise.”

Mitch is still smiling, but his brow furrows in the middle, like he's confused. “You won’t- sorry, what? Willy?”

“C’mon,” Auston says, kind of awkward. “I know you like him. Why do you think I was so jealous?”

“How did- what- why do you think I like Willy?” Mitch splutters. He sounds completely at a loss, and that's about when this little flicker of hope starts up in Auston, burning there while he tries to ignore it.

“I mean,” Auston says, dragging his finger along the frost on the top of the rail. He’s sort of scared to look at Mitch. “He’s, like, perfect. So.”  

You’re perfect,” Mitch blurts, all earnest, and that flicker of hope in Auston’s chest goes nuclear, fucking obliterated, rest in peace number thirty-four. It’s a wonder the waterfront is still standing – Auston feels like it should be flattened, like it doesn’t make sense that the world looks the exact same when everything has just changed completely.

Mitch is frozen with his drink halfway to his mouth, looking mortified. “Ahh, I mean. Fuck.”

“I,” Auston starts and Mitch cuts him off, talking really fast.

“Okay, you can just completely ignore that, I didn’t- I know you don’t feel that way, and you want to be friends, and that’s totally cool. I-” He rubs at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I swear to god, I won’t even bring it up, and I’ll get over it and we can be bros and I’ll even pretend to like Willy, if that’s- the whole crush thing can just not be a thing, alri-”

“Do you want to go out with me?” Auston interrupts, and Mitch snaps his mouth shut. It’s his turn to stare.

“I’m in love with you,” Auston explains. “So.”

Mitch has both of his hands clasped over his mouth, like some shocked old lady. It’s pretty unfairly adorable, and Auston can’t help but reach out, tuck some loose strands of Mitch’s hair back under his hat.

“You-” Mitch says weakly, after a silence that lasts a million years, at least. “You- me? You love me?”

“I hated you,” Auston says, helpless. “And then I didn’t, and now-”

Mitch drops his hands, and Auston sees his smile for the first time, and if he wasn’t a fucking goner before, he would be now. “You’re hopelessly in love with me?”

“Fuck you,” Auston says, automatic, but now he’s smiling too, and they’re smiling at each other, leaning in close. It’s like he can’t even feel the cold anymore. The day seems brighter, all of a sudden, like every colour in the city is reflecting off this frozen lake, just for them. Mitch likes him, too. “Can I- I want to kiss you.”

“Yeah,” Mitch breathes, and leans in, and if this was a movie this would be when the music started; except then Mitch jumps back and claps a hand over his mouth before Auston can close the last inch between them. “Wait, no, shit. I’m sick. Coach’ll murder me if I give you mono.”

“You’re fucking with me,” Auston says, even as he realizes that, no, he’s not. Mitch shakes his head.

“I’m not,” he says, “I’m- this is so bad, holy shit.” He dissolves into giggles all over again, and Auston’s  staring at him, not sure if he wants to laugh or scream. “I really want to kiss you, oh my god.”

“Okay,” Auston says, because damn it, he did not go out in this fucking North Pole weather to get denied this moment at the last possible second. “Okay, just- going to be creative here, okay?”

“Okay,” Mitch says, and the next thing that comes out of his mouth his this surprised ‘oof’ as Auston folds him into a hug, as big as he can possibly make it, so it lifts Mitch off his feet. “Matts!”

“I’m so into you,” he announces, nuzzling into Mitch’s neck and squeezing him tight around the middle. Mitch is holding him back just as tight, laughing like the best thing Auston’s ever heard.

And Auston lied before, he must’ve, because no way a Stanley Cup is anywhere close to this.

They stand there, wrapped up in each other for long enough that Auston can’t feel his toes; grabs at handfuls of Marns’s jacket and presses kisses to his hair, anyways.

“I like this,” Mitch says, muffled against Auston.

“Me too,” Auston says, giddy, and Mitch pulls back just enough that Auston can see him make a face.

“Dork,” he teases; then, when Auston laughs and ducks his head, reaches up a hand to tilt Auston’s face toward him, gentle. “Hey,” Mitch says, suddenly serious, and waits ‘til Auston meets his eyes. “I like you.”

Auston leans into Mitch’s hand, knows he looks completely smitten and can’t bring himself to mind. “’Course you do, I’m perfect.”

Mitch laughs, “I told you to forget that, god!” and shoves at Auston like he’s going to flip him over the rail; it turns into them chasing each other down the waterfront, past all the empty piers and summer snack bars, scooping up handfuls of the leftover snow to try and shove down each other’s coats.

And, it’s like-

Mitch fucking Marner. Who’d have thought?

-------

EPILOGUE

It’s almost absurdly cozy, one of the rare Saturdays where they aren’t playing or travelling. Auston’s watching hockey anyways, because of course he is, crowded on his couch with Marns and Willy to watch the Habs and the Bruins beat the shit out of each other in the second line brawl of the night. They have hot cocoa and everything.

Mitch is in the middle of the other two, tucked under Auston’s arm and playing with the drawstrings on Willy’s hoodie. Auston’s this easy kind of happy that he’s sort of getting used to, here with his boyfriend and his dumb third-wheeling bro and an awesome hockey rivalry, a few games away from the Leafs’ first playoff spot in years.

He cuddles Mitch closer, drums his fingers on his shoulder. Willy makes a bunch of gagging sounds.

“Yo, can I be best man when you guys get married?” 

“Shut the fuck up, oh my god,” Mitch chides, pulling at the strings so Willy’s hood closes around his face. Auston knows he’s blushing bright red, takes a long sip of his hot chocolate to distract himself from thinking anything involving Marns in a suit.

The little piece of Willy’s face that’s still visible looks offended. “I’ll do such a cool bachelor party, it’ll be so lit, I swear to god-”

“Will,” Auston gripes, but the mention of a bachelor party seems to have won Mitch over.

“Ooh, I want a stripper,” Mitch says, eyes shining. “I’m thinking Sidney Crosby in a speedo, popping out of a giant cake.”   

 “You’re into such weird shit,” Auston teases fondly. Mitch laces their fingers, smiles so brilliant that Auston can’t help but return it. Auston really likes when he smiles. Auston really likes him. It’s so lame.

“We already knew that,” Willy says. He’s freed himself from his hood now, looking between the two of them. “He’s been with you for months, now.” 

Mitch cackles while Auston rolls his eyes, shoots Willy an admittedly sub-par dirty look. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be, other than harassing me and my boyfriend?”

Willy shrugs, returns Auston’s scowl good-naturedly. “Not really in the mood to go home. Maybe I’ll just chill here with you guys,” he says. “Hashtag no homo.”

“Hashtag homo,” Mitch says, and leans up to press a kiss to Auston’s cheek. It still turns Auston’s insides all gooey, ‘cause, yeah, he’s got it bad. It’s not the worst feeling in the world.

 “Gross,” Willy says, and Auston reaches over to mess up his hair, affectionate.

“Better kisser than you,” he teases, and Willy laughs, and all of that is drowned out by Mitch spitting out a mouthful of his hot chocolate, eyes lit up like they just handed him a bag of Halloween candy.

What?!”