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Reaching for the Big Prizes

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Matthew is supposed to be watching Finding Nemo(Alfred's pick) and relaxing before the start of training camp.  Alfred is already half asleep next to him.  Matthew can’t relax yet hockey isn’t what occupies his mind for once, at least, not directly.  His mind replays conversations he and Alfred brought up but never finished.  “You sure you want to do this?”

“This?”  Alfred asks, his eyes half-open.

“The ‘tell everyone we’re together thing.’”

“Oh.”  Alfred blinks a few times, trying to wake up.  “Yep.”

“What if the league kicks us out, Al?”

“Like they could get away with that.”  Alfred snorts.  “You’re on track to be the league’s golden boy.”

Matthew bites his lip.  “That doesn’t guarantee anything…especially not for you.  You’re not on the team just yet.  At least technically.”

“I can end up in the AHL whether we come out or not.  We’ll have awkward moments sure, but no one is going to lynch us for being gay.

“I am more worried not playing in the NHL than that.”  Matthew smiles wryly.

“We’re too good!  They’d be idiots to can us.  You were just made captain.  And our contracts should protect us, right?”  Alfred leans against Matthew.  He wraps one arm around Matthew’s shoulders and his free hand trails over his belly.  Matthew squirms from the light tickling.  “Mattie, would you rather get an ulcer from just training and games or along with the fear of us being discovered?”

Matthew grabs Alfred’s hand and rests it on his thigh.  “And what about our team?  Can you imagine saying, ‘hey, we’re in a relationship’ randomly?”

“Well, Timo kind of guessed—“

Matthew flinches.  Matthew and Alfred never lie about not being in a relationship, they are just careful about avoiding any mention of dating each other.   Timo having a “talk” Alfred about his “crush” on Matthew still freaks Matthew out; he can’t figure out where Alfred might have slipped.

“—so Ber knows, too.  Cause they share everything. Even that little purse dog.  Hannah-Tomato or something.”  Alfred tugs back experimentally.  Matthew pushes back on the couch, holding Alfred’s other arm between himself and the couch.

Alfred grins.  Matthew braces himself for a ‘surprise’ tackle but Alfred’s expression softens into a smile.  Matthew is helpless to do anything but smile back.  If for nothing else, Matthew has fallen for that smile and that smile is responsible for some of the more, ah, questionable things Matthew had done in the last year and a half.  “That’s what, a little less than one-tenth of the team?  And you are ignoring the staff, future teammates, and I don’t know…everyone else in the NHL.”

Alfred pauses, trying to remember the conversation.  “The team is what’s important!  It’s one-sixth if you count us!  And Coach’s grandson is a few steps from flaming and Coach has nothing but praises to say about the kid.  He has a thing for Luddy, too.”

“Coach Rome and Ludwig?!”  Matthew is pretty sure his brain has just died.

Alfred laughs in surprise.  “Coach?  Who knows?  I was talking about his grandson, the nice one.”

Matthew raises an eyebrow.  “And you know this how?”

“You honestly haven’t noticed?  Why do you think he’s always bringing us food after a practice?  He stares and stutters at Luddy.  It’s obvious.”

“I suppose it is if you’ve noticed it.”

“Meanie!  What does that say about you?”

“That I actually focus during practice?  I’m kidding!  Don’t hit me!”  Matthew holds up his hands in defense.  “Though if you are noticing stuff like that, I probably should talk to coach about setting up harder drills, eh?”

Alfred grins suddenly.

Matthew is confused.  Drills are a necessary evil.  Alfred has no reason to smile—

Oh.  His hands are free.

Shit.

Alfred moves first, shoving Matthew off the couch before he can grab Al again.  Matthew readies himself on the floor for a pounce but Alfred just stretches out on his side, taking up the whole couch.

“I think everything would go all right.  With the team, you know?” Alfred says.  “There has to be a first time for everything.”

Matthew stares up at him.  Alfred is taking this much more seriously than when he had mentioned outing themselves at the end of last season.  Matthew wants to take this as a joke; only Al would think about admitting to being in a relationship while playing in the same league and on the same team.

Except…

Matthew imagines being able to claim Alfred as his boyfriend.  (Boyfriend seems so childish but how could he deny Alfred when the other blond had shyly asked, “You’re my boyfriend, right?” after they made out the first time?)  He wants to go on dates that didn’t involve just video games or bars or the millions of other casual things they do with their teammates.  The more daring part of him--Matthew completely blames his father for this--wants to kiss Alfred after the end of every game, win or lose.

Matthew can’t shake fear though.  He loves hockey.  He lives for it and has kept his mouth shut about his bisexuality.  He shaped his life plans around the idea of being a pro hockey player and part of that meant sticking to girls.

Then he met Jones on the ice and Alfred after the game, less than a year before he got drafted in the NHL.  Matthew still had every intention of sticking to his plan—no matter how much Alfred’s smile made him want something more than just hockey when just hockey had been all he ever dreamed about—right up until Alfred nervously introduced his friends, his roommate Toris…and Toris’s skirt-wearing boyfriend Feliks.  His plans shattered when Alfred casually mentioned he use to date Toris. 

Matthew nearly had a heart attack.  Alfred, handsome and with infectious smiles, was available.  He had almost ruined everything that night by trying to drink up some liquid courage to damn everything and ask Alfred out. 

Alfred had taken Matthew’s sudden drinking and silence as disgust.  Only Toris being amazingly nice and keeping Feliks from kicking Matthew in the balls with his pointy heels did Matthew manage to set things straight and ask Alfred out on a date.

Matthew sometimes wonders if he still would have asked Alfred out if had he known the relationship was going on two years, that they would end up on the same NHL team, and that there would be several almost discoveries that would lead to Alfred wanting to out themselves preemptively.

He can’t really complain.  He has a hot, adorably sweet boyfriend who loves hockey. Alfred  doesn’t get pissed off about long practices and traveling for games like his past girlfriends—Alfred only whines when hockey means getting up early—and Matthew loves playing with someone he cares about (and someone who happens to be a great winger.)

“We don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”  Alfred stares down at him.  His bright blue eyes were questioning but not judging.

“I want to say to the world, ‘hey, this is my boyfriend’ but we’re in the NHL.”  Matthew tries to put as much emotion into that acronym, willing Alfred to understand the years he spent of hoping and trying to be the best to get to this point.  “And the Olympics are this year.”

“Then we won’t.”  Alfred lies down on the couch, looking up at the ceiling to hide his face.

Matthew sighs.  “What have your brothers said about it?”

“Well, Liam wasn’t aware I wasn’t out.  Connor says I shouldn’t worry.  Peter thinks I should do a press conference in a Superman costume--”

“I will kill you.”

“--Patrick says he’ll beat the shit out of whoever gives me trouble...at least, that’s what I think he said, his accent got a bit too strong at the end.  Efan wanted to know if that meant I’d be staying with you for Christmas.”  Alfred pauses and looks at Matthew.  “Think Francis will mind?”

Matthew blinks.  He has yet to spend a Christmas with Alfred because the holiday season—short as the break is for hockey players—means Matthew would be on a plane to Quebec and Alfred to somehow house his six brothers in their small apartment.  “With the way you compliment his cooking?  I think Papa will try to keep you.”

Alfred laughs until the sound trails off awkwardly.

Silence.

Matthew realizes something is missing.  Alfred has named only five of his brothers.  He hasn’t mentioned the one brother Matthew had actually met.  With dread, Matthew asks, “And Arthur?”

Alfred looks away and rubs the back of his head.

Matthew groans.  Arthur Kirkland happens to be the only person who had threatened Matthew’s life that was not a pissed off fan of another team.  And no matter what Alfred says about his brother always ‘saying silly things like that’, Matthew is pretty sure Arthur means every word.  “Should I being looking over my shoulder?”

“He’s not that bad!”  Alfred pouts.  “The conversation was just...confusing and he’s been irritable since he stopped drinking and he writes for a living!  Of course he has a huge imagination.”

Matthew avoids mentioning that, from Alfred’s stories, Arthur had been just as irritable long before he quit drinking.  ‘Irritability’ is  one issue of a long list of things about Arthur that makes Matthew wonder just how he had gotten custody of Alfred and now Peter.  Then again, Matthew had thought Arthur was very polite if a bit standoffish up until Alfred had left them alone for five minutes.  Arthur could be disturbingly descriptive when deciding randomly to talk about medieval torture devices the moment Al left the room. 

“Artie said he wouldn’t walk me down the aisle and I wasn’t sure where he was going with that because my first thought was groceries but then Patrick said he would if I wore a nice dress.  I tried telling him I that I am gay, not a cross-dresser.  They started fighting and hung up.   Or broke the phone.  It’s kind of hard to tell.”

Matthew laughs.  “Dress, huh?  I’ll have to tell that to Angelique.”

“Don’t you dare!  Your sister is scary.”

“She wouldn’t really do anything.”  Angelique is the sweet one in his family.  Papa is the one Alfred should be worried about but as long as Francis cooks for him, Alfred would think the world of the Frenchman.

“I won’t take that chance.  Tell her and I’ll...”

“You have nothing.”  Matthew smirks.

“Oh, so you don’t mind me telling her about the time you stole her eye liner in high school?”

Matthew’s jaw drops.  “How do you know about that?  I only wore it for a little while and I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Papa Francis loves me!”

“He knows?!  Oh god...”

“He has photographic proof.”  Alfred waggles his eyebrows, which makes him look disturbingly like Francis.  “Oh, and having been around Feliks enough, I can tell you guyliner is so not your thing.”

Matthew puts his hand over his face and peaks through his fingers.  “It was a phase.”

“A phase that made you look like a raccoon.”  Alfred cups his hands around his eyes, mimicking circles. 

“At least I don’t wear Superman underwear.”

This time, Alfred rolls off the couch and lands on Matthew.  They both scramble to pin each other down but Alfred has the advantage of surprise and manages to stay on top.  He rests his forearms on either side of Matthew’s head, holding his own head barely an inch above Matthew. 

“You love me and you think my Superman boxers are sexy.  Admit it.”

A sarcastic reply is on Matthew’s lips but Alfred is smiling again.  Matthew awkwardly tilts his head up, hitting their glasses together, and kisses Alfred.

They could argue another day.

Chapter Text

First practice of preseason.

 

Well, first practice with their team.  Matthew couldn’t stand a few months without hitting a few pucks around.  Alfred went along with (almost) anything, laughing and calling Matthew a “hockey junkie.”

 

Matthew has to agree with him a bit but his Papa and Alfred have no reason to exchange long-suffering sighs.  Sure, he spends time in rinks during the summer but he does normal summer things, too!  He went swimming, fishing, played street hockey with Al and kids in the neighborhood…

 

Well, Matthew had dragged Alfred to play with kids in his neighborhood…and then had to drag Alfred away from the kids.  Matthew is pretty sure Alfred’s enthusiasm and charm had several born and bred little Habs fans wanting Jones jerseys.  Matthew expects angry calls from his papa’s neighbors any day now. 

 

“What are you smiling at?”  Alfred pokes him in the shoulder.

 

“Hm?  Just thinking.”  Matthew blinks and looks out the car window.  “Oh, we’re here.”

 

“Yep.”  Alfred leans against the steering wheel.  “I pulled in a couple minutes ago and you were staring into space.  We don’t have to, you know.”

 

“Al, we’re not skipping practice.”

 

“That’s not what I meant.  I mean, we don’t have to talk with Rome.  If you don’t want to.”

 

Matthew forces himself to look forward.  “We talked about it and agreed to it.  We will talk to him sometime before the season starts.”

 

“You’re uncomfortable with coming out.”  Alfred puts a hand on Matthew’s shoulder.  “If you don’t want to, I don’t want to.  I shouldn’t have pushed.”

 

Matthew snorts.  “I know you want to come out, Al.  And I don’t want to hide you.  I just…”

 

Alfred’s hand slid down from Matthew’s shoulder and entwines their fingers.  “It’s going to be okay.  We’ll figure out a good time and everything will be okay.” 

 

Matthew smiles back but he is nervous.  Before Alfred, he never told anyone but his papa and his sister that he likes girls and guys.  He kissed a boy on his bantam team but they never spoke of it afterward.  The only others who know are Al’s brothers, Toris, and Feliks.

 

“Come on, enough wasting time.”  Matthew lets go of Alfred’s hand.  “You’re not getting out of practice.” 

 

“Drat!  You caught onto my plan.”

 

Matthew shakes his head and gets out of the car.  He opens the door to the back seat as Alfred heads to the trunk.  He grabs his bag.  Something is missing.  “Did I leave my sticks at home?”

 

“Nope.  I got them, Mattie.”  Alfred waves the sticks above the seat before pulling the sticks and his own bag out of the trunk.  “Can you imagine, first day of active captaincy and you forget your own sticks?”

 

Matthew adjusts his glasses, trying to hide his blush.  “I didn’t forget them.”

 

“But you forgot where you put them.”  Alfred says with a laugh. 

 

“Shut up.”  Matthew locks the car before shoving Alfred.  “I can make you do drills now.”

 

“Hey…wait, you’ve always made me do drills.”  Alfred whacks him lightly with the sticks. 

 

Matthew rolls his eyes.  “You’re easy to bri—“

 

A hand grabs Matthew’s shoulder.  “So little Mattie born with a ‘C’ on his chest?”

 

Matthew looks over his shoulder but he already recognizes that accent—Mattias Axelsson, the defensemen that Las Vegas fans affectionately called the “Great Dane.”  Though, announcers are quick to abuse the Hamlet quote “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” with Mattias’s tendency to end up in the sin bin. 

 

Alfred laughs.  “Hey, Mattias.  You wouldn’t believe how bossy Mattie can be.  This captain thing is going to suck before the season even starts, dude.”

 

Mattias cackles.  “I’ll just slam him in the boards more.”

 

“Hardy-har-har.”  Matthew rolls his eyes.  “I’m right here, you know.”

 

“Really?  When did you appear?”  Mattias asks in false surprise.  “I just talking to Al and, BAM, you here.”

 

Matthew resists correcting Mattias’s English.  “Come on guys, let’s not be late.”

 

Alfred checks his watch.  “We’re a good twenty minutes early, still.”

 

Matthew and Alfred both pause and turn to stare at Mattias. 

 

Alfred checks his watch again.  “Holy shit, you’re early.”

 

“I’m not that early.”  Mattias grins. 

 

“You’re always late.”  Matthew pauses for a moment.  “What, did Torvald threaten you?”

 

“I’m not scared of Torvald!”  Mattias’s grin disappears and he looks like someone kicked his puppy. “He mess with my alarm clock.”

 

“Why hadn’t anyone thought of that years ago?”  Alfred asks. 

 

“If you didn’t live with our captain, you would be late with me.”  Mattias says to Alfred and Matthew silently agrees.  “What does captain do?  Kick you out of bed?”

 

Matthew freezes.  Did Mattias guess about their relationship?  Or has Timo said something? Did everyone kno—

 

No.  Matthew tries to calm himself down.  Alfred is right.  He can’t afford to get worked up over being discovered. 

 

“Sometimes!”  Alfred laughs.  “But getting up is the difference between pancakes and a protein shake.”

Alfred makes a face (which Matthew thinks is ridiculous; protein shakes don’t taste that bad), which sets Mattias off in laughter. 

 

“Baby!  Should’ve known food was involved.”  Mattias grabs Alfred’s cheek, pulling on the skin.  “How much weight did you get during summer?”

 

Alfred slaps his hand away.  “I worked out during the summer!”

 

“Captain make you?  Timo says you two spend summer together.”

 

Alfred flinches and looks guiltily at Matthew.  They didn’t hide the fact they spent the summer  together; it seems reasonable for Alfred to stay with Matthew with both Alfred’s lack of home outside of Las Vegas and temperamental brothers is well known.  Half of the team offered Al a place to stay after the playoffs.   Matthew was almost surprised that Alfred actually went to Montreal with him.  Considering how Al raves about Berwald’s baking, there had been a chance Alfred would have ended up in Sweden.  Alfred would fit in well with Berwald’s blonde, be-spectacled brood.    

 

“It’s not like I made him get up every day at the crack of dawn.”  Matthew slips a little whine into his voice.  “Only on weekdays.”

 

Mattias slaps his back.  “You are cruel guy, Williams.”

 

“Tell me about it!”  Alfred says with a smile.

 

Matthew punches his shoulder.  “If you had your way, you would have camped out in front of a TV and only leave the house for food.”

 

“What are you talking about?”  Alfred waves the hockey sticks, which would be more threatening if his smile isn’t splitting his face.  “I had no reason to leave the house!  Your dad was cooking for me.”

 

“Spoiled.”  Matthew shakes his head.  “Come on, let’s get inside.  I don’t think we are having practice in the parking lot.”

 

“Dude, that would be awesome!”

 

Mattias looks like he is thinking about it.

 

Matthew grabs Alfred’s arm and pulls him towards the rink.  “Do it on your own time.  We have practice.”

 

“Still early!”  Mattias protests.

 

Matthew doubles back and grabs Mattias’s arm with his other arm and drags both of them into the rink.  He didn’t trust Mattias not to ‘get lost’ if he left him in the parking lot.  Sometimes Matthew feels like a babysitter for the team, despite being the youngest last year before Al was called from the AHL (and Al is only younger by three days).  “’Early’ is a great way to start out the year.  We can make it a habit.”

 

“Fuck you, captain.”  Mattias grumbles

“Told you.”  Alfred sing-songs.  “Having him for a captain is going to suck.”

 

-----------------------------

 

Rome (Marcus Aurelius, but Matthew’s only heard LaChance refer to him as that and, as the owner of the Aces, she could get away with that) enters the room, cheerfully whistling.  This is the time of year when anyone who fell behind on their workouts would be painfully obvious and Rome seems to find picking out lazy players to have Ludwig ‘teach’ them better work out routines. 

 

Matthew has a feeling that sadism is a requirement for coaching and Ludwig is Rome’s favorite instrument of torture.  Ludwig goes above and beyond what Matthew thinks is needed with healthy diet and working out and he is always pushing their teammates to do the same.

 

Rome walks over to Matthew and puts an arm around his shoulders.  “Nice to see you bright and early, kid.  Anyone else here yet?”

 

“Ludwig is probably somewhere.”  Matthew looks around the locker room.  It’s empty but since Al’s phone is on a bench, they haven’t gone too far.  “And Mattias and Al are probably hitting up a vending machine.”

 

Mattias?  As in a certain Danish blond?”  Rome asks, incredulous. 

 

“We probably should give Torvald an ‘A.’ He fixed Mattias’s alarm clock.”  Matthew says. 

 

Rome snorts.  “I knew Torvald was evil.  It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch for.  I’ll let him wrestle Berwald or Ludwig for alternate if he wants.”

 

Matthew snorts.  Torvald isn’t exactly tiny but Berwald is huge and Ludwig’s idea of fun seems to be bodybuilding. 

 

“Anything else you want to talk about, kid?”

 

“Not really.”

 

Except…

 

Matthew could tell Rome about his relationship with Alfred.  It’s preseason; the team and Rome are not under stress yet.  Today may be the best time.

 

But today is only the first day of training camp; it’s still early.

Should he tell?

 

“Okay then.  Suit up, I’ll be back in five.”  Rome turns, heading towards his office.

 

His heart pounds in his chest and he can only think, do it now or don’t do it.

 

“Hey, Coach!”  Matthew almost doesn’t recognize his voice. 

 

Rome turns around.  “Yeah, kid?”

 

“Can we talk after practice?”

 

Rome smiles.  “Of course.”

 

---------------------------

 

There is something wonderful about being on the ice with his team again.  As each player and staff member shows up, the practice has more of a feel of a family reunion.  Greetings and questions turn into teasing as they get used to working with each other again. 

 

Matthew remembers last year, when he was a rookie, how training camp felt like the first day of a new school.  He doesn’t feel out of place anymore.  This is his team; he’s part of it unlike last year when all he could do was hope to make the team.  Al is in that position again but Matthew is sure Al will make it onto the roster. 

 

He feels like he’s come home again.  Funny how he can feel like this rink in the middle of a desert so far away from Quebec is home. 

 

--------------------------

 

Matthew is the last one back in the locker room after practice and half of the team is already out of the showers.  The locker room is loud with chatter as guys are catching up on summers and teasing each other.  Alfred is singing (and mangling) whatever trashy Europop song Mattias had put on the stereo.  He seems oblivious to the world, towel around his waist and another towel made up as a ridiculous turban on his head as he sorts through his clothes.

 

“Hey, Al?  Can you wait for me after?”

 

Alfred pauses in drying his hair.  “We drove together, dude.”

 

“Doesn’t mean you’ll stay around if someone offers you food.”

 

“True.”  Alfred rubs his stomach—his bare stomach.  Matthew sneaks a look and brings his gaze back up before Alfred can take notice.  Alfred could complain all he wants about Matthew keeping him to workout schedules but they both reap the benefits.  “You better hurry up ‘cause I’m hungry.”

 

“Grab something from the fridge.  We’re going to talk to Rome later.”

 

“About what?”  Alfred cocks his head to the side and his turban starts to unravel.

 

“About…us.”

 

“Us?  Wait, oh.”  The towel turban slips of his head.  Alfred doesn’t seem to notice it.  “Us as in us?”

 

Matthew quickly checks around but the whole team seems busy with warm downs and cleaning up.  “That’s okay, right?”

 

“Of course!  Let’s go!”  Alfred grabs Matthew’s arm.

 

Matthew shrugs him off.  “Al, I need to get changed and you need to get dressed.”

 

Alfred looks down at his towel.  “Oh.  Okay.  I’ll get dressed.”

 

Al’s cheeks go red and he quickly grabs his clothes.  Matthew thinks it’s hilarious; Alfred will wander around the locker room and even give locker room interviews in only a towel but the moment someone points it out, Alfred gets horribly shy. 

 

Matthew is still smiling to himself as he strips down and heads for the showers.

 

He pretends not to notice that he is moving slower than normal.

 

---------------------

 

“So, what did you guys want to talk to me about?”  Rome leans against his desk, not bothering to clear the paperwork off his chair.

 

Alfred plops down on the office couch in the middle.  Matthew stares for a moment and then Al gets the hint and scoots over to give Matthew room.  Matthew sits down and then looks up at Rome.  Despite Rome’s usual smile, Matthew feels as if he is a kid in the principal’s office...not that he had much experience with that but movies always make that situation seem to be a horrible thing.  

 

“Stop being so stressed!  William’s serious face is somewhat expected but your,” Rome jerks his thumb towards Alfred.

 “Fidgeting like you’ve downed four monsters in an hour.  Again.”  

 

Matthew glances at Al who smiles sheepishly.  Matthew clears his throat.  “We’ve been keeping something from you and the team...not lying, but avoiding mentioning...something.”

 

Alfred makes a choking sound and Matthew’s face heats up.  He wants to handle this carefully and not dive in head first like Alfred generally would.

 

Rome raises his eyebrows.  “If you’ve already injured something, I’m leaving you to Yao’s clutches.”

 
“We’re fine,” Alfred almost shouts, panic clear in his voice.

 

“Nothing is wrong, per se.  We just...um.”  Matthew bites his lip.  He has gone over his planned speech at least six times but the words would not come today.  

 

“Spit it out already.  Or,” Rome looks specifically at Alfred. “I’ll call Yao up.”

 

Matthew doesn’t even get a moment to react before Alfred falls for the threat.  

 

“We’re gay!”

 

Matthew groans.  He doesn’t exactly know why Alfred is terrified of the team doctor, Yao Wang.  He’s mildly impressed that the short doctor could affect Alfred near to the level as horror movies.

 

“Well, I’m gay, he’s bisexual, and we are in a relationship.”  Alfred nods at Matthew. 

 

Rome’s eyebrows seem stuck up on his forehead.  “Is it Fool’s Day?”

 

“That’s in April.”  Matthew frowns and wishes to be anywhere else.  “I’m serious.  I have been dating Al since before we were drafted.”

 

“Huh.”  Rome crosses his arms.  “Weird.”

 

Matthew sits up straight and something must show on either his or Alfred’s face.

 

Rome immediately holds up his hands.  “Calm down, boys.  I wasn’t expecting this  and, well, I just thought if any of my players were going to admit to a relationship that it would be a certain Swede and our Finnish goalie.”

 

Matthew opens his mouth and then abruptly closes it before he can say something dumb.  He won’t admit to it, but sometimes he wonders about those two. 

 

“Wait, they’re married!”  Alfred pauses.  His eyes are very wide.  “To women!”

 

Rome raises an eyebrow.  “That doesn’t exactly mean much.”

 

“They have kids.”

 

Rome opens his mouth and Matthew hastily shakes his head.  If Alfred thinks about it too much, he will probably do something stupid, like ask Timo about his relationship with Berwald.  Rumors have been made Timo and Berwald’s relationship for years.  No one has ever asked as far as Matthew knows.  Or at least, no one has ever asked and survived to tell the tale. 

 

Rome pats Alfred on the head.  “Let’s just leave it there, okay?  Don’t break your head over it.”

 

“But...”

 

Rome pulls Al into a headlock and gives him a noogie.  

 

“Hey!”

 

“Just relax, kiddo!”  Rome lets Al go and shoves things off his desk to make room to sit on it.  “Okay...so do you want to talk to the team first or Rosy and Eduard?”

 

“Team first, right?”  Alfred asks Matthew.  “If they’re not comfortable...”

 

“Yeah.”  Matthew frowns.  He doesn’t want to think about the guys rejecting them.  If even one...he would hate to lose a friend.

 

“Don’t sweat so much boys!  You two were pretty much adopted by our happy Swedish and Finnish couple.  If someone gave you shit, they’ll get Berry’s good ol’ death stare.  At the very least.”  Rome has a nasty grin that betrays his history as a legendary agitator.

 

“Can we not call them a couple?”  Alfred pleads.  “I keep thinking of the height difference and--”

 

Matthew covers Alfred’s mouth with his hand.  “I don’t think anyone will react particularly bad, but I don’t want to chance ruining our team dynamics.”

 

Alfred jerks away from Matthew and smiles.  “Ever the captain, eh?”

 

Rome laughs and laughs harder when Matthew glares at Alfred.  

Chapter Text

Hours after practice, Matthew wakes alone in bed.  Well, mostly alone.  Kumajiro is curled up at the end of the bed, spreading long white hair over black bed sheets.  Matthew feels around Alfred’s side, still half asleep but even the sheets are cool as their highly air-conditioned room would allow. 

 

He checks the window.  There is a little bit of light streaming through the cracks of the blackout curtains.  He fumbles for his cell on the table, turning it on. 

 

4:35 pm.

 

Usually, Alfred would be still napping with him right now.  Matthew certainly doesn’t feel awake; he can’t imagine Al getting out of bed already…unless hunger is involved.  Food runs aren’t unusual for Alfred at any hour.

 

Matthew sits up and nudges Kumajiro with his foot.  The exceptionally round cat (from his curved ears to being rather large) twitches before curling around his foot.

 

He hears Alfred’s voice.  Slowly, he gets out of bed and grabs his glasses from the table.  The wood is cool and nice against his feet.  Matthew wants to back to bed, ignore the world and rest for a little while longer.

 

But the bed isn't as comfortable without Al.

 

He kicks Alfred’s laundry out of his way as he walks to the door.  Matthew opens the door and the afternoon sun leaves him blinded for a minute.

 

“Don’t give me that!”

 

Matthew peaks from the doorway. 

 

Alfred sits on a bar stool at the island counter in the kitchenette.  He has his cell in one hand and a bottle of Coke in his other.  Alfred’s creepy, hairless cat sits on the counter in front of him, its eyes focused on the bottle.  “Hey, I wasn’t the one to jump in this.  It was Mattie!”

 

Matthew walks to the kitchenette.  Alfred is sitting at an angle where he can’t see Matthew yet and Matthew is completely willing to take advantage of that to eavesdrop.

 

“I’m serious!  I brought it up but Mattie wanted to go and talk with Coach—”

 

The hairless cat, Tony, turns suddenly, fixing Matthew with its red-eyed stare.  Matthew freezes but Alfred doesn’t notice.  Tony bares his teeth.  Matthew sticks out his tongue; the cat isn’t supposed to be on the counter anyways. 

 

“We’re going to tell the team soon.”

 

Matthew moves closer, still out of Alfred’s line of sight. 

 

“Soon is soon.  I don’t know!”  Alfred sighs and gulps down some of his pop.  “I’m kind of nervous, you know?”

 

Matthew smiles; he’s nervous too yet Alfred taking this seriously makes Matthew feel more comfortable.

 

“Feliks, I know you have my back!  It’s just…this is my team…No, I don’t think I need an army to tell them I am gay.”  Alfred pauses and makes faces as he listens.  Then he laughs.  “That really wouldn’t be much fun for you!  Before a practice, we’re pretty much all slobs, sweatpants and sandals—Not me, of course, I know you would kill me!  Lars and Ludwig are probably the only guys that look halfway decent when cameras aren’t around.”

 

Alfred is lying about not wearing sweatpants and sandals together. 

 

“Dude, do you want to get me in trouble?”  Alfred laughs again.  “Of course I don’t check out my teammates, I have Mattie!  And he is definitely all a guy needs.”

 

Matthew chooses this moment to walk across Alfred’s line of vision on the way to the fridge.  He hears Alfred sputter as he rummages through the fridge.

 

“Guess we have to keep it PG, Feliks.  Mattie’s decided to spy on me.”

 

“You can bump it up to PG-13, Al.  Or even higher if you are feeling creative.  It might be interesting...”  Matthew grabs the last ham sandwich in the fridge.  He had made five yesterday.  There is no doubt that Alfred already scarfed down the other four.  He walks over to the island to sit next to Alfred.

 

“Dude, that would be weird.”  Alfred bumps his shoulder.  “I don’t think anyone’s going to be disgusted.  We just been together before we met the guys…and we never told them.  It’s weird, okay?”

 

Matthew frowns and almost responds before he realizes the second part is for Feliks. 

 

“Perfect world, man.  That would be in a perfect world.”  Alfred sighs and nods as he listens to Feliks.

 

Matthew leans against Alfred and unwraps his sandwich.  He puts the plastic wrap on the counter.

 

Tony hisses at him, apparently not appreciating Matthew littering its counter space.

 

Matthew glares at the cat.  Tony plops down on the counter and stretches out.  Before Matthew can push the cat off, Alfred sets his Coke bottle down and pets Tony.   Trying to move the cat is now a lost cause.  And annoying the creepy cat also increases the likely hood of Tony going after his dry cleaning. Alfred swears Tony is declawed but the shredded clothing in on Matthew's side of the closet makes Matthew doubt that claim.

 

“Thanks, Feliks.  You’re a good friend.  When Toris gets back, the four of us should go out.”  Alfred laughs again.  “Yeah, sometime before the university decides to sic you on the poor undergrads again.”

 

Alfred flips his phone closed and leans back on Matthew.

 

“So, where is Toris?”

 

“I didn’t tell you?  Oops.  He and some other history majors taking a tour of important battle sites through Europe.  Which, I think is all of Europe or something.”  Alfred makes a grab for the sandwich.

 

Matthew shoves him away, nearly knocking Alfred off the stool.  “Make your own food.”

 

“But Mattie!”  Alfred whines.  “You cook better than I do!”

 

Matthew holds the sandwich out of reach.  “Slapping stuff on bread does not count as cooking and you are capable of doing that yourself.”

 

“No, I can’t.”  Alfred latches on his arm.  “Please, Mattie?”

 

“You’re a dumbass.”  Matthew leans to take a bit and still keep it out of Alfred’s reach.  “And it’s my sandwich.”

 

“Please?”  Alfred leans all of his weight onto Matthew and nuzzles his ear.  “You know, your hair is still wet.”

 

“That’s what happens when I shower before napping.”  Matthew is halfway through his sandwich.  Alfred seems more interested in curling up against him than stealing food now.  “Your hair would be wet still if it was longer, too.”

 

“Do you want my hair longer?”

 

Matthew shrugs.  “I like your hair now.  But it’s your hair.”

 

“Aww.”  Alfred shifts his hands down to wrap around Matthew’s waist.  “You think I am perfect.”

 

“Handsome?  Yes.  Perfect would be too big of a stretch.  I try not to lie, you know.”  Matthew eats his last bite of sandwich and looks Alfred in the eye.  “I think we should tell the guys on Friday.  Arrange a team dinner, eh?”

 

“Really?”  Alfred straightens up, his smile wide.  “Wait—we don’t have to talk to everyone at once.  Are you sure you’re okay with that?”

 

“Al, imagining trying to decide an order in which to tell the guys.”

 

Alfred laughs.  “Numerically?”

 

“I don’t want Héctor deciding to kill me because we told most of the team—“

 

“More like a third.”

 

Matthew rolls his eyes.  “—before him.  And picking an order is just kind of…weird.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Wait, how did you tell your brothers?”  Matthew asks.

 

Alfred grins and pulls Tony into his lap, balancing the small cat on one thigh.  Tony hisses.  Alfred ignores the sound and pets him.  “I didn’t exactly tell them.”

 

Matthew thinks back to all the conversations he had and overheard with the Kirklands.  “But…but they know about us.”

 

“Arthur knew about Toris.”  Alfred scratches Tony’s chin and the cat gives off a motor-like purr.  “I think he guessed about us and then whined to Efan or Conner.  The others would know in a few days or something.”

 

“And you never talked about being gay?  Not even with Arthur?”  Matthew pulls away from Alfred. 

 

“Artie and I are the kind of siblings that scream at each other.  Not talking is a good sign.”  Alfred cocks his head to the side.  “What about you and your family?”

 

Matthew sighs, knowing Alfred wouldn’t share more.  “I kissed a boy in third grade and the teacher threw a fit and called Papa.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Yeah.  She really shouldn’t have called Papa; he was proud and gushed about it.”  Matthew rolls his eyes.  “Then my teacher said I was getting detention for it and Papa gave one of his speeches about the purity of love.”

 

Alfred grins.  “Let me guess, she fell for him.”

 

“Probably.”  Matthew shrugs.  “But that was when Maman was still alive, so Papa wouldn’t have dated her.”

 

Alfred hugs him.  “Sorry.”

 

“I don’t mind talking about my mother, you know.”

 

“Yeah.”  Alfred’s smile is a little too wide to be real. 

 

Matthew lets it go.  Alfred talks about his brothers more than his parents, which does not say much.  Matthew knows Al’s mother died when Al was very little, younger than Matthew had been when his mother died.  The Kirklands are hard to understand; Alfred once said the family tree looks like an explosion of spaghetti. Matthew is pretty sure Arthur is Alfred’s half-brother and Al is probably related to the rest of the Kirkland brothers through Arthur.

 

Matthew feels thankful for his small, relatively sane family.  “I probably should tell Francis we’re outing ourselves.”

 

Alfred’s smile softens into something more sincere.  “Think we’ll get a cake?”

 

“Probably.”  Matthew shakes his head.  Francis has a rather strong interest in his children’s lives and sometimes Francis crosses the lines in asking for certain details and being too enthusiastically supportive.  “I’m nixing any ideas of a party.”

 

“But Mattie, the food.”  Alfred pouts at him.  “I miss his cooking.”

 

“Hard to tell when you eat anything that doesn’t move away fast enough.”  Matthew grumbles but he looks down to hide a smile.

 

“Mattie!”  Alfred whines.  “You’re so mean.”

 

“You’re the one that ate all my sandwiches!”

 

“I saved you one!”

 

“Yes, one.  A single sandwich.”  Matthew is close to laughter but he keeps a serious frown on his face.

 

Alfred looks crestfallen.  “I’m sorry, Mattie.  Can I make it up to you?”

 

Matthew stands up and pecks him on the cheek.  “You’re doing laundry for the week.”

 

“Mattie!”  Alfred whines but doesn’t protest.

 

Matthew tugs on Alfred’s shoulder.  “Come on, let’s hit the gym.”

 

“But we just had practice!”

 

“We skipped our morning run.  And had a three hour nap.”

 

Alfred pouts at him, his blue eyes wide behind his glasses.

 

“Fine.”  Matthew sighs.  “Mario Kart or Halo first?”

 

“Love you!”  Alfred pulls him down for a kiss.

 

Matthew gives him a quick peck and pulls back.  “We’ll visit the gym after.”

 

“Meanie.”  Alfred says as he stands up and stretches his arms out.

 

“And stop by McDonalds.”

 

Alfred flashes him a smile before dragging him over to the TV.

 

--------------------------

 

Bzzt.  Bzzt.  Bzzt.

 

Matthew opens his eyes reluctantly.  He stares at the clock. 

 

Bzzt.  Bzzt.

 

He doesn’t want answer his cell phone but most people who would call him at four in the morning (like certain teammates or Coach Rome) would continue calling.

 

Matthew sits up.  Reluctantly, he grabs his cell and pokes at the green button several times before it works.  “Hello?”

 

How is my dear boy doing this fine morning?”  Francis greets in French.

 

Matthew looks to the window before remembering he and Alfred are in Las Vegas again and have blackout curtains.  He checks his phone and groans.

 

Papa, we have a two hour time difference.”  Matthew rubs his eyes and pats around the bed until he finds Alfred’s back.  He could get out of bed but Alfred can sleep through a fire alarm.  “It’s four a.m. here.”

 

“I might care more if I hadn’t spent years taking you to games and practices at ridiculous hours.”  Francis says far too cheerfully for six o’clock in the morning in Montreal.  “And since when does my sweet son not want to talk to me?  You break your papa’s heart!”

 

Matthew frowns.  Francis only wakes up before noon for the sheer necessity coming from owning a café and the need to micromanage his employees.  Francis is not, however, a morning person by any means.  “Papa, is something going on?”


“Well, now that you mention it…”  Francis pauses.  “Our dear Angelique has her first boyfriend!”

 

Matthew pities his little sister.  Francis will not leave that bit of knowledge alone.  “Do I know him?”

 

“One of the neighbor kids,” Francis says dismissively.  “A nice boy but rather shy.”

 

Francis describing someone as shy doesn’t exactly say much; getting a word in is always a challenge when Francis has questions and stories to tell.  Francis probably knows the poor kid’s life history and Francis has probably told him every adorable or embarrassing moment of Angelique’s life.

 

Matthew expects his next call to his sister will mean listening to a very long rant.

 

Though, Matthew is pretty sure he has the worst end of the stick; Alfred can keep up with Francis’s chatter and they are both annoyingly willing to exchange embarrassing stories about Matthew.  “So, he’s a good kid?”

 

“Give me time to tell!”  Francis chuckles.  “I may have threatened him with you.”

 

“Seriously?  You would have better luck threatening with Berwald.”

 

“Is that the tall blond one that looks good in a suit?”

 

About a third of his team is fairly tall and blond. Matthew doesn’t think any of them look bad in a suit (except for Herakles but the suits look good before he naps in them and he’s brunett anyway) so Matthew just says, “Yes, him.”

 

Francis laughs and Matthew imagines him shaking his head.  “My dear boy, with the faces you make during a game, you seem as terrifying.  I think sometimes you go a bit crazy with a hockey stick in your hands.”

 

Matthew makes a face at his cellphone.  “Thank you so much, Papa.

 

Do not take that as an insult, Mathieu,” Francis says.  “It is a good thing to be passionate.  I am sure your Alfred appreciates your passion greatly.

 

Matthew sighs.  Normally, Matthew would scold Francis but this makes a good opening.  “Speaking of Al, Alfred and I are going to tell people about us.  To the team at least.”

 

“Oh…have you told any of your friends?”

 

Matthew doesn’t say anything and rubs Alfred’s shoulder.  Alfred arches towards his hand and makes happy, sleepy sounds.

 

“Mathieu—“ Francis says, with an exasperated tone that is saved for Matthew’s dedication to hockey and the “mutilation of the beautiful French language” also known as Québécois French.  “There is a good time for everything, yes?”

 

“Are you mad?”

 

“What?  No, no!  I am glad you get to share your relationship.  You two are adorable, making out like teenagers on the couch.”

 

“Papa!”  Matthew shouts then flinches at the sound of his own voice.  Alfred shifts but doesn’t wake.  Matthew whispers, “We were technically teenagers when you caught us.”

 

“Only the first time I caught you.  To think my little boy is twenty!”

 

Matthew turns red, glad no one can see him.  That simple (and maybe a little heated) morning kiss is probably what prompted Francis to include condoms and lube in his birthday present. Or Francis had that planned all along, it was hard to tell.  “Papa...”

 

“So old already but still so young.”  Francis sighs and Matthew knows if they had been in the same room, Francis would be doing some dramatic swooning.  “You do not have to rush anything, you know.”

 

“It’s not like I’m getting married.  We’re just telling the guys and maybe the fans.” 

 

Francis is quiet for a minute.  Worry gnaws at Matthew’s stomach.

 

“I am always proud of you, Mathieu.” Francis finally says.

 

That should be more comforting.  Matthew feels like he failed a test.  “You don’t like that I’ve been hiding my relationship with Al.”

 

“It would not be my choice,” Francis says.  “But this is your life, not mine.  Love will always find a way, no?  I want you to be happy with both of your loves; Al and your violent sport.”

 

Matthew smiles.  “I just…Sometimes I wonder what Maman would think.”

 

“She would be proud of you, of how hard you’ve worked for your goals.”  Francis’s voice is distant, like always when he talks about his wife.  “Jean would have been hard on Alfred—I think only you and Angelique could ever meet her high standards—and I would have had to argue with her to let you give love a chance. Stand for what you believe in, as she always said.”

 

“She wouldn’t be happy with me hiding my relationship.”

 

“Jean…would be proud of you, no matter what you do.”  Francis says softly. 

 

“I haven’t told Lars or Héctor or anyone.”  Matthew winces.  He feels guiltier about not telling Héctor.  They had played together on the same Midget team and went to the same prep school.    “She would think I am a coward.”

 

“No!  She would be angry with the world for making you feel the need to hide your love, but she would not think badly of such a kind soul as you.”  Francis pauses.  “Mathieu, you make us both proud.  Never doubt that.”

 

Matthew tries to believe that.  “Thank you, Papa.”

 

“Do not worry so much.  All will work out in the end.  And if you need me, I will be on the first plane to Las Vegas.”

 

Matthew smiles.  “Thanks, Papa.  I think we’ll be okay.”

 

“That’s my boy.”  Francis snorts.  “It is always an interesting experience to see my boy in headlines.”

 

“Don’t remind me.  I’m not sure we will get that far but I’m not looking forward to interviews.”

 

“If a reporter gets annoying, just get Alfred on the topic of aliens and space travel.  Or if you really want to give them a headache, time travel.”

 

“That’s a bit cruel.”  Matthew laughs.  “And I did try to warn you about that…”

 

“You said he likes science fiction movies.  Not that he was obsessed with them.

 

Matthew laughs again and decides not to tell Francis how many times Al had dragged him to the Star Trek museum.  Sometimes Matthew regretted mentioning the museum is in Las Vegas.  Other times, he finds tourists tendency to mistake Alfred for a tour guide hilarious. 

 

“Is he as passionate in—“

 

“Don’t bother finishing that sentence.  I am not talking to you about that.”

 

“I was just going to ask about his skating.”

 

“Liar.”

 

“You’re so mean to your Papa!”

 

“You’re the one who woke me up at what you consider ‘unholy hours in the morning.’”

 

“I did not create time zones.”  Francis says.  “But I will let you go and get some more sleep.”

 

“How gracious of you.  Love you, Papa.”

 

“Love you too, dear.”

 

Matthew puts the phone back on the dresser.  Sleep isn’t going to come easy in the coming months so he decides to snooze for a bit.  Matthew lies down and settles under the sheets.  He turns to face Alfred.

 

Bleary blue eyes stare back.

 

Guilt hits Matthew.  “Ah, good morning?”

 

Alfred smiles, lazy and content.  “Speaking to yourself?”

 

“Papa called.”

 

“Oh.”  Alfred pulls his pillow closer and curls up with it.

 

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

 

“It’s okay.  French is pretty.”  Alfred nuzzles his pillow.

 

Matthew grins at that admission.  Alfred would never say that fully awake; his favorite way to respond to Matthew speaking in French is “Your Spanish sounds funny.”  (Francis still thinks Al is serious when he says that and bemoans Matthew’s accent.)

 

Matthew pokes Alfred in the shoulder.  “Hey Al, want to go for a run?”

 

Alfred opens his eyes and blinks at him.  He sits up.  “Seriously?”

 

“Might as well if we’re up.”

 

Alfred grabs his pillow and hits him across the face with it.