Mike is the first one to come out, when he and Paul are in high school.
Mike has sort of always known, but kept it to himself for most of his life because what’s the point of sharing? Except for now he’s at the age where his hormones rule his every move, so he’d rather everyone find out from him than walking in on him messing around with some boy behind the rink.
He starts with Paul because he can’t think of anyone more important.
“So, I like guys,” Mike says during the intermission of a Flames game they’re watching in Paul’s living room.
Paul sits quietly, completely expressionless, and Mike panics and seriously considers bolting. After what feels like a lifetime, Paul says, “cool,” and Mike is floored by the force of his own relief.
One afternoon about a year later, Paul corners Mike against the edge of his bed and crushes their mouths together.
At first, Mike doesn’t know what to do. He’s never felt that way about Paul, because he’s Paul, but Paul’s lips don’t relent so Mike mentally shrugs and goes with it. He had expected a few hours of video games and pizza when he came to Paul’s house that morning, but he figures that this is the next best thing.
They go at it for a while, uncoordinated and harsh, before Paul pulls back and just kind of stares at Mike.
“So…?” Mike starts, but he doesn’t really know how to follow, so he lets the sentence drop off.
Paul stares at him for a while longer, eyebrows pulled together in thought. “Yeah, I’m gay too.”
“For me?” Mike asks, because that kind of shit is important to know.
“Nah, you’re my best friend. That’d be weird,” Paul says and Mike couldn’t agree more.
Nick has always looked up to Stoff.
Stoff was the reason Nick started playing hockey in the first place. He’d go to the rink to watch Stoff practice, too little to go out himself, just stand up by the glass and watch his big brother glide around on the ice. Stoff has always been Nick’s superhero.
It’s kind of odd for Nick, when he starts rising in the ranks and takes over Stoff’s spot in Brynäs, when Nick becomes a better player than his older brother, the only reason Nick had picked up the sport at all.
He’s worried that Stoff will hate him for it, for stealing Stoff’s thunder, but he doesn’t. All Stoff does is cheer Nick on and support him through everything.
It’s the day Nick signs with Brynäs that he decides to come out to Stoff.
His parents throw him a party, the whole house covered in red and gold. All Nick’s friends and family are there, congratulating him, giving him praise Nick doesn’t think he deserves yet. All he’s done is make the team; he hasn’t proved he belongs on it.
Stoff can see that Nick is uncomfortable from across the room, where he’s chatting with their grandparents about a recent photo-shoot. He excuses himself politely and makes his way over to Nick, tapping him on the shoulder and jerking his head towards the guest bedroom. Nick looks at Stoff like he’s a life raft in the middle of the Baltic Sea and follows him.
“Everything alright, Nicky?” Stoff asks, sitting down in the bed.
“Erm, yeah, I guess. It’s just… I don’t deserve all this,” Nick gestures wildly, attempting to convey the grandeur of the party.
“You will,” Stoff says because he knows it’s the only thing that will calm Nick down. There’s no point in arguing with his little brother, just assuring him that the future will be better.
“Thanks,” Nick says. “But, Stoff, I… I need—no; I want to tell you something.” Stoff sits patiently, waiting for Nick to stop stammering and spit it out.
“I, uh, I like guys,” Nick finally chokes out.
“And?” Stoff asks, his expression static.
“And… really? That’s your reaction?”
“Yes,” Stoff shrugs.
“I love you, Stoff.” Nick grins.
“You too, Nicky. Let’s get back to your party now, yeah?” Stoff returns the smile and drags Nick back out the door and into the kitchen, where their mother is about to cut into a cake-version of Nick’s face.
A few weeks later, Stoff sits silently at the kitchen table next to Nick as he tells his parents. Knowing that he’s there and that he supports Nick makes it that much easier to say, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.”
Nick’s parents hug him, tell them that nothing will ever change how much they love him, but Nick is watching Stoff’s proud smile.
Stoff following Nick to Washington is almost a dream come true, to have Nick’s hero along with him on his adventure.
Falling for Nick takes Mike a while, but when it happens, it hits him like a sack of bricks.
The whole team is out at a bar celebrating a hard-fought win one night, and yeah, Mike is a little buzzed. He’s about to take the shot that Ovi is pushing into his hand when he sees Nick across the room, his head tipped back in laughter even though he’s sober due to not being of age in the US yet. He looks sort of beautiful; top buttons of his dress shirt popped open, hair tousled and a little wet, and eyes somehow brighter under the dim lights.
The bar is dark and loud and smells pretty rank but to Mike, the world sort of narrows, focused in on Nick frozen in his moment of carefree joy, blocking out everything else. Mike ends up spilling most of his drink down the front of his shirt because he’s staring and not paying attention to the movement of his limbs, but he doesn’t really care, because fuck.
It takes Ovi snapping in front of his eyes and saying, “Greeners? Greenie, you there?” for Mike to snap out of it.
“What?” Mike clears his throat. “Oh, yeah, sorry, just… got distracted.”
Ovi looks at him with concern very briefly before shrugging and handing Mike two shots to make up for the one Mike wasted. Mike knocks them back immediately because alcohol sounds exactly like what he needs right now.
For Nick, the process of falling in love with Mike is quick and undeniable.
It starts in their rookie season, with Mike showing Nick around since he had been a Bear the year before and knows more about the team. Nick just lets himself get pulled around Kettler and Verizon by the wrist, half-listening to Mike babble on about the dressing room and what each trainer will let you get away with. Mike’s words sound more like gibberish to Nick than anything else, since he doesn’t quite have a handle on the English language yet, but the enthusiasm is obvious, and Nick can’t help but grin as they run around the arenas. Nick thinks it’s cute, really, that Mike is so proud and excited to show everything off. Although, Nick has to admit that Verizon is kind of amazing, and way more impressive than any arena he’d seen in Sweden.
Nick knows that he’s falling for Mike after that first day. Hell, he knew he was doomed after their first meeting, when Mike shook his hand and smiled like he’d just won the lottery and immediately launched into a very animated monologue about how excited Mike was to meet, room with, and inevitably become best friends with Nick.
Rooming together doesn't really help, since Mike seems to be allergic to shirts. Thankfully, Mike seems ignorant of the boners Nick keeps popping.
And then there are the nights when they’re both homesick and lonely so they just talk all night, about nothing and everything at the same time, even though they should be sleeping for a game the next night or a flight in the morning.
It’s so comforting that Nick finds himself calling Mike some nights when they aren’t on the road and each in their own sparsely decorated apartments, just to hear a familiar voice. Mike doesn’t mind, often staying on the line long after he could’ve politely hung up, letting Nick hear his steady breath as he falls asleep, just because he knows how much Nick needs it.
It’s not just the codependency. It’s how Mike smiles at Nick across the ice in a way Nick knows is just for him. It’s how Mike will go across town to get the only half-way decent Swedish Meatballs for Nick when he’s had a crappy day.
It’s how well Mike just knows Nick, better than any friend he’s has ever had, that pushes Nick over the love cliff without any hope for a parachute.
It’s pretty obvious that there’s something between Stoff and Paul at the start.
It was only a matter of time before they met, with Paul living with Mike and Stoff with Nick.
It’s quite unceremonious, really. Mike wants to get drunk off his ass one night when they have a few days free of games, so obviously he calls Nick and pulls Paul along.
Paul and Mike have been at the bar for a while when Nick shows up, a nervous-looking Stoff trailing in behind. Mike is already a few drinks in, his face is flushed a little and he wastes no time in standing and waving enthusiastically to get their attention.
“Nicky! Over here!” Mike calls, giggling a little. Paul rolls his eyes, settling a hand on Mike’s shoulder and guiding him back to the stool before he hurts himself.
Nick hears him, obviously, since Mike was basically screaming across a not-very-crowded room. He shuffles over and orders a few more beers.
“Stoff, this is Paul. Paul, this is Stoff.” Nick waves a hand between the two of them. He’s obviously pleased with the depth of introduction, because he takes the seat next to Mike and loses himself in what can’t be a very coherent conversation.
“Hey,” Paul says and reaches out a hand to shake. “I’m Mike’s friend from back home. I just moved down here, actually.”
“Nice to meet you. I am Nick’s brother, also new around,” Stoff tells him. Paul grins at Stoff’s accent and wonders if Stoff will understand him if Paul says “about” any time tonight.
Paul and Stoff end up in a booth in the corner, commiserating about how different Washington is compared to their respective homes and waging bets on how long it’ll take Nick and Mike to notice they’ve disappeared.
It’s not that Mike is jealous or anything, because he’s really not. He’s happy that Paul and Stoff are happy.
Sure, he and Paul have the tiniest bit of history, but only enough that Mike feels a little possessive of Paul in a way that if Stoff hurts him, he’ll be finding a hockey stick up his ass soon after.
It’s just that seeing Paul doze off with his face nuzzled into Stoff’s side when they’re all watching a movie together kind of makes Mike hate his life a little bit.
Mike considers taking a picture of Paul, because the nap-pic war is still going full-force, but decides that seeing the picture on his phone will only remind him of how pathetically alone he is.
Hockey makes relationships almost impossible, and that’s not even speaking for anything other than heterosexual. The time away is even harder when no one is even allowed to know he’s got someone at home. It’s not worth the pain, Mike knows it, but the fact doesn’t make the cold, lonely nights any easier to get through.
Mike forces himself to recount the shitty phone-call breakups that always land midway through road trips so long that the endless hotel rooms and arenas blur together into one miserable mess, because anything else will only make him more depressed.
It’s even worse that Mike has to spend half of those lonely nights in a bed a few feet away from Nick, whom he’s kind of stupidly in love with. He hasn’t told anyone, not even Paul. He’s definitely not going to tell Paul; not now when Paul’s spending way too much time with Nick’s brother in all kinds of vulnerable states of mind.
Mike squeezes the pillow in his arms even tighter and forces himself not to think about Nick, who’s right beside him and smelling really good. He tries to focus on the TV, but really only ends up losing himself in his own miserable mind.
Nick looks over at Mike’s subconscious pout and pokes him in the thigh with his foot. Mike looks up at him and Nick raises his eyebrows, silently asking if everything’s okay. Mike nods and kind of shrugs him off so Nick decides to leave him alone and that they need more beer.
When Nick returns from the kitchen, bottles in hand, he catches Mike glaring towards Paul and Stoff’s corner of the couch. Nick sighs a little, because he gets it, he really does. He feels the lack of intimacy as much as Mike, he’s just better at keeping the emotions off his face.
Because if he didn’t, everyone would know about how extremely in love Nick is with Mike.
Nick takes a deep breath, steeling himself for the next few hours of watching Mike suffer and not being able to do anything about it. He hands Mike his beer, who nods a little before curling back in on himself. Nick sighs a little and returns to his spot, but shoots concerned glances in Mike’s direction every few seconds.
Stoff watches the two, laughing a little, but not enough to jostle Paul, because seriously, if they don’t figure out that they’re in love with each other soon, Stoff is going to have to smack their helmets together.
Sometimes Mike wonders if he’s only into Nick for convenience. It would make sense, Mike thinks. He sees Nick practically naked every day, talks to him almost constantly, and couldn’t get away from him if he tried.
But soon after Mike starts thinking about the possibility, Nick will smile that charming smile at him and it sort of feels like Mike’s just been sucker punched in the heart but in a good way.
So, yeah. It’s for real.
Mike and Nick are in a hotel room after a much needed win against the Panthers. They’re both too excited to go to sleep, but the bars in Sunset suck, so they turn to the mini-fridge. The tiny booze bottles in it are empty and strewn around the tacky patterned carpet in thirty minutes flat.
They're sprawled across their separate beds, idly channel surfing and letting the alcohol creep into their bloodstreams. There’s nothing good on at this time of night, so they settle for a random chick flick. At first they take turns mocking the dialogue, but they both end up pretty entranced in the story before long.
It’s just wrapping up, the long torn-apart couple finally reuniting in a very corny staged kiss, and that’s when Mike realizes he’s crying. He tries to wipe it away conspicuously but of course, Nick notices.
“Whoa, what’s wrong, bud?” Nick asks, a line of worry creasing his forehead. He swings his legs over the side of his bed to face Mike’s.
“It’s… it’s nothing, man, don’t worry,” Mike rubs at his eyes, furious with them for betraying him.
“No, tell me,” Nick insists.
It’s probably the booze that opens the floodgates, but Mike doesn’t really try to close them. “Fuck, it’s just, why the fuck can’t I have that? No, fuck that, why can’t I have that with who I want it with? It isn’t fucking fair.”
“You could, though,” Nick mumbles, looking down at his swinging feet. “The girls fall all over you.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want the girls!” Mike yells before he can stop himself. He shuts his mouth immediately after he says it, staring at Nick with terrified eyes.
There’s a long pause before Nick says, “You like guys?” He hopes that he sounds neutral, instead of showing the hope and excitement building in his chest.
“Well… yeah, I do,” Mike admits, because he doesn’t really have a choice.
“Me too,” Nick says, cheeks redder than his jersey. And then maybe it’s the liquor or maybe it’s the years of repression but Nick takes a deep breath and gathers all the courage he’s ever had and says, “So, who where you talking about? Who do you want that with?”
“You,” Mike says as quickly as he can because if he thinks about it, he knows he’ll lose the nerve.
Nick doesn’t say anything for what feels like a month, just stares at Mike with an expression that Mike has never seen on him before. It’s pretty damn terrifying and Mike starts backtracking.
“Fuck, Nicky, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make things weird, fuck. Can we just forget about all of this? I’m sorry—”
“Shut up,” Nick cuts off his rambling apology. “I’m trying to figure out if this is a dream.”
At that, Mike stands up, walks over to Nick’s bed, and kisses him with more intensity than he’s given anything else in his life thus far.
They return home from the road-trip the next day, and it isn’t long after their flight lands that Nick and Stoff are knocking on Mike and Paul’s door.
Mike makes Paul get up and answer, claiming that he’s too tired to move after the day of travel. Paul rolls his eyes at him, but gets up to let them in anyway.
Nick hops past Paul and Stoff’s love session in the doorway and into the living room. The second that Mike sees him rounding the corner, he jumps up, body moving before his brain. He doesn’t know what to say, just grins at Nick so wide his cheeks hurt a little. Nick returns it automatically.
Before either of them can speak, Paul and Stoff enter the room. Stoff takes one look at Mike and Nick and yells, “FUCKING FINALLY!” He turns to high-five Paul, who has to stand on his toes to reach Stoff’s hand.
“How the fuck did you know?” Mike stammers out, blushing hard already.
“How the fuck did you not know before now?” Paul says, and well, Mike can’t exactly argue with that. He doesn’t have the chance anyway, because Stoff is forcing them into a group hug. He starts going off about how they can have less awkward double dates now because they’ll all know it’s a date, but Mike and Nick aren’t listening.
They’re smiling at each other under Stoff’s arms. Neither of them care that they were the last to realize it, because now that it’s happening, it’s pretty damn awesome.