Though sitting with Alex in the back of the bus on the way to the airport is more or less routine for Brendan at this point, sharing a blanket with him to disguise that they're holding each other's hands is new—and exciting, honestly. It's dumb, and it makes Brendan feel like he's still in high school, but they call it the honeymoon period for a reason.
"Think anyone's noticed?" says Alex quietly. Brendan glances around the bus. Most people seem caught up in their own conversations, and it doesn't look like anyone's staring at them.
"Nah," Brendan breathes back.
"We should probably tell them eventually, even though you know they're gonna be the worst," Alex points out.
Brendan groans, but nods against Alex's shoulder. "But not now."
Alex opens his mouth, nodding, but they're interrupted by a loud burst of laughter from the seats in front of them. A few people do turn around to look at that—Brendan straightens so he's not quite so obviously curled against Alex's shoulder—but they turn back around when the source of whatever's funny isn't readily apparent.
But Brendan is more persistent than that. He kicks the back of the seat in front of him hard. "What's so funny, clowns?" he asks, letting go of Alex's hand so he can climb up onto the seat and peer into the next row.
It's Patch and Larry sitting there, and they're absolutely gasping for air, laughing a lot more quietly now but definitely uncontrollably. Brendan twists around to roll his eyes pointedly at Alex, then reaches out and messes up Larry's hair. Lars leans away from him, swatting at his hand, but he's still laughing—and then he starts to hiccup, which sets Max off even more.
It takes minutes for them to calm down, which is ample time for Brendan to get bored and go back to holding Chucky's hand—because holding hands fucking rocks, all right—but once they finally do, he kicks the back of Lars' seat again.
"Seriously, what was it?" he asks.
"It's not even that funny, man, just," says Max over his shoulder, gesturing like that sentence was supposed to mean something.
"I messed up with my English, I guess you guys don't say—" Lars starts to giggle a little before he can even finish his sentence, but he regains his composure pretty quickly. "Seeing forward to something? Should be looking? Uh. So Patches asked if I was a psychic, and I don't know…"
Now Max is laughing again, and judging by the sliver of Lars' face Brendan can see through the crack in the seats, he might start up too. "That's a terrible explanation," Brendan says. "You guys are so weird."
"I—" Max tries, but he’s still laughing, and yep, there goes Lars again. "I told you," he finally manages.
"Whatever," Brendan says, rolling his eyes emphatically at Alex. Alex nods and makes a face, and they both grin at each other. Brendan settles back into his seat, moving just slightly closer to Alex, who shifts closer as well in response. It’s the fucking best. Brendan totally has better things to do than trying to figure out what goes on in Lars’ and Max’s heads.
"What are you two always laughing at?" PK asks from the other side of the breakfast buffet, and Lars automatically bites his lip to try and stifle his laughter.
Max looks up from where he had his forehead resting on Lars’ shoulder as he laughed. "Your ugly face," he responds without missing a beat, and PK’s judgemental expression at that is hilarious enough that Lars and Max start laughing all over again. It’s mostly funny because, on this occasion at least, they really had been laughing at PK looking super focused about putting exactly the right amount of eggs onto his plate.
"You’re the worst," PK tells them. "Both of you. You deserve each other."
It’s a familiar chirp, and so is Lars’ response of, "You’re just jealous."
PK scoffs. "Of what? I got my own bromance, and Pricey’s way better looking than you two goons."
"All you guys need to get a room, some of us are trying to eat here," Brendan hollers from a table nearby.
"Like he can talk about being gross," Max says under his breath, and Lars snorts. Brendan and Alex have, without a doubt, been being as grossly codependent as ever lately.
"Here they go again with the whispering to each other, boys," PK says loudly. He grins, and then starts to sing tonelessly. "Patch and Larry sittin’ in a tree…"
From slightly behind PK, Carey hums the next line of the song. Lars is simultaneously mortified and disbelieving that he ever ended up on this team, but next to him, Max is laughing.
"Good one, guys," Max says. "Never heard it before."
"I'm sure you have," PK answers easily. "And a thousand chirps can't all be wrong. Tell me, is it gonna be a summer wedding? 'Cause if so, better make reservations on a venue now, they fill up quick that time of year."
"We're waiting for you and Carey's announcement—wouldn't want to copy you by accident," Lars says with the best smirk he can muster.
PK laughs, delighted. "You boys don't have to worry about that. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, eh? And we all know your bromance is a cheap knockoff version of ours. Isn't that right, Cash Money?"
Carey snorts, which isn't exactly approval or disapproval, but he lets PK lead him off with an arm around his shoulders, and if Lars starts humming the wedding march to make Max laugh, well. PK and Carey don't have to know.
If Lars is totally honest with himself, he’s glad the conversation didn't go any further. It’s familiar, sure, but that doesn’t stop all the "bromance" comments from getting to Lars a bit sometimes. It's just too close to home—on Lars’ side, anyway. He’s pretty sure Max doesn’t feel the same at all.
Normally he really can move on after they brush that shit off, but everybody has days where they need to feel sorry for themselves, and apparently today is one of his. He hangs back after pretty much everyone is gone, poking at his fruit cup, and he jumps when Brendan flops down in the chair across from him.
"Still here?" Brendan asks. "Didn’t take my advice and get a room?"
Lars makes a face. "Don’t think Max would go for that," he says, rolling his eyes.
"But you would, eh, Larry?" Brendan teases. "You’ve got a cru-ush."
The sing-song tone and the joke itself is so incredibly childish that Lars can hardly believe it, but the truth of Brendan’s words gets to him enough that he freezes a little and just shrugs in response. Brendan notices immediately, his eyebrows shooting up.
"Hold on," Brendan says. "Do you actually?"
"Shut up," Lars says, knee-jerk.
"You do," Brendan breathes, and then he starts laughing. Lars regrets absolutely everything in his life that led to this moment.
"Well, you’d understand," he says defensively. "I see how you look at Alex."
Brendan abruptly stops laughing. "Uh, we—" He cuts himself off. "I guess I do."
Lars nods and eats his last grape, avoiding eye contact.
"Have you tried telling Patches that you, uh, wouldn’t… mind getting a room?" Brendan asks. "Because, you know, maybe you’re wrong and he’d be into that, too!"
Jesus Christ, now he’s trying to be helpful. Lars can appreciate that, sure, but he absolutely doesn’t need it. "It’s fine," he says.
"Thanks, Gally," Lars interrupts, standing up. "Really." He pauses, then adds, "And don’t, you know—"
"Tell anyone? Jesus, Larry, don’t worry," Brendan says, sounding appropriately offended. He grins. "I’ve got your back."
Lars smiles at him. "Thanks," he says again, and then he beats a hasty retreat before Brendan can try to continue the conversation.
Brendan feels the buzz of interesting gossip thrumming under his skin all day—he told Larry he wasn’t going to tell anyone, but everyone knows you don’t keep secrets from your significant other. That’s how you poison a relationship, according to Cosmo, which Brendan totally reads. It’s full of wisdom. He’s not ashamed.
Besides, this thing with him and Chucky is new enough that he’s not taking any chances.
He doesn’t get a chance to talk to him all day, though, because they’re surrounded by the team. Their third-period comeback trouncing of the Blue Jackets makes him even more pumped up, and he practically bounces into the hotel room after the game.
Of course, then he gets a little distracted, because Alex kisses him up against the wall for a while, and that would be enough to distract anyone.
Eventually Chucky pulls away and mutters something about how much easier this is on the road since they share a room, which reminds Brendan of this morning’s conversation. He shoves Alex away, more out of surprise than anything, and says, "Fuck, that’s right! Pause for a sec, Chucky, you’re not gonna believe this."
Alex looks extremely grumpy and also offended. It’s adorable. "I already don’t," he says darkly, but he lets Brendan bully him out of the entryway and onto a bed instead.
Once they’re situated, Brendan says, "Okay, so, I was talking to Larry today, right, and…" He pauses for dramatic effect. Alex still looks grumpy. "He basically admitted he’s in love with Patches!"
"Basically?" says Alex skeptically, raising a single eyebrow and everything. "So, like, he smiled at him and you’re making shit up in your head again?"
"Ugh," Brendan complains, shoving at Alex. Alex shoves him back. Brendan wants to get into a wrestling match with him, but not right now, this is important. "No, idiot, I was like ‘Why didn’t you get a room,’ and he was like ‘I don’t think Max would go for that,’ and obviously I was like, you know, hold the phone, does that mean you would? Which, he didn’t strictly say yes, but he implied it—and anyway he told me not to tell anybody when he was leaving, so like."
Chucky’s eyebrows climb steadily higher throughout Brendan’s story, and when Brendan’s done, he shakes his head slowly. "What next, you gonna tell me they're in love because they stand next to each other sometimes?"
"Shut up!" Brendan protests. "You know I’m right, I’m totally the guru of love."
"I’m not touching that statement with a ten foot pole," Alex says. "But yeah, okay, you might be right in this case. Poor Larry."
Brendan frowns sympathetically. "Wish we could help him. It’d be cool if he and Max actually did get together."
"Maybe they could learn from our example," says Alex, who is suddenly a lot closer than he was a minute ago. From the way his voice has gone all deep, he’s trying to be seductive and/or cool, and normally that does it for Brendan, but he’s distracted by the giant lightbulb going off in his brain.
"Chucky, you’re a genius!" he exclaims. He punches the air enthusiastically and narrowly misses Alex—but he does miss, which is the important thing, even if Alex is making that grumpy-cute face at Brendan again as he flops back against the pillows. He doesn’t even ask, in fact, just looks at Brendan expectantly.
"So like, when Larry was telling me about how he didn’t think Patch would be up for getting a room, he was like, ‘You’d understand, I see how you look at Alex.’ And I didn’t say anything because we haven’t yet, but like, we can totally use this, ‘cause he sees me as a comrade now, you know? Misery loves company!"
"What are you even talking about," says Alex flatly.
"Uh, obviously we gotta complain to them both about how we’re hung up on each other, make it sound as similar to their stupid mess as possible, then they’ll work together to get us together and that’ll get them together! It’s like the Parent Trap!"
"It’s actually not really like the Parent Trap at all, like, we’re not siblings, gross," says Alex doubtfully. "And I think you forgot something important, loser: we already are together. Though I gotta say I’m kind of questioning why right now…"
Brendan rolls his eyes and whacks Alex with a pillow. "Yeah, but they don’t know that, loser," he mocks. "C’mon, it’s an awesome plan and you know it."
"Your plan is almost as stupid as you are," Alex says.
That’s cause for the big guns: Brendan’s most pitiful expression. Chucky holds out for several seconds, but then he breaks down with a huge sigh. "And of course we’re gonna do it. ‘Cause you’re not gonna give me any other choice, and also ‘cause at least this way we can find out if Larry even has a chance before we start playing matchmaker."
Brendan cheers, pumping his fist in the air. Then all at once he drops down and rolls on top of Alex, just Brendan’s arms holding him above Alex. "We make a good team, Chuck," he says with a grin, then leans the rest of the way in to pick up where they left off.
Max skates up to Lars and stops short, showering him with snow. Lars sputters and shoves at him like he minds, but they both know better. Max doesn’t even pretend to acknowledge the token protesting; he leans in close instead. Lars’ heart skitters a little. It’s fine. He’s used to it.
"Check out the rookie over there, eh?" says Max.
Lars frowns and refrains from pointing out that they're hardly wily vets themselves, but he follows Max’s eyes to Bournival. The kid is stickhandling in the corner, his mouthguard hanging half out of his mouth. He obviously thinks it looks cool, except then he fumbles the puck and, in trying to recover it, drops his mouthguard. He picks it up, wipes it surreptitiously on the corner of his jersey, and puts it back.
Max bursts out laughing, hiding his face in Lars' shoulder to avoid drawing attention. Lars snorts, then turns away, but when Max says, "That’s like the eighth time in the last five minutes, I’ve been counting," he starts laughing, too. Max catches the giggles back from him and throws his arm around Lars’ shoulder for support—it's adorable, is what it is, but not adorable enough to be worth getting reamed out over, so after a couple seconds Lars shoves him off, towards the suspicious space in line, so nobody notices they’re goofing off.
They’ve just about recovered when Therrien blows his whistle and indicates a change of drill, with the whole team on this one. Michael jolts up at the sound of his voice and loses his mouthguard again. Max and Lars both immediately lose their composure, which is unfortunate because Michael gets in line right behind them.
Lars elbows Max in the ribs, like he’s doing any better at keeping a straight face, and then Max whispers, "Nine," and they both lose it all over again.
Fortunately, Bourni has no idea that they’re laughing at him. He turns to PK, who’s behind him in line, and says, "Did somebody give Patch and Larry laughing gas?"
As he says it, his mouthguard falls out again. They’re borderline hysterical now. Lars is supporting at least thirty percent of Max’s weight, and also expecting to get yelled at any second, but all he can think is Ten.
PK shakes his head and sighs as longsufferingly as he can. "Nah, they just have the same weird as fuck sense of humour. Don’t worry, none of us get it either."
That sparks something kind of warm in Lars’ chest, but they’re at the front of the line before he has a chance to really think about it. It’s a powerplay drill, with lots of passing followed by a shot and a scramble at the crease, and it’s Michael’s shot that eventually knocks the puck home.
They don’t celly too hard, because it’s practice, but he’s a rookie (and Lars feels a little bad for laughing at him earlier), so Lars skates over and gives him a friendly hip check and a facewash. Bourni grins at him…and promptly loses his mouthguard again.
It’s really a feat of pure will that keeps Lars from laughing. He bites his lips, hard, and skates away, looking for Max to see if he saw that—but he’s on the bench with Chucky, having what looks to be a pretty serious conversation. Lars wants to go take a water bottle as an excuse to be nosy and eavesdrop, but he’s already earned enough bad karma today laughing at a rookie. He lets them be, but makes a note to ask Max about it later.
"Strategy meeting time!" Brendan crows, draping himself across the end of Alex’s bed. "Saw you getting pretty cozy with Patches at practice today. It’s time to spill."
Alex rolls his eyes at him and sits down at the edge of the bed, his arms crossed like a petulant child. He’s so cute. "What makes you think there’s anything to spill?"
Brendan shuffles his way over to Alex and puts his head in Alex’s lap. "Come on, babe," he wheedles. "You’re dying to tell me, I know you are."
Alex definitely is, too—the corner of his mouth is all tense like it gets when he’s amused. "Fine," he says, and Brendan rewards him with a broad grin. "So I looked as sad as possible and vented to him about all the feelings I have for you, and he—"
"Wait," Brendan interrupts, "tell me more about your feelings."
Alex huffs just like Brendan knew he would. "You know about my feelings, dumbass. Shut the fuck up and let me tell my story."
"Sorry," Brendan says, though he very much isn’t. He gestures for Alex to keep talking.
"As I was saying," Alex continues, "I told him how dumb I think you are—"
"—and then I asked him if he was into anyone, you know, trying to get him to be sad with me or whatever."
"Oooh," Brendan says appreciatively.
"So he says yes, he’s totally experienced, which, whatever," Alex says, rolling his eyes, "but I notice he's not really looking at me, right? So I follow his line of sight, and, well. Bet you can guess where he's looking."
Brendan has to interrupt the story again to sit up and give Alex the highest of fives, but Alex doesn't seem to mind nearly so much this time. "So he totally is into Larry!" Brendan says.
"Or we've got it all completely wrong and he's in love with Bourni secretly, because they were the only two people over in that direction," says Alex, laughing.
"So then what? C'mon, Chuck, this is riveting," Brendan prods, resting his chin on his hands.
"He saw me notice him, so he was all," Alex puts on a high-pitched tone that sounds endearingly nothing like Patches, "‘Just talk to him, Chucky, it’s not that hard!’ And I’m like, okay, have you talked to your person? And he totally ignores me and says we have to get back to practice before skating off. So!"
"So!" Brendan echoes. "Damn, we're good."
"Totally," Alex agrees. "We’re so smart."
"I think you mean I’m smart," Brendan says, "'cause I’m definitely the one who came up with this plan. But, like, whatever. What’s our next step?"
Alex narrows his eyes at Brendan, but he doesn’t push the issue. "Keep it up?"
"Yes, perfect," Brendan says, "you’re wonderful. I also think we should trade? You take Larry, I’ll take Patches?"
"Sure," Alex agrees. "So they both know we’re being ‘dumb’ about our ‘feelings’." He does literal air-quotes with his fingers.
"Air quotes?" Brendan teases. "Really?"
Alex shuts Brendan up with his mouth. Brendan is super okay with that.
Their game against Minnesota is an absolute thrashing, the kind that they're almost obligated to go out and celebrate. The collective vibe in the bar is triumphant, joyful—or at least Lars thinks it is up until Max slumps into the booth next to him, sets his beer down, and buries his face in his folded arms.
"You're looking pretty upset for a guy who just scored a hat trick," says Lars lightly, carefully. Probably Max is just messing around, but—well, just in case.
Max raises his head off his arms to give Lars a look that is even more dead-eyed than his usual. Impressive. "If I murdered somebody—somebodies—you'd help me hide the bodies, right?"
Lars laughs and takes a drink of his beer. "Depends on how nicely you asked." That came out quite a bit flirtier than he intended it, but hopefully Max is too preoccupied with whoever is irritating him to notice.
"Not on who I murdered?" Max asks, sitting up a little bit more. He's got his elbow on the table now, head propped on his hand, smirking sidelong at Lars, and Lars takes another drink, because he needs it if he's going to have to deal with Max looking at him like this.
"I trust your judgment," he says when he's done, and Max cracks up, sitting up all the way and bumping shoulders with him companionably.
So not actually upset—frustrated, a little, but mostly messing around. This, Lars is prepared to handle. "But out of curiosity…" Lars adds a few seconds later.
"Gally one and Gally two," says Max with a groan. "I swear, first Chucky comes to me asking for romantic advice, which is weird enough because like—I don't know, we're not, like. I'd think he'd go to Prusty, you know?"
"Would you go to Prusty with your love life problems?" Lars points out.
Max concedes the point by tipping his beer in Lars' direction. "But still, I don't know, I tried to help the kid, but like—it's Brendan he's in love with, because duh, of course it is. And then Brendan comes whining to me tonight about how hot Alex is but obviously he can't say anything because no way does Alex have feelings for him…"
Jesus, poor Max. It is kind of hilarious that of all people, the Gallys both picked him to vent to. "I'm surprised you didn't just tell Brendan what Alex said to you," says Lars.
Max frowns. "What, and reward him for being a spineless little shit? No way. He wants him, he can talk to him himself, this isn't middle school." There's a pause. "Plus Alex made me promise not to tell—well, anyone, but you're not gonna tell Brendan—and I'm not that much of a jerk. But Lars, I am this close to locking them in a closet together until they figure their shit out."
Lars hums thoughtfully. "As long as you didn't do it right before practice or a game…"
Max laughs again, which is like. Probably the worst thing about being in love with him and also having him as a friend is that Max is constantly nearby, laughing at Lars' dumb jokes or goofing around to make Lars laugh instead. It's awesome; it kind of makes him want to die.
That train of thought, painful as it is, serves to remind him that Brendan and Alex are exactly where he is right now, only they actually have a happy ending in their future if they can just get over themselves. It makes him want to help them, dumb and oblivious as they are. "But probably they'd just get in a fistfight, so. Ideally we'd want to make them use their words."
Max looks a little disbelieving. "You think we should really help them?"
"I'd rather you not go to prison for double murder. That would really tank our season," says Lars, shrugging. Max kicks him under the table.
"Good to know what I'm worth to you," says Max with a wry smile. "I dunno, we can't really make them talk to each other…unless."
That's a positively evil look on Max's face. Lars is almost scared to follow script, but he does: "Unless what?"
"Well, they're acting like middle schoolers, right?" says Max. He's actually rubbing his hands together now, like he thinks he's some kind of evil genius, and Lars can't help laughing behind his hand at this loser. "So, let's give them a middle school solution." He pauses dramatically. "Truth or Dare."
Lars is still laughing and doing a terrible job of hiding it, but Max hardly seems bothered. "Really?" Lars manages.
Max nods. "Next time we're on the road, get a bunch of liquor, a few guys in a hotel room—with the two of us working together, we can take them out."
Lars raises an eyebrow. "We are still talking about getting them together and not murder, right?"
Max just laughs at that, which is reassuring and gratifying and awful all at once. Lars has to look away and focus on his drink. "At least Truth or Dare is a better option than having to put the Gallys six feet under and you in a prison cell," Lars says.
Max laughs again. "You got it, Larry," he says, punching Lars in the shoulder.
The worst part is that Lars actually thinks the Truth or Dare thing is kind of a good idea, and it’s definitely mostly because Max does. Lars is so fucked.
American Thanksgiving falls in the middle of a road trip, and while some of the older guys, especially the Americans, fly home to see their families, most of the rest just decide to enjoy the day off by partying the night before.
They go out after the game, but no one's ready to sleep when they leave the bar, so they wind up back in someone's hotel room—Max's?—with a truly impressive amount of liquor stashed away. Brendan almost wonders if Max, like, planned this ahead of time or something. It seems like the kind of thing he'd do, commit 100% to partying and figure out how to do it as effectively as possible.
Larry is the one to suggest Truth or Dare when they're all a few more drinks in, which Brendan wouldn’t really have expected. The suggestion is resoundly booed by the occupants of the room, but then PK says, "Hey, Chucky, I dare you to go to the ice machine naked—and you gotta come back with a full bucket of ice or we won't let you in," and it's on.
The dares in general aren't great, because they're not that creative (although Bourni daring Lars to call room service, ask if they have condoms, and if so, have them delivered to Markov's room, is inspired). But after Larry hangs up with room service, he looks right at Brendan and says: "Gally, I dare you to kiss Chucky on the lips."
Everyone immediately protests loudly, even Carey pronouncing that "fucking lame", but it takes Brendan a second to catch up, because everything's starting to make so much more sense now. This is why Larry suggested this game in the first place; it's totally Patch and Larry working together to get him and Alex together. Brendan is a genius.
He's distracted from his triumph by Alex complaining next to him, "I don't wanna get, like, some fuckin' disease from him or something, gross."
Right. They're supposed to be selling this for the plan. "Gross is right, no way," Brendan agrees, screwing up his face into his best performance of disgust.
Lars, for his part, looks entirely unruffled by the objections to his dare. He just raises an eyebrow at Brendan and says, "What, are you chicken?"
Instantly, the boos turn to oohs; Max, next to Larry, is openly laughing. Brendan bristles; he hates being called chicken. Fuck the plan. "Fuck no, I'm not." He turns to his left, expression set. "Pucker up, Chuck."
It takes roughly ten seconds of aggressively kissing Alex a) to prove a point and b) because it's fun before Brendan remembers that they're supposed to be pretending that this isn't something they've done before.
Regretfully, he pulls away. Alex follows him for half a second, and then he opens his eyes and it must hit him too, because he turns completely away from Brendan and crosses his arms. In a mild panic over how to cover this, Brendan does the first thing he can think of: "Fine, then, Larry, I dare you to kiss Patch on the mouth."
The complaints are even louder this time. "This isn't fucking spin the bottle. I have a girlfriend, like," Whitey complains.
"Fucking bullshit, no you don't," says PK dismissively. They get into a little squabble about that, but Brendan ignores them in favour of watching Max and Lars. They’re both quiet now, a stark contrast to all the laughing they’ve been doing together all night. Lars is frowning, his shoulders up somewhere around his ears, while Max looks relaxed—but that kind of forced relaxed he gets when they're down two goals at the top of the third, where he's only keeping it loose because he feels like someone should.
Max is the one who speaks first: "Whatever, let's just get it over with, hey?" he says quietly, bumping shoulders with Lars. Lars exhales, nods sharply, and then…well, that's. A kiss, technically, but Brendan's seen his parents kiss their friends hello with longer kisses than that.
Most of the group doesn't even see it; too preoccupied by PK and Ryan bickering. "Okay," says Lars, sounding impressively normal. "Who hasn't been made to do something stupid yet?"
"Hang on, did you guys do it? That was a dumb dare, but you still have to," complains Prusty.
"Yeah, they did, I saw them," Alex chimes in at once. His expression is pretty serious when Brendan glances at him; right away Brendan is nodding and backing him up. He feels pretty proud of himself: he and Alex almost messed everything up, but the distraction worked, and now Patch and Larry are gonna have to deal with their feelings, surely, because kisses aren't that awkward without a reason. Brendan is a mastermind.
By the time Lars escapes Max’s room—at the same time as everyone else in a collective decision to go to bed, so not really that much of an escape—he’s feeling less drunk and more like freaking out. He can’t stop thinking about the feeling of Max’s lips against his for a split second, which is stupid, because it was a split second. Lars should never have gone along with the Truth or Dare thing. Of course it would backfire.
It was nice, though. Easy, and Max smiled at him right after, and… Lars needs to stop thinking about this. Sure, he smiled, but then he looked away, and Lars isn’t going to pretend it wasn’t also awkward. And even if it hadn't been awkward, it was just a kiss on a dare, so it doesn't count.
Jesus. Lars wasn't even this stupid when he was actually a teenager, because he was so focused on hockey. Teenage me was smarter, he thinks.
Lars is washing his face with cold water in an attempt to get it together enough to go to sleep when there’s a knock on his door. He frowns and goes over to open it, revealing Max. His heart does an involuntary swooping maneuver in his chest.
"Hey," Max says, stepping inside Lars’ room without waiting for an invitation. He gestures for Lars to close the door, and Lars does. For a moment, he lets himself think that maybe Max thought—well, maybe the kiss was revealing for him or something, and he’s here to confess his feelings. Stranger things have happened.
"So that looked like it went well," Max says, beaming in that disarming way he has. "They looked like they were into that kiss, and then they went off together."
It takes Lars a second, but then—oh. Right. The Gallys. Lars nods, shaking himself out of his fantasy. "I mean, they’re road roommates, and they hang out all the time anyway, so that doesn’t really prove anything," he points out.
Max shrugs. "True," he allows. "I guess we’ll see tomorrow. Here’s hoping."
"Yeah," Lars says. And then, because he can't ever resist teasing Max, he adds, "I’m glad you came over here to talk about it right away, though. Wouldn't have guessed you'd be this excited to play matchmaker."
"Haha, well," says Max, looking around Lars’ room like he just realized where he is, and the mood in the room shifts so quickly Lars feels like he's got whiplash. Max looks at Lars, then looks away again quickly. It’s probably the most awkward Lars has ever felt. He’s not sure if he should be asking Max to leave now or… what. He doesn’t really want Max to leave, but then, he never really does.
"Okay," Max says too loudly. "I guess I’m gonna…" He points toward the door, edging over to it, and Lars just nods.
"Goodnight," he says as Max opens the door.
Max pauses, looking at Lars with an inscrutable expression. "Night," he says, quiet now, and then he’s gone.
Lars sighs, a mix of wistful and relieved, and lies down on the bed. He stares up at the ceiling and lets himself be pathetically sad for a minute, then gets up to change into pajamas so he can stop thinking about this and go the fuck to sleep.
The minute their door closes behind them, Alex is frowning at Brendan, which to Brendan's sleepy, slightly liquor-addled mind, seems incredibly unfair. "Whaaaat?" he whines.
Alex rolls his eyes, which destroys the effect somewhat. "Great job almost ruining everything, loser," he scoffs, shouldering past Brendan into the hotel room.
"I'm sorry," Brendan says quickly. "I just like kissing my boyfriend, you know? How am I supposed to turn that off?" He’s still whining and he wants to stop, but he had enough to drink that he doesn't quite have control over his emotions, let alone his tone of voice or brain to mouth filter.
Chucky gives him a weird look. "I know, just…if we want this to actually work, we gotta commit to it, right?"
"Define commit," says Brendan warily.
"Well, like…I dunno, we're probably too comfortable with each other in public for people who are crushing on each other? Less touching and shit, more…like Patch and Larry tonight, holy shit, that was amazing, right?"
Brendan would agree, but his mind is stuck on the part where Alex just said he doesn't want to touch Brendan in public. "Are you breaking up with me?"
If Alex was giving him a weird look before, that's nothing compared to the combination of shock and horror he's got going on now. "What? No, what the hell?"
Brendan looks down. "Well, I just—you said—" and when he looks up again, Alex is right in front of him.
"You're so dumb," says Alex, but in that soft voice that Brendan knows really means he's feeling pretty fond. He cups Brendan's face in both his hands, kisses him gently, and then says, "I just want your dumb plan to work because you'll be all sad if it doesn't, okay?"
"Okay," says Brendan very seriously, nodding at Alex. Alex laughs in his face, but like, not in a mean way. God, Brendan likes him so much. He’s way too drunk for this.
Alex slips his arm around Brendan's shoulders and says, "Come on, drunky, let's go to bed, huh?"
"Yeah, bed," Brendan agrees. No way is he ever going to say no to getting in bed with Alex, even—no, especially when he's drunk off his face.
They notch up a few wins over the next week; it's not particularly eventful on or off the ice. Lars is grateful for the normalcy where it comes to him and Max, because it would fucking suck if the awkward night of Truth or Dare messed things up between them. That's the whole reason Lars can never tell Max how he feels—it's just not worth losing his friendship over.
In the case of the Gallys not changing, however, Lars is pretty fed up already. For all Truth or Dare didn’t fuck up anything between him and Max, it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect on Alex and Brendan at all. Instead of getting over themselves and talking about how they both got super into their kiss, they're being painfully awkward around one another—that is, when they're not avoiding each other. It’s actually exhausting to watch, especially when they both take every opportunity to complain to him about it.
Lars is heading out to his car after practice when Max catches up with him, bumping their shoulders together in greeting. "Hey," he says, "good practice."
Lars nods. "Yeah," he agrees. "Team’s pumped."
"Absolutely," Max says. He goes to push the door to the parking garage open, then pauses. Lars stops walking as well. "Except—did you see Alex and Brendan in the locker room after?"
Lars had, in fact, watched as they very obviously avoided talking to each other, then both looked terribly tragic as they left separately. It’s not the first time this week it’s happened, and Lars sighs just thinking about it. "I don’t get them," he says. "It could be so easy if they just let it be."
"Right?" Max says. "Honestly, I think they might be in denial on purpose."
Lars snorts. "Because all the moping is worth not admitting their feelings, of course."
"Obviously! They’re so stubborn," Max says. "I mean, the dude’s your friend. What’s the worst that could happen?"
"Exactly. Just talk to him, it’s not—" Lars falters, the words hitting too close to home even as he’s saying them. "…that hard," he finishes lamely.
There’s an extended silence in which Lars wishes desperately he could take this entire conversation back. Max reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out his phone, glancing at it and then back at Lars. "Anyway, I’ve gotta go," he says. "I have, uh, a Skype call."
"Wait, what are we going to do about the Gallys?" Lars asks quickly, trying to bring the conversation back around, but Max is already pushing his way through the doors and waving.
"Maybe they're beyond help—we're only human, Larry!" he calls out. "See you!"
"See you," Lars echoes, waving. He sighs, takes a moment to collect himself, and then heads toward his car. If he bangs his head against the steering wheel a couple of times, well. That's the joy of tinted windows: nobody will ever know.
They've overall been playing really solidly this season, so when the wheels completely fall off against LA and they're smashed 6-0, it's almost more of a shock than anything else. Team leadership confers briefly in the locker room after the media are gone and decide on a strongly encouraged team night out to make sure nobody gets too in their heads about this one, which, hey—Brendan's done much worse things than that on a captain's orders.
Plus, it gives him another chance to work on Patch and Larry. Brendan's nothing if not persistent, and when being able to cuddle with his boyfriend is on the line, damn right he’s going to do what it takes to make it happen.
He spends most of the first hour dancing and keeping an eye out for an opening, and the minute he sees Lars sitting alone in a booth he makes a beeline for him. Brendan collapses into the booth next to Lars and, acting like he's had a lot more to drink than he actually has, melodramatically slumps over the table and buries his face in his arms.
Brendan waits. There's no reaction from Larry, but Brendan keeps waiting. He's a patient man.
After what feels like an eternity but is probably more like five minutes, Lars sighs loudly enough to be heard over the music. "What's wrong this time, B," he says with only the barest pretense of sympathy.
Brendan pulls his head out of his arms and gives Lars a baleful look. "I just—you know, most of the time I'm like, I'm glad I can be Chuck's friend, at least he's like, around, you know? But sometimes, man. Sometimes. It's just…exhausting, you know? You get me? It's like wow, you're aggressively hot and nice and funny and perfect and I can't have you and you won't stop, you know?" He's actually proud of himself for that—he really dug deep into what made him finally suck it up and talk to Alex about how he felt. If this doesn't convince Lars, nothing will.
Instead of being tense or awkward or irritated with Brendan like he has been so far, or doing what Brendan would prefer and getting up in a fit of motivation to go talk to Max right this minute…it's like all the fight goes out of Lars at once. His shoulders slump, he stares down at the table, and his mouth twists into a bitter half-smile. "Yeah. I know what that's like," he says quietly. Even in the midst of a losing streak or scoring drought, Brendan has never seen Lars look this…defeated.
And maybe that's what changes his mind, because before he even really knows it, he's got a vise-tight grip on Lars' arm and he's climbing out of the booth and taking Lars with him.
"Brendan, what—" he hears over the rush of blood in his ears.
"I can't take this anymore, you're way too fucking sad and that's just—where the fuck is Pacioretty," Brendan shouts back as he drags Lars through the crowd. He can feel Lars trying to fight back, which is not good because Lars is definitely bigger and probably stronger than him, but Brendan is wily, and he has a lower center of gravity. He hesitates, and then tugs. Larry stumbles, and Brendan uses that to pull him along.
It also helps that Max isn't that far away. Brendan spots him sitting at a fairly deserted corner of the bar with Carey—perfect, Carey. Brendan shoves Lars in his general direction. "Hold this," he instructs.
At first Carey doesn't, and Max looks amused more than anything, but when Brendan starts off by saying, "This whole thing between the two of you is stupid and I'm gonna fix it right now," both of those things change pretty quickly. Carey's hand tightens on Lars' wrist almost at once, and Max's expression drops and his eyes dart around; Brendan gets the distinct impression that he's searching for an exit, but hey, he's the one who decided to sit in a corner.
With Max sitting on a stool and Brendan standing, he is almost taller than him, and that's exactly how Brendan likes it. He looms a little, reveling in it, then continues, "So I'm gonna let you in on a little secret—Alex and I actually got over ourselves and got together weeks ago. Weeks ago! But we were pretending to not have our shit together 'cause we were hoping that you two would catch an anvil-sized hint. You know, like how we complained to you all the time about liking someone on the team who we were friends with? And you told us to just go for it? While being even more pathetic yourselves?"
He pauses for breath for a second. Max looks as inscrutable as always, Lars is looking at the ceiling, and Carey's got his phone out with his free hand, doing God knows what, but Brendan knows better than to think he's not listening. Whatever, it's long past time for this, he can see that now.
"And all that was fine when we thought it was just a dumb crush or whatever," he continues, "but no—you're actually sad over this, aren't you? How fucking stupid can you get? I know you're grown men, and you can do shit yourselves, but good God, I can't watch this anymore. Fucking talk to each other. All right?"
Neither of them answer, but Brendan wasn't really expecting them to. He's pretty sure he's got his point across, anyway, and at some point you just have to accept that you can drag a horse to water kicking and screaming, but you can't make him confess his love for his teammate. Brendan has undoubtedly reached that point. He gives a sarcastic, short mock bow, and then backs away into the crowd. He’s going to go find Alex and complain at him for a while, and then they’re probably going to make out in a bathroom or something, because Brendan is done pretending.
Lars is never, ever going to live this down. Being lectured by Brendan Gallagher about your love life in the middle—well, corner—of a bar is not something you ever want to be able to say happened to you. Even worse, instead of sticking around to witness the reaction to said lecture, Brendan just left them there.
There, with Lars about to explode from embarrassment, Max avoiding his eyes and showing no emotions at all, and Carey looking between them slowly with the kind of caution Lars would imagine he affords wild bulls at the rodeo. Max muttered something about having to go home and left as quickly as possible, which probably means that anything Brendan implied about Max having feelings for Lars was completely made up, and Max is embarrassed that Brendan would think that. Worse, he probably also feels awkward about Lars liking him, and that’s just mortifying for everyone involved.
Lars couldn’t be expected to stick around after that. Carey asked him if he was okay, and Lars just shrugged and excused himself. He’s pretty sure he’s not okay, but spending some quality time moping before he gears up to actually start getting over Max should help with that. It's not like he has any other choice: Max's hasty exit made his lack of a positive reaction pretty clear, and at the end of the day, they still have to play together. Lars kind of wants to go yell at Brendan about how this is exactly what he was afraid of, but that can probably wait until tomorrow.
He’s home and watching shitty late-night TV for less than an hour when he hears someone at the door. He considers not moving and waiting for whoever it is to go away, but they’re pretty persistent, and eventually he drags himself over to the door.
It’s Max, because this is Lars’ life. Lars leans against the door and sighs. "Listen," he says, "if you’re here to apologize or, I don’t know, pity me or whatever, please, just go home? I’m fine." He pauses, avoiding eye contact by looking somewhere over Max’s head. "Or I will be, at least."
"No," Max says firmly. When Lars looks at him, his jaw is set and he's sporting his most serious expression. "No, we’re having this conversation now. This whole thing is stupid, and it’s my fault. God, you really think I pity you? Let me inside, Larry."
Lars hesitates for a moment, but then he steps aside. At this point, what is there to lose?
"Should we sit?" Max asks when the door is closed.
Lars shrugs. "Sure?" he says. They make their way to the couch in the living room, and Lars is careful to leave a respectable space between them when he sits. He fumbles for the remote and mutes the TV, and then waits, but Max just stares at the carpet in front of him and doesn’t say anything. "So…" Lars says, awkward.
"Sorry for leaving earlier, I just." Max sighs, clearly frustrated. "I guess I got used to running away."
Lars frowns and shrugs. "That’s okay," he says. "It was pretty…" He waves a hand, unable to articulate anything.
"To tell the truth, because it's about time I did…" Max shakes his head and then looks right at Lars. "I’ve been into you ever since you were the first one to notice Pleky’s turtleneck thing and got us all started chirping him about it."
Lars stares at him, not quite believing his ears. I’ve been into you, he repeats in his head. It doesn’t seem real. "That…" he starts, then falters. "But that was in 2011?"
"Yes," Max says emphatically. "It was."
Lars can’t help the smile that starts creeping its way across his face. "Wow." He takes a deep breath. "You probably guessed this, but, uh, I’ve been into you, too. Probably since, well." He can feel himself blushing, but Max deserves to know. “Probably since you got hit by Chara and I thought about how much it would suck not to have you with me.”
The tension bleeds out of Max's shoulders, and he starts smiling as well, that disarming grin that always knocks Lars off his feet. "I was hoping for that, because otherwise this was going to get really awkward again. I’ve never wanted Brendan Gallagher to be right so much in my life." He laughs, and Lars does too. It feels like something clicking into place.
"Are we really stupider than the rookies?" Lars asks.
Max chuckles. "I guess we must be."
Lars shakes his head. "Christ."
"We are way better looking, though," Max says, grinning, "so at least we have that."
Lars snorts. "Yeah, I guess we do."
They’re quiet for a moment, just looking at each other and smiling, and then both of them seem to have the same thought at the same time, because they both lean in slightly and then laugh. Lars slides closer on the couch, pressing their thighs together, and Max brings his hand up to settle on the back of Lars’ neck, pulling him in so they can kiss. It’s a proper kiss this time, none of that awkward Truth or Dare bullshit, and honestly—even though the Gallys are going to be insufferable for the rest of their lives, Lars is pretty sure it was all worth it for this.