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Dylan knows he can be stubborn sometimes.

It’s a good thing, usually—means he keeps trying after everyone says he should quit. But he’s trying to be better at realizing when being persistent turns into banging his head against a brick wall, and when Mitch Marner scores a hat trick when he’s on his wing for a period—

Well. Dylan’s stubborn, but he’s not stupid.

They’re on their way back to the hotel, bundled into the bus, a little quiet after the almost-comeback that ended in a loss despite Mitch’s heroics. Mitch is sitting alone across the aisle from Dylan, staring out the window a little pensively, and Dylan reaches out and kicks the bottom of his foot.

Mitch turns to look at him, but his expression doesn’t change.

“Come hang out after we get back to the hotel,” says Dylan quietly. If anyone overhears him being buddy-buddy with Marner, he’ll get chirped to high heaven.

Mitch frowns. “Don’t you have a roommate?”

“Capo will be off hanging out with the other Mitch,” Dylan says with a shrug, and then corrects himself. “I mean, the original Mitch. You’re the other Mitch.”

Mitch rolls his eyes. “You’re really selling me on this, Strome. But sure, whatever.”

The bus pulls up at the hotel not long after that, and a handful of guys trail into the little convenience shop by the front desk to get snacks. Dylan picks up some Gatorade, a pack of pretzels and hummus, and then after a few seconds of deliberation, he grabs a packet of Pop Rocks for Mitch. He’s not sure why, but Mitch always eats Skittles before a game, so maybe…he doesn’t know. Call it an olive branch.

Mitch ends up on the same elevator as Dylan and trails after him to his room; fortunately no one seems to notice, all too caught up in their own post-game activities. It’s definitely a little awkward, being alone with Mitch in his hotel room when they’ve never really liked each other, let alone had a conversation, so Dylan breaks the silence by throwing the Pop Rocks at Mitch’s head.

Mitch catches them, then raises an eyebrow. “What’s this for?”

That’s a fair question, and it seems like a stupider gesture by the second. “I don’t know, you’re always eating sugar, I don’t know how you don’t weigh like five hundred pounds,” says Dylan, suddenly super interested in pulling up the sheets on his bed so it’s better for watching a movie or something.

“Awww, Stromer,” says Mitch behind him. The syrupy tone he uses makes Dylan tense up with irritation so fast that he starts questioning the whole thing, but before he can do anything about it, Mitch is saying “Here,” from much closer than he was a second ago.

Dylan turns around. Mitch is holding out one of those white cardboard envelopes, like you get from a quarter machine. “You don’t have to—”

“I said here, asshole,” says Mitch firmly, prodding him in the arm with the envelope. Dylan rolls his eyes and takes it.

It’s a pink, sparkly sticker of a winking cat. It’s incredibly stupid. It’s stupider when Mitch imitates the cat’s expression and Dylan gives him a facewash, and then they start wrestling, and like…

It’s just like hanging out with anyone else. Maybe Mitch isn’t totally the devil incarnate.

They watch a terrible movie on Lifetime, during which Dylan discovers Mitch totally shares his tendency to overinvest in the ridiculous characters. Dylan thinks Mitch will probably go back to his room after that, but after fucking around on his phone for a couple minutes, Mitch says, “Wanna play Never Have I Ever?”

It’s so dumb, and all they have to drink is Gatorade, but whatever, Dylan doesn’t really want to go to bed yet either, and there’s no sign of Capo. But it’s kind of almost nice, because they didn’t talk much during the movie, and now Dylan knows that Mitch got rug burn on his face while trying to impress a girl at school, and Mitch knows that he tried to cut his own hair once and ended up having to shave it all off. They chirp each other the whole time, but Dylan never feels like there’s any actual heat behind what Mitch is saying, which makes it easier to give as good as he gets instead of getting genuinely annoyed.

And then the YouTube playlist blaring from the cup containing Mitch’s phone plays Timber. It’s a terrible song, but Dylan kind of loves it anyway, and he’s bobbing his head to it as he tries to come up with another thing he hasn’t done—and then he notices that Mitch is tapping out the beat on his shoe. They make eye contact for a long moment, and then Mitch starts rapping along with Pitbull. Terribly.

Dylan cracks up, and Mitch pauses in his rap to say, “What, like you don’t know the words.” He’s right, and honestly, Dylan is not going to be outdone when it comes to Kesha. He joins Mitch on the chorus, both of them completely off-key and so loud that they’re in real danger of being caught awake after curfew. Dylan can’t really bring himself to care; all he’s thinking is that these are the kind of moments that make real friendships.

It’s almost 3 by the time they’re tired of the game, and they need to go to bed, they’re playing the Americans the next day. Mitch’s room is just down the hall, but he shrugs at the empty bed and says, “If Capo was coming back, he’d be back by now. You don’t care, right?”

Dylan doesn’t, which would’ve been a surprise to him twelve hours ago, but people change, and Dylan is capable of personal growth. Mitch opens the spare hotel toothbrush and he and Dylan jockey for space at the sink, because taking turns is for people who don’t have years of rivalry in their past.

Considering how tired he is, Dylan knows he should go right to sleep, but for some reason, when he lays down, he just…doesn’t. He’s turning the game over in his mind, and apparently tossing and turning a bit too loudly, because after a few minutes of this, Mitch sighs exasperatedly from the next bed.

“Sorry,” says Dylan quietly, but Mitch scoffs.

A few seconds later, there’s noise from Mitch’s phone—Dylan thinks it’s maybe a weird ringtone or something at first, but then he realizes it’s words, and then he listens to what the words actually are.

You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear. Please go the fuck to sleep,” says Samuel L. Jackson’s voice from Mitch’s phone. There’s muffled giggling coming from that direction too, and it’s contagious—Dylan’s tired and he’s had a pretty trying day in terms of the emotional maturity required to completely re-evaluate his stance on one of his least favorite people, and also it’s fucking hilarious.

I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bullshit. Stop lying,” says the phone. They both laugh harder. By the time the five-minute video is done, Dylan’s actually crying a little bit, and his stomach hurts from laughing.

“So, are you gonna go the fuck to sleep?” says Mitch. Dylan can hear his obnoxious grin even though he can’t see it, but for some reason it doesn’t annoy him as much as it always used to.

“Yeah, yeah,” says Dylan. It’s just as dumb as the rest of the night, but he’s still smiling when he falls asleep.

Dylan goes home with a feeling of disappointment in the pit of his stomach at their fifth place ranking and, surprisingly, Mitch's number in his phone. After their sleepover and two more games playing on the same line, there’s definitely no doubt that they’re friends. Dylan isn’t really sure what to expect, but in the months that follow he takes to leaving comments on Mitch’s Instagram pictures and starting arguments about nothing over text. They’re not exactly friendly on the ice, though—they’ve both been hockey players long enough to know that team trumps everything else out there.

They don’t see each other again until July. They wouldn’t have had reason to then, either, except that somewhere along the line Dylan’s first response to being bored became texting Mitch—at least, Mitch is his go-to when Connor’s fucked off to his cabin for a family vacation and Dylan can’t stand hanging out with either of his brothers anymore.

He’s not even really gunning for anything in particular, he just wants someone to talk to, but it turns out that Mitch is bored, too, and before he knows it Mitch is convincing him that they should go to the water park near his place. Dylan makes the obligatory complaint that he doesn’t want to drive all the way over there, but Mitch tells him to shut up and just stay overnight at his house if he’s so annoyed about it.

Less than half an hour later, parental permission obtained, Dylan’s got a bag packed and is heading to Canada’s Wonderland with Mitch Marner. It’s not exactly a situation he’s ever pictured for himself, but whatever, he’s excited anyway.

It ends up being a lot of fun. They decide to make sure they go on every slide, and Dylan makes Mitch stand next to every height restriction sign they see just to make him huff and roll his eyes. By the time they’re ready to pack it in, they’re slightly sunburned and thoroughly swim sleepy. Dylan practically has to slap himself awake when he’s following Mitch’s car back to his house.

“I’m starving,” Mitch says as soon as Dylan gets out of his vehicle. His hair is only half-dry and even though it’s shorter than it was before, the way the longer parts of it stick up looks stupid. Dylan tells him as much, earning himself a glare and an abrupt noogie that has them both laughing.

“Okay, okay!” Dylan concedes. “Let me go, I’m starving, too, let’s get food.”

“Thank you, for fuck’s sake,” Mitch says, letting Dylan go. “What do you like on your pizza?”

They order an extra-large pizza and raid the fridge while they’re waiting. Halfway through demolishing a container of cut-up raw veggies, Mitch’s eyes light up. “Hold on,” he says around a mouthful of carrot, and then runs off, leaving Dylan in the kitchen alone.

Dylan stares after him, then decides not to question it. He returns after only a couple minutes, anyway, and chucks a tiny plastic ball at Dylan’s head. Dylan ducks, and it hits the floor.

“What the fuck, dude?” he asks, leaning down to pick it up, but as soon as he’s holding it, he realizes what it is—another of those things you get from quarter machines, the same as Mitch had given him way back in January. Dylan still has that sticker in his wallet because he keeps forgetting to take it out. “For me?” he asks, putting a hand over his heart.

“Yeah, for you,” Mitch says, ignoring Dylan’s dramatics. “Open it.”

Dylan gets it open with some difficulty only to be rewarded with one of those sticky hand things you think are the coolest when you’re, like, six. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he asks Mitch, putting on an affronted tone.

“Fuck if I know,” Mitch says, shrugging.

“Tough shit,” Dylan says, and then he sticks the hand to Mitch’s forehead. Mitch’s surprised face makes Dylan burst into laughter, and Mitch is still insisting it wasn’t that funny when the pizza shows up.

Dylan kind of wants to make fun of Mitch for deliberately bringing him another quarter machine thing, but that would be hypocritical considering the fact that Dylan stopped and got Pop Rocks on the way to the water park. Having that thought makes him feel kind of embarrassed about it, but whatever—they’re hockey players, tradition is kind of what they do.

Still, it takes him until after they’ve demolished the entire pizza (because why the fuck not) to work up the nerve to get the Pop Rocks from his bag and hand them to Mitch.

“Aw, Stromer,” Mitch says. “So nice.”

“Don’t even start,” Dylan warns, but both of them are smiling.

“Movie time?” Mitch asks, and Dylan nods.

The Marners have a pretty nice TV set-up in the basement, and they settle in on the couch. Mitch turns on the Movie Network and immediately rips open the pack of Pop Rocks. They’re on opposite sides of the couch, so Dylan’s not really bothered, but then Mitch spends a good chunk of time sliding closer to Dylan and leaning in so Dylan can hear the candy popping in his mouth.

“Will you quit?” Dylan snaps eventually, and Mitch grins like he’s won the lottery. “I’m trying to watch a movie here?”

“So sorry,” Mitch says, but he doesn’t move away at all. He’s close enough that Dylan can tell he still smells like chlorine even though they showered, and for some reason Dylan gets stuck on that and then on the lack of space between them, and—

Dylan has no idea what the movie they watch is about.

Mitch turns off the TV when it’s over as if he has plans for them to do something else, but then he just pulls out his phone and starts dicking around on it. Dylan internally shrugs and does the same, though he does find it weird that Mitch isn’t constantly talking.

Thankfully—or unfortunately, Dylan’s not quite sure—it only lasts a few minutes before Mitch looks up, says “Hey, remember last time?”, and starts blasting Timber from his phone.

Dylan is grinning before he can stop himself. “Hell yeah,” he says, and they both start singing. Mitch gets up and starts dancing, which is possibly even worse than his singing, but once he drags Dylan up as well, Dylan is too busy jamming to make fun of him for it.

They both flop back down on the couch when the song ends. Mitch is looking at his phone again, and Dylan prods at his leg with his foot. “Hey,” Dylan says, “speaking of last time, we should, like, play another dumb game instead of just being on our phones.”

“Okay,” Mitch agrees. “What game do you wanna play?”

“Uh,” Dylan says, caught, and suggests the first thing that pops into his head. “Would you rather?”

“Perfect,” Mitch says. “I’ll start with a classic: would you rather be deaf or blind?”

“Deaf,” Dylan says immediately. “Easier to still play hockey.”

Mitch nods. “Hands down, agreed. Your turn.”

“Would you rather, uh…always lie or always tell the truth?”

“Oh, hm, tough,” Mitch says. “I guess telling the truth seems like it would land me in less of a clusterfuck? So that.”

“Fair, same,” Dylan says. “You go.”

They continue like that for a while. Dylan spends three questions torturing Mitch over his apparent total fear of octopi, and Mitch retaliates by coming up with increasingly disgusting situations for Dylan to pick between. It’s stupid, but it’s easy, and somewhere in the back and forth, they end up with their legs tangled in the middle of the couch, and it occurs to Dylan that—they’re actually friends now. That’s still weird.

“Ugh, I’d rather hug a porcupine than an octopus every time, and will you stop it with the octopus questions,” says Mitch, his whole face screwed up in disgust. Dylan laughs, tossing his phone from his left hand to his right. He tells Mitch that he’d rather burn to death than drown, and then it’s his turn to come up with a question again.

The thing is, Dylan’s close friends all know that he’s not exactly straight, and Dylan kind of wants Mitch to know as well. It’s weird and awkward to drop into conversation no matter what, but it’s worse when he’s not at all sure how someone is going to react. This game is kind of a golden opportunity to see if he can eliminate that factor with Mitch, so he steels himself and goes for it.

“Okay, would you rather kiss a guy or give the puck away in overtime?” he asks.

Mitch doesn’t respond immediately, frowning, and Dylan has to remind himself not to hold his breath.

“Well,” Mitch says slowly, “I’ve done both, and I gotta say that the first was a lot more fun.”

“…oh,” Dylan says weakly. He wasn’t expecting that response at all, and it’s thrown him for an awkward loop. Fuck, now he seems like a dick comparing those two things. He has to fix this. “I haven’t, but um, I mean,” he stammers, “I would like to? I mean. Yeah.”

Mitch is smiling now, and it’s so much better than the frowning that Dylan doesn’t even care that it’s probably because he’s laughing at Dylan. “You’d like to give the puck away in overtime?” he teases. “Make sure you do it when you’re playing against us, eh, buddy?”

“Shut the fuck up, in your dreams,” Dylan shoots back, and just like that, the awkward mood is gone.

They keep going with a few more rounds, but it’s getting late and all the time they spent in the sun is definitely catching up to them. When Mitch suggests they get ready for bed, Dylan readily agrees.

They end up in the bathroom brushing their teeth at the same time again, because friendship has apparently not taught them the art of taking turns, and then Dylan gets himself settled in the sleeping bag on Mitch’s bedroom floor.

“Are you going to need encouragement to sleep this time?” Mitch asks from his bed.

Dylan hides his smile in his pillow, and then says, “I don’t know, I think I probably do, yeah.”

“You asked for it,” Mitch says, reaching for his phone to play the “Go the Fuck to Sleep” video. It’s just as funny the second time around.

Dylan is trying to be responsible and get some decent sleep because he’s flying to Europe to play hockey at an obscene hour tomorrow, but right before he starts getting ready for bed, his phone chirps at him.

come let me in i’m at the back door, reads the text from Mitch. Which is—weird, because Mitch lives a solid half an hour away, even at this time of night, and also, Mitch is getting on the plane with Dylan tomorrow and they’re going to spend the better part of the next two weeks living out of each other’s pockets.

But Dylan likes Mitch these days, and it could be important or something, so he goes downstairs and opens the door, bracing himself for a pie in the face.

It’s not a pie in the face. It’s Mitch, with a backpack over one shoulder, clutching a fuzzy blanket in one hand and a white cardboard envelope in the other, looking like he hasn’t slept in weeks. “Can I come in?” he says, voice quiet and hoarse.

Dylan actually cannot remember the last time he was this concerned for anyone. He’s been less worried watching teammates get carried off the ice. He’s pretty good in a crisis, though—he puts himself together quickly, nods, and steps aside to let Mitch in, then leads him upstairs without another word.

Once they’re both in Dylan’s room, Mitch presses the envelope into Dylan’s hands. It’s a temporary tattoo of a dolphin this time. Dylan smiles despite the alarm bells that are going off in his head, and reaches into the side pocket of his suitcase to pull out one of the packs of Pop Rocks he bought for the upcoming trip.

Mitch smiles when he catches it, but it’s fleeting. He sits down on Dylan’s bed, back against the wall, knees up, like he’s making himself as small as possible, and then cocoons himself in the blanket. Rather than ask what’s wrong, Dylan sits next to him so their shoulders are touching and waits.

It’s at least five minutes of Mitch fiddling with the edges of the Pop Rocks packet before he finally says, “It’s stupid.”

Dylan shrugs. “Whatever it is, if it’s got you this upset—okay, maybe it is stupid, I dunno, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel bad for being upset. Not like you can help what you feel.”

Mitch pulls away from him a little bit to shoot him an extremely judgmental look. “Where the fuck did you get all wise, Buddha?”

It’s the first part of the evening that’s felt normal, and Dylan’s laugh is more relieved than anything. “I’m right though, so.”

Mitch sighs and relaxes back against the wall, shoulder to shoulder with Dylan again. “One of the guys from the Knights is retiring.”

Dylan waits.

“And like—I don’t know—he’s been our backup tendy forever, so I guess he was like ‘If I can’t make first string in juniors, I’m never gonna,’ which I get, but…” Mitch blows out a frustrated breath. “It just made me start thinking, what if that happens to me?”

“You’re right, it is stupid,” says Dylan dryly.

Mitch elbows him, sharp. “Shut up. Like. What if I get hurt, or if I don’t get hurt and I’m just not good enough, and I end up bouncing between the AHL and NHL forever, never really cracking a roster, getting traded all the time, and—”

Dylan puts his hand over Mitch’s mouth, because he physically cannot listen to one more second of this. “Ugh, now I’m gonna have to compliment your hockey to make you get your head out of your ass, I hate you,” he whines. Mitch glares at him over the top of his hand, but he hasn’t licked or bitten it yet, so Dylan guesses that’s a signal that he should keep talking.

“Look. You’re so good it’s disgusting. This is a crazy deep draft year, you know any other year you’d be in the conversation for first. You wouldn’t be nearly as annoying if you weren’t good.”

He’s not good at this, and he’s not sure if it’s helping, but he lets his hand drop to Mitch’s knee since Mitch doesn’t seem inclined to interrupt. “And you’re gonna kick ass in the NHL, and I’m gonna hate playing against you like I always do. But if for some reason you don’t, like if you get hurt or whatever, I promise I’ll tell you to hang ‘em up before it gets pathetic, and we’ll figure out something else you can kick ass at instead, okay? Boys no matter what,” Dylan says, raising his hand off Mitch’s knee and turning it into a fist for Mitch to bump.

“Boys no matter what,” Mitch echoes, bumping Dylan’s fist. He looks a little better, but not better enough that Dylan’s going to kick him out.

Instead, he grabs his phone off the charger and finds Timber on YouTube, careful not to let Mitch see his screen. When he hears the first few notes, Mitch smiles for real, and Dylan pulls him up off the bed. “Nobody can be sad when they’re dancing to Kesha,” says Dylan seriously, and Mitch nods equally seriously.

They do dance, and then they brush their teeth together, and then they lay on Dylan’s bed to watch a movie even though they should definitely be asleep by now. Whatever, they can sleep on the plane.

“Truth or dare?” says Mitch during a particularly emotional scene.

“Dare,” says Dylan automatically, mostly focused on watching the little girl hug her father for the first time.

“I dare you to let me put that tattoo on you as a tramp stamp.”

Dylan actually turns his attention from the TV to frown at Mitch. But he knows if he says no, Mitch will call him a chicken, so after a long moment he shrugs. “Okay, whatever.”

Mitch grins the cocksure smile of someone who is absolutely going to tell their teammates about this tomorrow, but it’s such an improvement from how he looked when he showed up that Dylan can’t even be bothered to care. He disappears to the bathroom to get a wet washcloth, and Dylan returns his focus to the movie.

He’s so locked-in that he doesn’t even hear Mitch come back until he gets hit in the face with the wet washcloth. “Ugh, you’re the worst,” he complains, throwing it back.

Mitch, cackling, retrieves it from the floor, and then promptly climbs up on the bed so he’s straddling Dylan’s legs. Which, like, makes sense, since he’s going to be putting a tattoo on Dylan’s lower back, but…it’s kind of unexpectedly intimate, and Dylan’s not paying attention to the movie so much anymore.

“Got any scissors?” Mitch asks, apparently unbothered. Dylan grabs the pair in the cup of pencils and stuff on his nightstand and passes them to Mitch over his shoulder, and Mitch cuts carefully around the edge of the tattoo. Well, that’s what Dylan presumes he’s doing. Dylan is keeping his eyes on the TV and not looking at Mitch, looming over him like…this.

When he’s done, Mitch passes the scissors back, and then warm hands are pushing up Dylan’s shirt. Dylan swallows hard. Maybe Dylan’s just imagining the way Mitch’s hands linger for a second when he sticks the tattoo on, but either way, he’s sort of glad Mitch can’t see his face right now.

Fortunately for his sanity, the wet cloth is cold, and that’s a decent distraction from any weird thoughts. Dylan hisses at it, and Mitch laughs, pressing it against Dylan’s back firmly.

His other hand is higher up on Dylan’s back, for balance or whatever, and Dylan is just—very aware of Mitch everywhere, the way the weight of him is pressing against Dylan’s back and thighs and—

Mitch moves the towel and sits up a little, both his hands gone from Dylan’s back. Dylan shakes his head, trying to knock some sense back into himself, but then Mitch is peeling off the tattoo’s paper backing, extremely slowly, and just—Dylan is a teenage boy, okay, these feelings have nothing to do with Mitch.

“Perfect,” Mitch declares once he finishes. Then he climbs off Dylan, lays down beside him where he was before, and steals the remote to turn off the TV.

“Hey, the movie wasn’t over,” Dylan complains.

“Tired,” says Mitch, unrepentant.

“And you dared me but I didn’t get to dare you, that’s bullshit.”

Mitch groans and shoves Dylan over on the bed a little. “Take a raincheck or whatever, Jesus. Will you go the fuck to sleep, Stromer? We gotta get up in like three hours.”

“Play the story, then,” says Dylan mulishly. Mitch does; Dylan’s asleep before it’s done.

Just like Dylan told him he would, Mitch tears it up at the tournament, and they both head into the season feeling good. Mitch seems to take a bit to get his feet under him in the regular season, and though Dylan doesn't see him upset about it again, he takes care to send Mitch encouraging texts anyway. One encounter with sad Mitch Marner is enough for Dylan to do everything he can to stop it from happening again.

As is the way with hockey friends who don't play on the same team as you, they don't see each other for any significant stretch of time for months. Sometimes Dylan thinks there's a hint of some sort of subtext in the texts they send each other, but really it doesn't matter—in their draft year, they have bigger fish to fry.

They don't get put in the same room at the CHL Top Prospects event, but Dylan is ultimately unsurprised when his roommate clears out and is replaced by Mitch the night before the game. Mitch brings him what turns out to be a tiny ninja with a parachute, and Dylan hands over the Pop Rocks he brought with him before spending five minutes trying to get the ninja to properly drop off the edge of his bed. He doesn’t succeed, even when he and Mitch try to motivationally serenade it with Timber.

“Okay, give the fuck up on that shit and come watch a movie,” Mitch says, patting the empty space next to him on the bed he appropriated from Dylan’s roommate. “There’s a horror movie on for a change.”

“Cool,” Dylan says, coming over to sit next to Mitch. “What’s it called, did it say?”

“The pre-roll thing said Ghost Ship,” Mitch says.

“Interesting,” Dylan says.

It turns out that that’s certainly one word you could use to describe the movie. Other words Dylan would use include terrifying, disturbing, some freaky ass shit… he could probably go on. There’s a scene right at the beginning that has them clutching at each other, and Dylan has to hide his face in Mitch’s chest until Mitch says it’s safe to come out.

“Well,” Dylan says when it’s over and he’s grabbed for the remote and shut the TV off. “That was fucking—”

“Fine,” Mitch interrupts. “Totally fine. Hey, do you think it’s true that if you swallow Pop Rocks and pop at the same time, your stomach will explode?”

“Um, definitely not,” Dylan says, but then backtracks when Mitch gives him a look. “But we could… try it?”

They go get pop from the vending machine on their floor, and Mitch drinks it and eats the Pop Rocks at the same time. His stomach doesn’t explode, but the popping of the candy is significantly louder mixed with the fizziness of the pop. As obvious distractions go, it works pretty well. They continue in the same spirit by playing a game of Last Word until it’s too late to avoid going to sleep anymore. They brush their teeth together and then get into separate beds to listen to the story on Dylan’s phone.

Dylan thinks it’s going to be okay, but as soon as Mitch reaches over and shuts off the light at the end of the story, he’s wide awake and unable to think about anything that isn’t the movie. He tries to put it out of his head, but that shit is always easier said than done, and he keeps thinking he sees something move in the corner of the room.

It’s probably not more than a few minutes, though it feels like forever, before he tentatively clears his throat and stage whispers, “Marns?”

“Yeah?” Mitch answers at full volume.

“Are you—”

“Freaking the fuck out over here? Yup,” Mitch says.

That makes Dylan feel slightly better at least. “Would it help if I came over there?” Dylan asks, trying to be shameless about it and feeling like he falls slightly short of the mark.

Dylan can clearly hear when Mitch moves the covers back on his bed, and he practically dives across the gap between the beds to get in under the sheets. “Fuck,” he mutters, all too aware and grateful at once for how close Mitch is. “That movie was the fucking worst.”

Mitch moves in closer, shivering slightly, and puts an arm over Dylan’s chest so he’s kind of snuggling Dylan like a teddy bear, his cheek pressed against Dylan’s shoulder. “That fucking wire scene.”

“Don’t,” Dylan says. “Just… no.”

The most significant benefit of coming over here to cuddle Mitch is obviously that Dylan is confident that somehow two of them against whatever may be moving in the room is definitely better than Dylan alone three feet away. The side effect of that is Dylan being so hyper aware of everywhere they’re touching each other that he can’t really think about anything else. Take that, fucking ghost ships.

He catalogues every slight shift Mitch makes as he settles against Dylan, and by the time Mitch stops moving, he’s practically lying on top of Dylan. It seems very deliberate in a way that’s not just about being freaked out by a movie, and Dylan’s not quite sure what move he should be making. His heart is beating double time in his chest, and he thinks he can feel Mitch’s doing the same.

He can definitely feel Mitch’s breath against the side of his neck, and when Dylan swallows, it hitches slightly. Dylan is abruptly pretty sure he knows what’s happening here, and he’s not about to let it pass him by. He turns his face toward Mitch’s slowly enough that Mitch could move away if he wanted to, but instead Mitch tilts his chin up at just the right angle so their lips brush, and then they’re kissing.

Dylan feels like he should be freaking the fuck out about this, and he probably will in a minute, but the part where he’s actually kissing Mitch is too good to really think about anything else. They’re both cautious about it, feeling each other out, and Dylan thinks that he wouldn’t mind spending a few hours or lifetimes or whatever doing just this.

They break apart after a few long moments, and Mitch rests his forehead against Dylan’s temple. “So,” he says quietly, “would you rather do that again or give the puck away in overtime?”

Dylan answers by rolling them over and kissing Mitch again.

The kissing seems like a great idea, scared of the movie and tired and in the dark, but—in the harsh light of day, everything is incredibly awkward. They don’t talk about it. They take turns brushing their teeth. Dylan lights it up in the game, but makes sure to keep his congratulatory pats above Mitch’s waist.

But Mitch texts Dylan and trolls his Instagram as much as he ever did, a little like he’s aggressively insisting on normalcy, and Dylan can roll with that. They fall into their usual pattern of texting during the season, chirping on the ice, but not really hanging out. Dylan wins the scoring title. The Otters sweep the Knights, then lose to the Generals two rounds later.

And then it’s June, and the draft is this month, and Dylan spends a lot of time texting Mitch strings of emojis, because like—Connor has it worse than he does, so he feels bad for complaining, but Mitch has it about the same. The stress of the impending draft kind of pushes out whatever else Dylan might have been worrying about.

At least, it does until he arrives at the combine, where he sees Mitch for the first time since he knocked his team out of the playoffs, and it’s…fine. It’s totally fine. As long as Dylan makes sure they don’t end up alone in a hotel room together, and instead have group sleepovers with other prospects, everything will be one hundred percent absolutely fine.

Dylan’s so busy performing normalcy that he forgets how wily Mitch is, which is a pretty sizeable mistake. It means he’s caught completely off-guard when, after dinner on the last night of the combine, Mitch is the only one who shows up to his room. “Guess it’s just us tonight, like old times, eh, Stromer?” says Mitch with an innocent smile that somehow doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

The funny thing is, once they’re alone together—things actually are fine. They fall into their routines: Dylan gives Mitch some Pop Rocks, and Mitch’s traditional capsule gift turns out to be a gummy alien with a squishy head. They watch a rom com. They dance to Kesha. Dylan takes Mitch up on that Truth or Dare IOU from last summer, which ends up being just dares, naturally. Dylan prank calls Eichel’s room and pretends to be a Finnish reporter; Mitch finds the end of a bottle of cheap vodka that somebody brought and mixes it with all the disgusting things Dylan can find, then chugs it.

Then they brush their teeth together and go to bed. Mitch puts on the “Go the Fuck to Sleep” video, they laugh about it, and then Mitch gets up to use the bathroom as the video ends. Dylan’s just thinking how lucky he is to have such awesome friends when Mitch comes back from the bathroom and climbs into Dylan’s bed.

“Uh, your bed’s over th—” Dylan’s interrupted by Mitch kissing him, which. Dylan didn’t—doesn’t—want to talk about it, but doing it again is an entirely separate issue. He kisses Mitch back, just like before, nipping at his bottom lip, hands buried in his hair. Mitch slips a leg between Dylan’s and lets his hands wander a bit, and it’s really not an exaggeration to say that Mitch is the best kisser Dylan’s ever kissed.

Not that he’s ever going to admit that out loud; Mitch would never let him forget it.

They make out for a while, though it doesn’t really escalate into anything else, and when they break apart for good, Dylan promptly rolls over and pretends to be asleep.

There’s an audible sigh of frustration from behind him, but Dylan ignores it: asleep, remember. Mitch shoves at his shoulder, muttering, “Dyls,” but Dylan keeps up his act.

Seconds later, Dylan hears Mitch get up and get out of bed, and he congratulates himself on a job well done. They got to have a repeat makeout session, they didn’t have to talk about it, and now they can go on tomorrow like nothing happened once again.

At least, that’s what he thinks, until there’s suddenly another weight on his bed again, and before he can react, a hand has pulled back the waistband of his pyjama shorts and deposited a couple ice cubes in there.

Dylan doesn’t scream, but it’s a near thing. He rolls over at once and sticks his hands down his pants, finding the ice cubes and chucking them in Mitch’s general direction. Mitch is laughing, and Dylan wants to be madder than he is, but honestly, he probably deserved that.

Once he’s got them all, Mitch lies back down next to him, and then reaches over and takes Dylan’s hand. Dylan was considering punching him in the shoulder, so it’s a smart move. “Now that you’re not pretending to be asleep anymore,” Mitch drawls, “can we maybe talk about this a little?”

It definitely sucks to realize you’re losing a maturity contest to Mitch Marner, of all people. Dylan sighs and admits, “I like you.” It’s easier to say out loud in the dark, looking up at the ceiling.

Mitch squeezes his hand, gently, twice. “I like you, too,” he says easily. “It’s going to suck when we get drafted crazy far apart.”

“Ugh,” Dylan complains. “That’s kind of why I didn’t want to, like…”

“I know,” says Mitch. “But I mean. Sleepovers are forever, right?”

“Sleepovers are forever,” Dylan echoes.

Mitch brushes his thumb over the back of Dylan’s hand. “And like, nobody’s holding a gun to our heads and insisting we get married tomorrow.” It should probably be alarming how much that idea is not upsetting to Dylan, but he just feels warm instead. “We can just take this as it comes, you know? Stop worrying so much, you freak.”

Dylan huffs at that, and before Mitch gets the chance to harass him further, he rolls over and kisses Mitch on the mouth. That might be the best part of this whole thing: a foolproof way to shut Mitch up.

Dylan and Mitch see each other a lot more often than usual in the next few weeks because of all the top prospect things they have to go to together. It's a lot of fun, as once in a lifetime experiences go, and it's made even better by the fact that every time they have to stay in a hotel somewhere they get to make out in one of their rooms—well, they get to make out once they make excuses to get away from the other guys.

Connor is the hardest to shake, which Dylan thinks isn't fair considering he told him about Mitch and the sleepovers because he thought Connor might help them out a bit. Also because Connor's his best friend, and Dylan wants him to know, yadda yadda. Either way, Connor starts monopolizing Mitch’s time, which is not a problem, exactly, except for the whole part where Dylan wants to make out with Mitch.

He questions Connor about it once, but Connor just gives him a look and says, "I have to make sure he's good enough for you."

"You don't have to vet my—" Dylan cuts himself off, and then finishes, "Mitch."

Connor raises his eyebrows. "Your Mitch?"

“Shut the fuck up,” Dylan says. “What of it?”

“Nothing. I approve of him, anyway,” Connor says.

“I didn’t ask,” Dylan says, but he kind of feels good about it anyway.

Connor takes his approval a step in the direction Dylan actually wanted in the first place on the night before the draft, when he catches Dylan at dinner and hands him a hotel key card. “Mitch’s room after seven,” he says, and Dylan blinks at him. “Trust me,” Connor adds, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Dylan abruptly picks up what Connor is putting down. “Okay,” he agrees.

When he lets himself into room 206 at quarter after seven, Mitch is lying on one of the two beds. He sits up when he hears Dylan and grins at him. Dylan grins back automatically.

“So it looks like I got the McDavid seal of approval,” Mitch says. “He told me you’d be over. I wonder what he’s done with poor Crouser?”

“No idea,” Dylan says. “And you definitely didn’t need his approval.”

Mitch snorts. “Of course I did,” he says. “Here, take this.”

He holds out a quarter machine capsule, and Dylan decides to take it and hand over Mitch’s Pop Rocks instead of arguing his point further. The thing turns out to be a bright green friendship bracelet that Dylan immediately puts on and makes Mitch tighten for him.

“Okay,” Dylan says when it’s done. “What are we doing first?”

“Check for a good movie?” Mitch asks, already picking up the remote. Dylan settles onto the bed instead of answering aloud.

They end up watching The Notebook, though Dylan spends the first ten minutes thinking more about how it’s nice that talking about their feelings means that cuddling while watching a movie is a thing they can do than he does actually paying attention.

Once the movie gets to the sad parts, though, Dylan is all too attentive. It’s stupid, but Noah and Allie getting separated is making him think about how he and Mitch are going to be separated, and he’s already been ignoring how anxious the draft is making him feel for basically months now, so all told, he’s slightly panicking. He thinks that’s fair, actually, considering.

He tries to ignore it, but by the time Noah and Allie are peacefully passing away together, Dylan is thinking dire thoughts like: what if this is the last sleepover, what if we stop being friends, what if we never should have done this.

“You seem tense,” Mitch says, and Dylan realizes that he’s been squeezing Mitch’s hand pretty tightly. He relaxes his grip and shrugs.

“It’s just sad,” he says, hoping Mitch will take him at his word.

Of course, Mitch does nothing of the sort. “Okay…” he says doubtfully, stretching out the word and staring at Dylan, and Dylan breaks.

“I just—what if this is the last time we do this?”

Mitch’s eyebrows shoot up, and he reaches for the remote to shut the TV off. “Sorry, what?”

Dylan shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t know, it’s just—I know we said sleepovers are forever, but we’re getting drafted tomorrow, and then everything will be totally different, and like, Noah and Allie thought they were forever, too, you know, and everything went to shit with that—”

Mitch cuts him off by putting his hand over his mouth. “Okay, no,” he says seriously. “First of all, were you even watching the movie? Noah and Allie’s love did not go to shit, dude. Are you going to tell me it did if I take my hand away?”

Dylan shakes his head, and Mitch moves his hand. “You’re right,” Dylan says, “but you can’t ignore that it was bad there for a while. I don’t want to be Noah sending you letters every day and you never getting them.”

“Good thing it’s 2015 and you can just text to see if you’ve got the right address,” Mitch says, rolling his eyes. Dylan frowns at him, and Mitch’s face softens. “Listen, idiot. We could be drafted to Boston and Montreal, and I’d still show up with a stupid toy and punch you if you didn’t have Pop Rocks for me, okay? We’re solid. Not everything has to change, you big drama queen.”

“Do you have to insult me when you’re trying to be comforting?” Dylan asks.

“I call it like I see it,” Mitch says smugly, and Dylan has to kiss that look right off his face. Mitch kisses back enthusiastically and then smiles broadly at Dylan when they break apart again. “And it worked, didn’t it?”

“I guess,” Dylan says, though he actually feels considerably better after Mitch’s speech.

“Should we dance it out?” Mitch asks, and of course Dylan is never going to turn down a Kesha dance party with Mitch.

They sit back down on the bed when the song ends, danced out, and Mitch asks, “Game time?”

Dylan shrugs his assent; he’d just as soon skip to more kissing now, but sleepover traditions are too sacred for that. “What game?” he asks.

“Two truths and a lie,” Mitch says decisively.

“Ugh,” Dylan says, “that game is hard.”

“Too bad, you go first,” Mitch says.

“Ugh,” Dylan repeats, but he wracks his brain for things to say. “Okay. I don’t like cheese, I don’t think I’m going to be drafted higher than Ryan was, and I really like the cha cha slide.”

Mitch frowns. “I hope it’s the second one.” Dylan waggles his eyebrows at him but otherwise maintains his poker face, and Mitch narrows his eyes. “Yeah, it’s definitely the second one. You don’t like cheese? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you?” Dylan shoots back. “It’s your turn.”

“Weirdo,” Mitch says. “All right, I can play the guitar, I know how to juggle, and my favourite colour is green.”

“Well, I know the last one’s definitely true,” Dylan says, waving his wrist with the friendship bracelet on it. “But, uh… there’s no way you know how to juggle.”

Mitch’s grin gets impossibly wide. “That’s your final answer?”

“Yes?”

“Wrong,” Mitch says gleefully. “I don’t know how to play the guitar, but I’m a mean juggler.”

“What the fuck, who the fuck knows how to juggle?”

“Me,” Mitch says.

“Prove it,” Dylan demands.

“Find me things to juggle with and I will.”

Dylan shakes his head. “Find things yourself.”

Mitch digs a bundle of socks and a ball hockey ball out of his bag, and after a moment of deliberation, picks an apple up off the desk. Dylan watches doubtfully as Mitch weighs the things in his hands, and a false start where Mitch nearly breaks the TV with the ball has him yelling that Mitch was totally lying until Mitch glares at him and actually does succeed in juggling. Dylan is sufficiently chagrined.

“Fine, whatever, you can juggle,” Dylan says. “Sit down.”

“Your turn again,” Mitch says happily as he sits back down.

“Okay, uh…” Dylan stalls for a moment. “Let’s see, I’ve never touched an otter, I like the Raptors, and… I hate our sleepovers.”

Mitch raises his eyebrows. “Are you trying to be obvious?”

Dylan shrugs, and Mitch huffs. “If you want to play it that way,” he says, moving closer to Dylan on the bed as he talks, “I have brown hair, I play for the London Knights, and I wish I’d never been put on a line with you.”

Mitch ends his sentence with his face inches away from Dylan’s, and Dylan can’t think straight at all. “You take that back right now,” he says, and he sees a flash of Mitch’s smile before Mitch kisses him, soft and sweet.

“We’re actually really gross,” Dylan observes when they stop kissing for long enough to talk.

“Whatever,” Mitch says, “we own it.”