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So Auston’s hurt again, because fuck the Isles, and his agent forwards him an email from the Players’ Tribune.

He’s not really sure why he says yes. Boredom, maybe, or the fact that he hasn’t left his place in four days straight and he’s going insane, or-

He says yes, is the point, and one way or another it leads to him sitting on his couch icing his fucked-up shoulder and staring at a blank Word document while the game plays in the background. He flexes his fingers, ready to absolutely kill this article, Matthews-style.

So, he types, and then his whole brain goes blank.

They didn’t give him an outline or anything, just kind of told him to write about himself. Which- it shouldn’t be this hard, but it is, and he’s still staring at the word ‘so’ next to a blinking cursor by the time the second period starts. It’s pretty demoralizing, because he was really planning on banging this thing out in like, twenty minutes, so he sucks it up and does what he’s been doing since high school English class.

“Alex,” he says, when she answers the phone. “Did you know you’re my favourite sister? Also the smartest person I know?”

“Well, yeah, all your friends are jocks,” Alex says, without bothering with a hello, and Auston would maybe be offended if she wasn’t mostly right. “Also, whatever you’re trying to get me to do, no.”

 “Who says I’m trying to get you to do anything?” Auston hedges.

 “Oh please.” He can practically hear her brain whirring, all suspicious. “Is Breyana making you do this? Did- oh my god, did she steal my white cardigan again, I’m going to k-”

“They want me to write an article,” Auston interrupts, ‘cause he’s pretty sure Breyana was actually wearing a white cardigan the last time they Skyped, but that’s the opposite of the priority right now. “It’s this website where all the stuff’s written by athletes from all different sports.”

“Oh,” Alex says. She still sounds suspicious. “That’s cool.” Auston waits, but she doesn’t say anything else.

‘So...” he prompts, because that word is apparently all he’s got, tonight.

“So...”

Auston exhales in a huff. “So help,” he says, petulant, and Alex snorts.

“Uh, yeah right.”

Which- yeah, he figured that’s how this was going to go. “Please?”

 “I wrote like half your college essays for you! No way.”

“I hate you,” Auston says halfheartedly.

“No you don’t,”

“No I don’t,” he agrees, and sighs, hugging his pillow. “Breyana actually did take your cardigan, though.”

Alex gasps. “I knew it!”

Auston shuts his laptop and stretches out his sore shoulder, settling in to listen to her stomping downstairs to yell at Breyana. It’s nice, familiar in a vaguely homesick way.

A pretty decent distraction from how utterly fucked he is with this article, too. Which-

It’s very. He’s very, very fucked.

---

Mitchy comes by after practice the next morning. Doesn’t even knock, which seems like kind of a major misuse of the key Auston gave him for emergencies, but he also brings food, so Auston doesn’t give him too much crap for it.

“’sup, lazy?” Mitch says, kicking off his shoes by the door. Auston peers over his shoulder to see him, looking away from his word document – there’re two words in it, now, ‘so’ and ‘I’ – for the first time in what feels like forever.

“Hey.” He watches Mitch walk in, carrying one of those reusable bags they try to sell at grocery stores. “Could’ve texted that you were coming.”

“Probably,” Mitch agrees, cheerful and not even a little bit sorry. He dumps the bag on the table and flicks at Auston’s nose like ‘hello’ before heading into the kitchen. “You should’ve seen, it was like a whole big thing after practice.”

Marns always does this, starts a story like he’s already halfway through. “What was?”

He can hear Mitch rifling through his drawers for cutlery. “So Patty said Tina said someone has to make sure you’re taking care of yourself while you’re out, so could I please bring this over, so then I was like ‘why don’t you drive it out to him’ and then he was like-” he does this deep voice that Auston assumes is supposed to be Patty. “’Just do it, Mitchy’, and I was like ‘you’re not my real dad’, but-”

 “What is it?” Auston interrupts, reaching into the bag and pulling out a tray covered in tin foil. “That Christina made?”

Marns makes a sound, like, ‘I dunno’. “Casserole, I think?”

Auston will take it. He’s been mostly surviving on pasta and painkillers, the past few days.

Mitch comes back into the living room, hurtles the back of the couch, and misses taking out Auston’s eye with one of the forks he’s holding by, like, an inch. “What’ve you been doing?”

“Writing,” Auston says, the same way that he’d say ‘working as a professional pooper scooper’, except for that would probably be a more preferable future than staring at this evil blinking cursor in Word for one more second.

Mitch laughs like he thinks Auston’s bullshitting. Auston wishes he was bullshitting. He turns his laptop around so Marns can see the blank screen.

 “You’re not actually.”

“Some article,” Auston says, and if he’s a little whiney, he knows Marns won’t be too much of a dick about it. “It’s garbage.”

Mitch is still looking kind of disbelieving, and now he shuts the laptop so he can look at Auston and raise an eyebrow. It’d be cooler if he hadn’t told Auston about practicing in the mirror to be able to do it. “Do you, like. Write?”

“No,” Auston says. “Literally never.”

“Then why-”

“I don’t know.” Auston snatches back his laptop, grumpy, fast enough that his shoulder twinges. “I was bored, I don’t- ugh.”

Mitch maybe gets that he’s not in the mood, right now, because he just pats Auston’s knee, comforting, and offers him a fork.

And like, Auston can’t exactly say that sitting on the couch eating cold casserole out of the pan is the best way of dealing with his problems, but he also feels less like he wants to cry once they’ve demolished half the dish, so it’s probably not the worst either.

It’s a nice, companionable kind of quiet, while they eat. Mitch is Mitch, though, so it doesn’t last long.

 He nudges Auston’s socked foot with one of his own. “Are you almost done, at least?”

Auston crams a giant forkful of casserole into his mouth. ‘Almost done’ would imply that he has more than two actual words down. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, talking through a mouthful.

Marns looks sympathetic, scraping at the sides of the dish. “Haven’t started, huh?”

Auston shakes his head, miserable. “It’s actually such bullshit,” he says, swallowing. “Like, the whole point of being in the NHL is that I don’t have to do school anymore.”

“You need a muse,” Mitch says, which is the exact opposite of helpful, right now; especially ‘cause he scoots closer to Auston as he’s talking, flopping over so he’s half in his lap. He almost knocks over the casserole dish, gangly limbs all over the place. “Like artists have, y’know?”

“It’s an online article,” Auston says, skeptical. He doesn’t comment on Marns’ slenderman limbs, ‘cause he’s a good bro and he knows Mitchy gets insecure about stuff.

“Still needs fucking inspiration, though.”

“What’re you even saying?” Auston demands, and shoves Mitch out of his lap so his feet are up on the couch while the rest of him is ass-first on the floor. “You’re an art expert now? What is this-”

“I’m cultured, Matthews,” Mitch says, very dignified. It’s objectively untrue enough that Auston has to laugh, mostly in spite of himself. Marns looks proud of himself right away, enough that Auston wonders if getting him to laugh was the whole reason he came. Wouldn’t be too surprising. Mitchy’s the kind of dude who’d do something like that, for a friend, to make him laugh.

Auston’s usually laughing, when he’s around Mitchy.

He ignores the half-dopey, half-fond look Marns is giving him, instead just tosses a little chunk of carrot at his mouth. He misses, but Mitch grabs it and eats it anyways, right off the carpet.

Auston makes a face. “You’re so gross.”

“Five second rule,” Mitch says. “Help me up.”

“No,” Auston says, but he holds out the arm that’s not attached to the injured shoulder and helps heave Marns back onto the couch. It sort of hurts his shoulder anyways, a little, and he must not hide a wince well enough, because Mitch looks concerned.

“You okay?”

“It’s fine,” Auston says, shaking it off. It’s really not a big deal – he gets back on the ice tomorrow, by himself, but still. Better than this. Maybe it’ll even inspire him, or whatever the fuck Mitch was talking about. “Just need to get stuff done.”

“‘kay,” Mitch says, then, all casual, “We missed you at practice.”

Auston huffs a laugh, kind of taken aback. “You too.”

Mitch grins, tucking his feet up under him. “You gonna let me read it? The article?”

“I have to write it first,” Auston grumbles, but it’s pretty half-hearted.

“You’ll be okay,” Mitchy says, then reaches for the X-box controller from the coffee table. “C’mon, duos?”

“Yeah, okay,” Auston says, and he returns Mitch’s smile, and means it.

---

He actually takes Mitch’s advice, after he leaves. Not the muse thing, duh, because that’d be stupid, but. Inspiration.

He reads through maybe ten different articles by NHLers on the site, and he’s not sure they’re inspirational, exactly, but there’s stuff that’s common to all of them. Or to most of them, at least, ‘cause Laine did one talking about the Amish – which, weird, that’s a fucking weird thing to write about and there’s no way around that – but the rest are mostly just guys describing stuff that’s happened to them. Favourite memories, stories from starting in the league. Maybe a little bit of family stuff.

It doesn’t look that bad. Auston has memories.

He deletes his two words from the document and makes a list instead, tries to think through the best stuff from the last year.

FOUR GOALS, he types, because obviously, then PLAYOFFS. Then, because an article of him reviewing the Toronto Maple Leafs’ ’16-’17 season would probably be pretty boring, adds BON JOVI. People dig the Bon Jovi story. Auston kind of digs the Bon Jovi story, if he’s honest. Like, for obvious reasons, ‘cause getting tweeted at by Bon Jovi was just a cool thing, flat out, but also because the singing and everything after pretty much cemented his friendship with Mitchy.

The Mitchy thing sticks, and he adds a bunch more bullet points, JAYS GAME WITH MARNS and EUCHRE and RAP SONG and COD.

And then he starts writing, and he just- doesn’t stop.

---

It’s almost two weeks and a missed roadie before Auston gets to skate with the team again, in which time he gets three solo wins in Fortnite, interacts way too much with the Leafs medical staff, and writes up two and a half pages of his article. It’s like something clicked since that night, the words just coming to him easy as anything. He even had to cut stuff out, that’s how much he wrote.

He’s feeling good, and keeps feeling good when he gets off the ice after practice, winded and sore and smiling more than he has in ages. Plays it pretty cool, he thinks.

Mitch, on the other hand – he doesn’t even make an attempt to be anything but a jacked-up version of his own brand of clingy, hovering around Auston and elbowing him between drills, beaming the whole time.

“Dude,” he says, sidling up next to Auston as he’s shrugging into his hoodie back in the locker room.

“I know,” Auston says, and tugs on the end of Marns’ towel as he dries off his hair. Mitch swats him away, playful.

“Wanna get food?” he asks. “Brownie said maybe sushi?”

“Yeah, for sure,” Auston says. “Let me just- I wanted to fix my ending, then I can meet you guys somewhere?”

 “The article thing?” Mitch asks, and he actually looks interested. “You seriously wrote stuff?”

Auston kicks at Mitch’s shins, all fake-offended. “You didn’t think I could?”

 “Nah, you could do literally anything, probably.” Mitch answers real easily, and anyone else, it’d be sarcasm, but it’s Mitchy, so he’s being sincere.

“Matthews-style,” Auston says, only half joking, and Mitch grins all wide.

“Matthews-style,” he agrees, and across the room Naz and Leo are bickering over the music, and Willy’s fixing his hair while Hains rolls his eyes, and Auston really fucking missed this.  

---

And then-

Shit gets weird.

It’s unexpected, because all Auston does is ask Zach to edit his article. Seems like the logical thing to do, he figures. Guy’s a published writer. He has a degree, he’s- this is his shit, and that’s not even Auston assuming stuff, because Hyms agrees almost before Auston’s done asking, prints out a copy of the article and goes at it with a red pen and everything.

Auston kind of feels like there should be a letter grade on top of the first page, once Zach comes over midway through their flight to Nashville to hand it back – B+, good effort, some shit like that. There isn’t, which may be a good thing, because Auston can hardly read the typed out writing under all the scribbles.

“Oh my god,” he says, delicate, and Hyms is quick to reassure him.

“No, this isn’t- it looks like a lot, but I was just being thorough.”

“Thorough,” Auston says, doubtful, and Zach rolls his eyes.

“It’s seriously not bad, Matts,” he says, kind, but then he sits down in the seat next to Auston like he’s not done yet. “I did want to ask, though.”

Auston scoots his arm off of the armrest to give Zach room, waiting kind of tentative. And then he just, like, keeps waiting, because Zach is sitting there staring at him like he’s waiting for Auston to say something.

“So,” Auston says.

“So,” Zach says, then, after a couple more seconds, “You meant to do this, right?”

“I mean,” Auston says, slow. “Yeah? You can’t really write an article by accident.”

 “Right,” Zach says, and he’s doing his patient-but-not-really voice, like when he was trying to teach Willy chess and Will kept trying to throw the pieces into Mac’s mouth while he was snoring two seats away. “Okay, but.” He breaks off, brow furrowed. “It’s kind of- there’s a theme?”

“Uh,” Auston says, floundering to remember something about themes from English class. “That’s good, right? Stuff’s supposed to have like, a main idea?”

“I mean, yeah,” Zach inclines his head. “But I don’t know if you meant to go with this main idea in particular?”

“Sorry, I don’t...” Auston shrugs, helpless, and Zach looks down at the pages.

“Okay, how do I- It seems kind of personal?”

Which- like, Auston appreciates Zach trying to look out for him, ‘cause the media does tend to latch onto stuff, but it’s not like Auston’s spilling his guts in this thing. It’s mostly just stories from the past couple years. “It’s about my life, though,” he says. “Isn’t that- it’s supposed to be pretty personal, I think.”

Hyms still has this constipated look on his face, like he’s torn between laughing and looking sort of in pain. It’s probably a writer thing, Auston decides.

He raises an eyebrow, Mitchy-style.

Zach sighs, and drops it. “Let’s go through some of the grammar stuff,” he says, and Auston settles in to listen.

---

He has to return the casserole dish anyways, is how Auston justifies showing Patty his article.

It’s not like he’s worried. Like- Hyms thinks his article had a weird theme, whatever, Auston’s not trying to be a professional writer, here.

He just wants to confirm that, is all. And it’s not like Patty’s the worst choice, because he’s smart and nice and the least likely to make fun of Auston in case there actually is something wrong with the article, which there isn’t.

Just in case, though, Auston keeps the printed-out copy in his coat pocket and super casually asks Pat to look it over when they’re walking through the parking lot after morning skate.

He agrees easily enough, puts the bag with the dish in the passenger seat of his cat and skims over the article while Auston jogs in place to keep warm. He should’ve done this inside, probably.

Patty claps him on the shoulder when he finishes reading. “This is really good, Matty.”

“Yeah?” Auston asks, relieved enough to forget being cold. It was just Hyms being weird, then. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Patty says, handing the papers back, and Auston’s really pumped, ready to go home and nap and maybe order in some food, but then Pat goes on, “It’s sweet. Can I take a picture to show Tina? She’ll love this.”

“It’s not- why- it’s not sweet,” Auston stammers, completely at a loss. “Why would you say that?”

“Auston,” Patty says, and he’s kind of laughing now. “Come on, bud.”

Auston huffs, put out. He doesn’t get it. “You guys keep implying stuff, I don’t- what’s wrong with it?”

Pat looks bemused. “You didn’t do it on purpose?” he asks, then, when Auston shakes his head, “So there’s- nothing leaps out at you? Anyone in a starring role?”

Auston shoves his hands in his pockets. Shrugs, probably more aggressively that Patty really deserves. He’ll feel guilty, later. “I mean. Me?”

Patty just goes back to laughing, after that. So, know what, he did deserve the aggressive shrug, on second thought. So there.

He’s holding out the pages to Auston now, all nice. “A picture?”

Auston hesitates, considers being a dick about it. Christina did make him that really good casserole, though. “Fine,” he says, taking the pages and trying for a smile.

Stupid article. Stupid injury. Making him write stuff that his teammates find hilarious and is now apparently going to end up in the Marleau family album.

Patty frowns from behind his iPhone. “The camera’s the wrong way.”

Auston rolls his eyes and holds out his hand for the phone.

---

It’s a thing.

He was lying before when he said it wasn’t a thing, but that could’ve also just been a Zach Hyman thing, but Patty apparently thinks something’s up with his article as well, so- yeah, it’s a fucking thing, which means it’s desperate measures time.

He sends the article to his mom, and she texts back ten minutes later, I am so proud of you!!!!!

Auston loves his mom.

so its okay right?? he sends her, and she responds right away, time difference and all.

Very okay. And then, Did Mitch read it?

Auston kind of frowns. He knows his parents really like Marns, but like. Weird timing. Not yet?

I love you two!!! His mom sends, which- she probably means she loves Auston too, like t-double-o, and he’s not about to give her shit for her English, so he just sends back a heart emoji. His mom texts back, Tell him!!!!

Auston thinks about it, then, because moms have psychic powers and he doesn’t want to risk it, opens up his conversation with Marns and sends my mom says she loves you lol.

It takes barely ten seconds for Mitch to respond, same as always. well ya im a pretty lovable guy, he texts, then, tell her shes my second fav matthews.

Auston’s grinning at his phone. whos first?

Mitch sends a bunch of upside-down smiley faces with some pig emojis tossed in, and god, he’s such a weird dude to be friends with, and Auston’s still a little distracted by the whole article thing, but if he’s interpreting his emojis right, he’s also Mitch’s favourite, so. He’ll take it.

The article, though-

---

“Okay,” Auston says, once he’s got Willy cornered in his hotel room. “You need to be honest.”

“Duh,” Willy says. He’s in front of the bathroom mirror, tongue sticking out just a little as he takes out his contact lenses. It’s a little gross, honestly, and Auston would generally prefer to not have this conversation while Willy has a finger literally touching his own eyeball, but the article’s due tomorrow and he’s- he did desperate measures already, so it’s not that, but.

He doesn’t know what’s after desperate measures. Nuclear option? Whatever it is, Willy’s that. They don’t sugercoat shit with each other, on the ice or off, and if there’s something wrong with the article, Will won’t be coy about it, so Auston bites the bullet and hands him the inked-up, folded printout.

“Tell me what you get from reading this,” Auston says. “Like, a theme, or something that stands out.”

Willy doesn’t say anything, just grabs the pages – with the hand that was on his eye, gross – and heads out of the bathroom, flopping onto the bed and rolling onto his stomach to read.

Auston lies down next to him, watches his face as he reads. He gets nothing, but that’s not really new. Dude’s an enigma.

Willy reads over the article, one page after the next. Really takes his time, too, then stretches lazily and sits up when he gets to the end.

“So?” Auston demands, impatient.

“One second,” Willy says, and then proceeds to ball up the pages and toss them straight at Auston’s forehead, one after another like punctuation. “You’re. In love. With Marns, stupid.”

The last wad gets Auston square in the nose and leaves him spluttering, stunned. “That’s- what’re you even- how do you get that, from this?”

 “Every paragraph,” Willy says, enunciating each syllable. “Literally every fucking paragraph, you’re talking about Mitchy. This is a love letter, Matts.”

“That’s not true,” Auston says, but he sits up and flattens the pages out on the bed so he can skim over his words, maybe a little frantically. “It’s about my year in general, I-”

“There’s a part about his smile,” Will says, incredulous. “I mean, honestly-”

 “I like, mentioned it,” Auston argues, but he’s reading the sixth paragraph and there’s at least four lines talking about when he makes Mitch laugh, and going through the paragraphs one at a time, it’s like Mitch Marner, Mitchy, Marns, Mitch, which – okay, he maybe gets what Willy’s saying, but it’s not-

He’s not in love. It’s just- obviously he mentioned Mitch a ton, but that’s because most of his favourite Toronto memories involve Mitchy, and that’s because Mitch is a fun guy. He makes things better, and he’s always there right at Auston’s side, like reading his mind; and okay, sure, Auston wrote about Mitch’s smile, but that’s only because it reminds him of the sun and he always tries to make Marns happy so he’ll do Auston’s favourite just-them grin where his eyes go all soft and pretty and-

“Oh, fuck me,” Auston says, horrified, and Will throws back his head and laughs.

---

Auston handles the realization that he’s accidentally in love with his best friend really well, in his opinion, which is to say that he goes to the hotel gym and runs on the treadmill until he can’t breathe, let alone think.

It’s a solid eight out of ten in terms of coping, honestly, but he does eventually have to stop, which means he’s just sitting there two hours after curfew, breathing heavy and chugging down his entire water bottle with a stitch in his side and-

And, yeah, still in love with Marns.

“Fuck,” he says out loud.

It’s not like he’s mad. Mitchy’s awesome. If Auston was going to fall for anyone, it makes sense that it’d be him. Only problem is, now he’s aware of it, it’s all he can think of, like- he always wanted Marns around, but now he feels like he’s going to explode if he doesn’t get to see him and touch him and like, kiss his weird big mouth a million times.

And then there’s also the issue that, when he does see Mitch, which is pretty much every day, he’s going to have to act normal, or- or not act normal, and try to flirt or something, which is just terrifying on a lot of levels.

And, fuck, the article’s due tomorrow. Today, by now, ‘cause it’s definitely past midnight. Not even like he can rewrite it, because he could hardly write this one, and now he’s stuck between grovelling to his agent for more time or publishing what is essentially three pages of him gushing about how Mitch Marner is his favourite part of his life.

So, on second thought, Auston maybe has more than one problem.

He’s got, just. So many fucking problems.

“Ninety-nine problems,” he half-says, half-sings to himself, like the song, and his brain autocompletes and a Mitch ain’t one, and then he’s sitting there on the floor of the empty gym laughing to himself like a crazy person.

It’s scary, having a crush on his best friend. It feels big, bigger than an article for the Player’s Tribune, bigger than maybe anything he’s felt before.

He can’t fuck things up, with Mitch.

Can’t lie to him either, he doesn’t think.

Auston breathes in and out, deep. Makes himself think clearly.

That’s that, then. Can’t ruin things, can’t lie to Marns’ face. Can’t un-realize that he’s stupid in love.

So he won’t.

---

His article looks really professional, up on the Tribune website’s front page with a photo and a headline in this big fancy font. Auston’d probably really enjoy seeing his name under the Author section, if he wasn’t currently having a couple simultaneous mid-level heart attacks.

“Nice,” Mitch says, appreciative. “Congrats, man.”

He barely looked at the headline.

“Thanks,” Auston says, and even manages to sound chill as he does, which deserves some credit, probably. They’re sitting in Marns’ car, out in the parking lot. Radio’s playing some weird Canadian alt-rock, which isn’t exactly setting the mood, but he figures he’s got to take what he can get. “Could you-”

Mitch looks at him, waiting.

Ninety-nine problems, Auston reminds himself, and he’s digging his nails into his palm so hard it kills.

“Matts?” Mitch asks. He’s holding onto his key, still in the ignition, like he’s not sure what he’s supposed to be doing.

“Read it,” Auston requests.

“It looks really long,” Mitch makes a face. Idiot, Auston’s brain thinks, all fond, before going back to screaming incoherently. “Can I just control-f and find the parts that’re about me, or-”

“Mitchy,” Auston says, and Mitch can maybe get that something’s up, from his voice or his face or the fact that he’s sweating, a little, because he doesn’t complain anymore, just takes the phone.

“I’m gonna be slow,” Mitch warns.

“Just read it,” Auston says.

And Mitch does.

Auston looks out the window. Watches Gards park and walk inside from across the way. It’s sunny out, the huge piles of snow at the edges of the lot just starting to melt.

He glances at Mitch. Still reading.

Auston bites back a sigh, drums his fingers on the seat then switches to toying with the radio, trying to find a station that’s playing something good, except nothing can hold his attention so he ends up leaving it on some station with people talking in French.

Mitch exhales, long, and Auston-

The terrified thing is really real, right now.

He sits there, statue-still in his seat, and watches as Marns scoots over so he’s facing Auston, real close. They’d be touching if it wasn’t for the gearbox between them.

“’sup,” Auston says. He can feel Mitch staring at him, takes a second to steel himself before he meets his gaze.

Mitch is serious, quieter than usual when he asks, “You actually meant all that stuff?” Auston nods, ‘cause he’s already in this deep, and Marns bites his lip. He looks- Auston doesn’t know how he looks, what the expression on his face means, and it’s throwing him off. “Matts,” Mitch says, all overwhelmed. “Matts, that’s really nice shit to say.”

Auston doesn’t know why he has a lump in his throat. He really fucking wishes he did not have a lump in his throat, right now. Feelings are trash. “Yeah, well,” he shrugs. “You’re important, or whatever. To me.”

He’s half-expecting Mitch to like, burst out laughing or crack some dumb joke or just do something to put shit back to normal, because that’s what he does if they get too deep, which they’re definitely veering towards now, which is why it takes him a second to react when Mitch leans over and hugs him, tight.

He hugs Mitch back. Of course he hugs Mitch back.

“You’re important to me too,” Mitch says into Auston’s t-shirt, and Auston’s heart feels like it grows, Grinch-style. “Like, really important.”

Auston presses his nose into Mitchy’s hair, and they’re just hugging in his car, and it’s this weird, like- and he doesn’t want to sound like a cheesy middle-aged mom Facebook caption, but he just- he feels this kind of calm, not totally different to the way it gets quiet in his head before games. Like. He loves Mitch, and he showed Mitch an article that, upon reflection, is mostly about how much he loves him, and they’re okay. Still best friends, and maybe Marns didn’t quite get the whole love confession thing, but they’ve got time. Auston can wait.

Mitch pulls back, and he’s still looking at Auston all intently. “I mean it,” he says.

“I know.” Auston smiles at him, reassuring.

Mitch does not look reassured. He’s kind of- antsy? Is antsy the right word, here? “Okay,” he says, “but like. Really.”

“O-kay,” Auston says, slow. He’s confused. This is confusing. “Thanks?”

Mitch plays with his keys some more, still staring at Auston really pointedly. Weirdly pointedly, actually. “Like, if there was ever anything you wanted to say,” he prompts, and Auston narrows his eyes. “Or, like. Admit, or-”

“Sonofabitch,” Auston says, flat. “Who told you?”

“Told me what?” Mitch asks, all innocent, but Auston fixes him with a look and he caves, like, instantly. “Okay, so it was Willy, but in his defense, like seven different people sent me the article after it went up and told me this was you making a move ”

“Oh my god,” Auston hides his face in his hands. He’s going to physically die of embarrassment, doesn’t know what the fuck made him feel anything even close to calm about this.

He can feel himself blushing. Fucking blushing.

He wonders how long it’ll take him to get moved if he requests a trade, like, this second, right now.

“It was a good move,” Mitch says, all consoling. “Really romantic, actually.”

“Fuck,” Auston says, still hiding so he won’t have to see Mitch being pitying. “I’m actually going to murder him.”

He jumps, startled, when Marns grabs his hands to tug them down from his face. Keeps his eyes on his lap, anyways, until he can’t, peeking up at Mitch without really meaning to.

Mitch is still holding his hands.

“Wanna kiss first, maybe?” Mitch asks. “Or other stuff?”

Auston stares.

Mitch stares back, does this weird crooked smile, a little nervous.

A lot hopeful.

“I mean,” Auston says, then snaps his mouth shut and waits for his brain to catch up. “Like. Yes?”

“Yeah?” Mitch says, eyes lighting up. He sounds kind of breathy, and Auston’s never really heard his voice like this before, but he wants to all the time for the rest of forever.

“Dude,” Auston says, “Mitchy-”

“Dude,” Mitch says, and it occurs to Auston that words are maybe not a strong point for either of them, but it doesn’t feel like it matters very much, because he leans in and kisses Mitch and-

Mitch kisses him back, and it’s so, so, so good.

He doesn’t realize they’re both smiling until his lip ends up kind of smushed up against Mitchy’s front teeth, and it’s not the most technically correct kiss he’s ever had, but, fuck, he’s so happy.

 “Thank god,” Mitch says, and Auston can feel his breath against his mouth, that’s how close he is. “That would’ve been so embarrassing if Willy was wrong, holy shit-”

“So hold on,” Auston says, ‘cause his heart’s still pounding against his chest like it’s trying to break out, but it’s beginning to shift towards excitement as it sinks in that, yeah, this is actually a thing that’s happening. “Wait, so you like- you like me?”

“It was a nice article, Matts,” Mitch says, and he laughs at the smile that that puts on Auston’s face, and Auston can’t even bring himself to mind.

“Yeah, it was,” he agrees, proud of himself. Leans in to kiss Marns again, cupping his face in his hands the way he knows that people think is really hot, just because he can. Mitch makes this noise against him, so Auston figures the move worked.

Absolutely fucking crushed that article, he decides.

Matthews-style.