“Tage. Up.” Felix shook Tage’s shoulder. Tage shook off the hand on his arm, only to curl into a ball, under too many blankets. “It’s time to go. Get up. Come on.”
Tage rolled over with a groan, opening one blue eye and then another to blink at an already dressed Felix. “I am completely awake.” He lied, his voice coming out heavy with sleep.
“You cannot drive like that, Tage. Fine. I will call the Uber.” Felix patted his head affectionately, his fingers staying woven into Tage’s hair for just a second longer than strictly necessary. “See you, then. Get good sleep. That’s what summer is for.”
“No!” Tage threw off his blankets and stumbled blearily to his feet, locating the first pair of jeans he could find, thrown haphazardly over the chair in the corner of his room, and shoving his legs into them, miraculously without falling. “Give me two minutes. I’ll brush my teeth and wash up and we’ll go.”
“That was quick.” Felix smirked. “Is that all I have to do to get you up in the mornings? Tell you I’m leaving? Because that’s useful information.”
“Mean.” Tage yawned, bypassing Felix for the bathroom, plucking a shirt off the chair and tugging it on on his way. “Using that information for evil.”
“Not real evil. Just helping you be productive.” Felix leaned out of the doorway to check that Tage was busy in the bathroom and then began making the bed, glancing out the door a second time before slipping a sealed envelope under his pillowcase. “How long does it take to brush your teeth? How many do you have, six?”
“You are prickly this morning, Swede.” Tage observed, spitting into the sink and wiping his mouth. He washed his face dutifully and completed the rest of his washing up in a timely manner. “So eager to be rid of me and get home?”
“Eager.” Felix chuckled. “Very much so.”
“Well, come on then. Let’s get you to the airport.” Tage said, ushering Felix out of the room as he swiped his keys and wallet from his nightstand.
“It’s not just me being eager, then, is it?” Felix pointed out, dragging his suitcase into the hallway, staring at Tage through the doorway. “You’re ready to have the apartment to yourself, I think.”
“I don’t think I will spend so much time here while you’re away.” Tage admitted as he locked the apartment behind him, both of them heading toward the car. “It will be too quiet without your grumbling.”
“You’ll be lonely without me.” Felix laughed. “You’re covering for it.”
“Maybe you are right.” Tage allowed, sliding on a pair of sunglasses before starting the car and navigating out of the parking lot.
The pair were quiet on the drive to the airport. Tage focused on getting them from point A to B, feeling like he was wasting the last few minutes with his friend by sitting in silence, but unable to come up with anything meaningful to say.
When they arrived, Tage found a parking spot and got out, opening the trunk so Felix could haul his luggage out. They were silent as they made their way through the airport, reaching their destination with time to spare.
“I will miss you.” Felix said, unusually determined. It was almost as if it had taken him the whole ride to summon up the courage to say those four words, and even after they left his mouth, regret flashed across his face, like he was afraid that he couldn’t take them back. Felix being Felix, he leaned into the discomfort. “You asked that I text you more often, while I’m away, so I’ll do it. I don’t-- I don’t break promises.”
“I’ll miss you too.” Tage said easily. The words rolling right out of his mouth and settling between them. The truth of them was undeniable. He had no idea how the summer would pass without the other man, but it would have to. “I’m looking forward to those, so you better. I’ll send you things so you do not miss Seattle so much.”
“Oh. That would be nice.” Felix smiled. “Don’t let Cap get too lonely. He complains when we come over, but he will be sad without the noise, even with Lily.”
“I plan on bothering them plenty, don’t worry.” Tage laughed. “Plus the other guys, too. We will get up to trouble, I imagine. I will tell you all about it.”
“If you get arrested, I will not pay bail.” Felix teased. “Outside of that, tell me everything. There isn’t much good time for calling, but if there is, I will.”
“All right. I will see you in September then.” Tage said.
Tage pocketed his sunglasses before opening his arms and stepping toward Felix. He felt the strength and solidity of the other man as their arms came around one another, took note of the clean, unique scent of him, before Tage cleared his throat, coming back to himself as they stepped back and away from one another.
“Be good.” Felix said, hands lingering on Tage’s shoulders for just a second too long. “I’ll see you before camp. I’ll have plenty of stories.”
“You too.” Tage backed away, flashing him a smile. “Bye, Felix.”
“Bye, Tage. Be safe. No parking tickets.” Felix pulled his suitcase along behind him, looking over his shoulder once before mixing into the crowd attempting to get into the airport.
Tage’s eyes followed Felix’s retreating figure until he was just another blur in the crowd. When he couldn’t see him anymore, Tage nodded once, to himself, pulled his sunglasses out and slid them on, and left, wondering why he felt like Felix had taken an important piece of Tage with him.
Tage spent the rest of the day wandering the apartment, more than a little lost without Felix.
Normally, by now, Felix would have dragged him headlong into some silly mischief or distracted him thoroughly from the task at hand by talking at length about the weather or something he’d seen in a store. Without the sound of Felix’s voice, which was much more of a constant baseline within their apartment than he would like people to believe, Tage felt as if an anchor had been cut away, leaving him floating aimlessly. To occupy himself, he did some cleaning in his room, hanging up the clean laundry that had accumulated on his chair, throwing out the water bottles on his nightstand, and doing some much needed scrubbing in his bathroom.
The rest of the day passed quickly. He napped on the couch with a movie on low and awoke when it was dark and time to find something to eat. He ate at the island, not bothering with a plate or sitting at the table. It might’ve been silly, but sitting alone felt too lonely with no one to join him.
By the time bedtime rolled around, he was relieved to rid himself of his shirt and pants and fall into his bed, made up nicely thanks to Felix. Tage stretched out, staring at the ceiling to contemplate the summer ahead, the fun he’d have with his teammates and the dinners he’d share with the Potters, as well as Felix’s absence stretching out before him.
“Enough.” He whispered to himself, curling up on his side, eyes closed, preparing to sleep. He settled back against his pillow, adjusting for comfort, and frowned when he heard a faint crinkling.
Tage sat up on his elbow, reached over to turn on his bedside lamp and tentatively reached beneath his pillow, startled when he produced an envelope with what was undeniably Felix’s handwriting on the front.
A frown settled on Tage’s face as he opened the envelope, producing a letter that he read first haltingly, and then faster a second time.
I do not know how to start this. This is an uncomfortable letter to write and far more uncomfortable to read. I do not know if you or I are more inconvenienced by its contents, but I will do my best to ensure that neither of us are affected by what I am about to say. It is unfair for me to expect a positive reaction from you, and rest assured, I am happy enough as things are. I do not ask any more from you than you can give and I want you to feel free to speak your mind.
The fact of the matter is that I, unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how this letter is received), am reasonably sure I am in love with you. You are very kind and sweet and far too patient with me for your good. It is hard not to love that, even without the pretty smile it comes with. It is difficult, to think of wrecking the balance of our lives this way, but leaving the letter is the right choice. It is the least hurtful way to go about this.
I have booked my ticket to return home in early July. We will be done with the season by then. Hopefully closer to the middle of June than April, but I cannot speak things into existence. If I could, we would be together now and we would both be happy that way. Things do not always work out. I am very much aware of how dangerous expressing this sentiment is for both of us, especially given how the Americans have felt about things like this lately.
Please, even if you do not feel the same way, keep this letter to yourself. Burn it or dispose of it in some permanent way. I am trusting you with something important and I worry that, even by accident, it might fall into the wrong hands. I hope we will still be friends, at the end of this, and if we are, that I can expect that from you.
You are asleep right now. We are in Pittsburgh and it is “as cold as the devil’s balls”, according to Sirius, who we could hear through the door when we raced down the hallway earlier. You think I haven’t noticed that you’ve stolen all my pillows, but anyone would notice. I will let you keep them. I do not like pillows very much and Mamma says they are where the bugs live, so enjoy your bugs. It is a sweet moment. I am lucky to see it. I am lucky to see you.
They moved us off the same line today. There have been injuries, but Moody is sure things will be back to normal by playoffs. It is odd, playing without you, and odder still seeing you on Fenwick’s line in practice. I don’t know what it will be like in a game, but I don’t think I will like it. It is like I can feel where you are, like I can see the game through both your eyes and mine, when we are playing together. It is almost like I can pass in any direction and the puck will find its way to you. I like it. It makes this easy. I do not know what I would do without it.
James says we have made history. He did not let us touch the big cup. He says it is not the one we should want to touch. I agree with him. I saw Sirius touch the handle, but I will keep his secret. He is keeping plenty of mine. You scored. I am proud of you, even if you look stupid in that hat. You hugged me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore.
That shirt is two sizes too big for you but you look happy. You would not stop hugging me tonight, not at the arena and not at the bar Sirius dragged us to afterward and not even at home. I could hardly sneak away for long enough to write this. It is perfect, in a way. I like this more than I thought I would. I want every night to be like this. I want to see you happy every night. I want to be the one making you smile. But for now, I am happy this way. I can hear you down the hallway so I’m going to
I’m leaving tomorrow. I have forgotten what I was going to say the last time I wrote, so do not bother asking. I am sure it was passable, at the very least, but unfortunately, I have long since forgotten it. It’s been a long time since I added to this, but that is because you have kept me busy since the season ended. You have a talent for that.
Because I have not said it enough, I love you. You are free to take that in any sense you wish, though I vastly prefer the one you are most comfortable with. Thank you for being such an excellent friend. If you would prefer that I move out, please let me know before I return so I can make alternate living arrangements.
Tage lost count of how many times he read the letter. He was careful with the paper, wanting to clutch it in his hands, but remaining mindful not to let it get crinkled as he held it. After what had to be his fourth read through, he sat up abruptly, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He set the letter down gently on his nightstand, as if it was a ticking bomb, before staring absently into space for a few moments.
Felix loved him.
There was a tenderness welling up within him, imagining Felix scribbling this very letter while on the road, after the Cup, at home. Tage’s fingers gripped the edge of his bed, imagining Felix carrying these feelings for him no matter where they went, faithfully standing by his side. And now he had carried those feelings home to Stockholm, which felt like it was a world away.
Without thinking, Tage reached for his phone, nearly knocking his lamp over in the process. He righted it before scrolling through his contacts until he reached Felix’s name. What would he even say?
Hello. I love you, too.
How easy it was for us to fall into loving one another. How long did I just not realize?
In the end, Tage set his phone aside, though he eyed it warily as he all but fell back into bed. He understood Felix’s reasons for leaving a letter behind, at least he thought he did. But what he wanted to say in return warranted a face to face talk, not spilling his feelings over text or with a phone call.
With his mind made up, Tage rolled onto his side, smashed his face into a pillow, and prayed for sleep.
Being tall on an airplane went beyond uncomfortable and bordered on impossible.
Felix, for the fourth time that hour, stretched his legs out as far as he could, hoping he was not kicking anything particularly important under the seat in front of him. He couldn’t wait to be home, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was leaving a part of himself in Seattle, more than he’d expected. He’d known that he would get used to the city, over the course of the season, that he would grow attached, but leaving for home, even if that was where he wanted to be, felt like ripping himself in half. He leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes, and tried to take his mind off that.
When he got home, Maja would likely annoy the living daylights out of him, and Mamma and Pappa would be delighted to have him back. Pappa would ask him about his team, especially Tage, who he’d grown inordinately fond of over the course of the fathers’ trip, and Felix would tell him-- what would Felix tell him? That he’d left a love letter under Tage’s pillow and run home to his parents, afraid of consequences? That he’d asked a few careful questions to his agent about whether homesickness was enough reason to break a contract in the weeks after the Cup win?
None of those things were particularly worth talking about, let alone good topics of conversation, and Mamma would likely shred him to pieces for even thinking of something so cowardly, despite how she’d dropped hints nearly daily about how nice it would be to have him home year round. He’d known what he was giving up, when he left Sweden behind last summer, and he’d known what he was giving it up for, but now he was not so sure that the NHL was worth it. Now, he wasn’t so sure that if the answer he got back from Tage was anything other than a yes, he would feel comfortable going back.
He shouldn’t have said anything at all. He’d managed just fine not saying anything at all, and of course, he’d had to ruin the best thing going for him with feelings. He scowled at the tiny television in front of him, showing looped clips of cooking shows and travel advertisements. Tage would be undoubtedly disappointed and he’d never want to play with Felix again, which, obviously, would open up a sinkhole full of problems for James, who Felix knew had enough on his plate without any outside help.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket, and against his best instincts, fired off a few quick messages to Tage, unsurprised by the bubbles that popped up beside them, white exclamation marks stark against the bright red background as a warning that they remained unsent. They would send when he reached the English airport he was spending a rather unfortunately long layover at, but Tage would be asleep by then, likely, or at least otherwise occupied. It was not worth it.
Felix deleted the messages one by one, watching them disappear, and wondered if it could be so simple to delete feelings.
For the first time, perhaps ever, Tage was having trouble keeping up with his own emotions.
When faced with a problem, a victory, and everything in between, he was usually able to roll with the punches and embrace the joy of the moment, certain of what he felt and why. This love letter business was not so simple.
The letter itself and what it would mean when Felix returned was never far from his mind, no matter how he tried to distract himself. The talk with Lily, while helping in the moment, had only muddled things more, raising more questions and filling him with enough hope that he worried he might burst, while barely holding something akin to panic at bay.
He knew he loved Felix. He knew Felix loved him, although writing a letter and then leaving for the entire summer made the whole affair bittersweet for Tage. While he could understand Felix’s reasons for doing so, it left Tage to figure out many things on his own, when he would rather have his teammate and friend by his side.
When he was out, doing a terrible job of distracting himself, he would suddenly be gripped by the moment that had altered so much in his life. The feel of the paper in his hands, the corners so soft from being folded and refolded by Felix's nervous fingers. The words that he read over and over again until he could practically recall them from memory. And most of all, his love for Felix. This great, big, terrifying thing that had been called forth but had yet to be settled between them.
It calmed him and frightened him in equal measure.
But because he was Tage, he would not give in to the terror of the questions and uncertainties that plagued him, not now, and maybe not even until it was too late for them both. He held on to that calm, to that promise of love and affection, with the same resolute steadiness that he knew Felix had come to expect from him, and, in time, to love. He would hold on for the promise of something good and meaningful between them, for now, and for as long as Felix wanted him.