Connor doesn’t think about his mark as often as he used to. When he was little, he’d stare at the neat brown lines below the crook of his elbow with wide eyes, imagining the adventures his soulmate could be having, wondering if they liked pirates or birthday cake as much as he did. He had found himself dreaming up different worlds that his soulmate came from because surely 6,000 kilometers away couldn’t be anything like his life in Etobicoke.
He did grow up, eventually, leaving behind the crazy stories in his brain for the far more reasonable knowledge that his soulmate was probably just in Europe or Asia, the needle of the compass imprinted into his skin always pointing east. As a teenager, his hormones clouded his judgment as he spent many late nights convincing himself that he might never find his soulmate. By the time he had gotten older and had become more focused on hockey, Connor had lost his naive infatuation with the mark, only giving it the time of day every so often.
The counter had read an average of 6,042 kilometers most of the time, obviously fluctuating as his soulmate traveled and commuted, up until he was 18. As Connor went to Erie, his soulmate had made a big move around the same time, and then they were approximately 2,000 kilometers closer. That was around when he had stopped paying attention.
Connor had come to the early realization that his life, it was great as is. He had been drafted by the Toronto fucking Maple Leafs . He was on a junior team that he adored, with friends that he loved. He didn’t need to stare at his stupid compass with its taunting needle, the four proud digits glaring back at him, like it was an attempt to challenge.
And now, at twenty two years old, he’s getting along pretty fucking well without obsessing over the mark every night. It didn’t stop him from wondering if one day, he would decide to get on a plane and follow the compass until he found him (Connor figured out pretty early on that he was hoping his soulmate is a him ). Of course, offseason never fails to make his skin crawl with restlessness, his fingers itching to follow the invisible rope tugging at his chest, urging him to book a plane ticket. He digs his heels in this year, though. Prospects are looking good for him to play in the NHL regularly this year, accompanied by a few of his Marlies teammates, plus the Leafs had drafted Auston fucking Matthews and in the same offseason had managed to acquire Andersen from the Ducks, so this season is looking good, overall.
Auston gets along with the rest of the rookies pretty well from the start, Mitchy sticks to him like glue and he seems to mesh with Willy, if their on-ice chemistry is anything to go by. There were never going to be any issues there. Freddie, however, is a different story. He doesn’t not get along with them, by any means, he’s just really quiet when they first meet him. Some of the guys, who either live in Toronto or are trickling in early to get a headstart on training with the new team, are there to greet the new goaltender, Connor being one of them. Connor doesn’t really mind the tall, dark, and handsome vibe Freddie’s got going on, if he’s being honest. Which, should have stayed as a first impression and a first impression only but Connor is a gay man with fully functional eyes, okay, he can appreciate how attractive the man is.
But gay thoughts aside, Connor really likes being around Freddie, despite his perpetual stoicism. He’s actually really funny, you just have to be listening. They hang out a few times with the rest of the guys, usually a group hangout devised by Toronto Maple Leafs’ honorary captain and father figure, Morgan Rielly, before Connor works up the nerve to invite Freddie for lunch, just the two of them. Which is a far less intimate meeting than it may sound, it’s just going to be a friendly meal between friends. Connor will take it, anytime to spend literally any amount of time ever with his goalie.
Connor is one of the first guys showered and changed after a particular grueling workout with an even balance of rookies and vets, so he kills time by slowly folding his clothes, rooting around for shit in his bag he doesn’t actually need, tying and retying his shoelaces a few times, as he waits for Freddie to finish getting dressed.
“Hey, man. I’m starving, do you wanna go get lunch once you’re ready and stuff? Consider it an introduction into the Toronto lifestyle.” Connor offers, trying his best to seem as calm and collected as possible. He tugs at the sleeve of his shirt as Freddie watches him for a beat, eyes calculating. He’s learned to expect that, in the past few weeks, but it has just as strong an effect on him as it had the first time. The goalie just smiles, a small curve of the lips that sends the urge to do backflips through Connor’s chest.
“I’ve been here for almost a month, I think we’re past the introduction.” Freddie says, with a hint of teasing ever slightly present in his even tone. Connor huffs and rolls his eyes, no heat to the gesture as he leans back on his heels. He opens his mouth to counter that logic, but Freddie shrugs. “I would never turn down free lunch, though. Just give me a minute to finish up here.” The goalie goes back to tying his shoes, turning away from Connor, who is still trying to remember when he had agreed to pay, but he can’t find it in himself to refuse. He nods and heads towards the lobby of the gym.
When Freddie finally appears in the doorway, he’s dressed in snug jeans that make Connor feel a little dizzy and his damp hair is drying in curls. Tight tendrils of red hair fall against his forehead, making him appear effortless and completely handsome. He gestures for the forward to lead the way, and Connor complies. He assumes they’re taking his car, which is confirmed when Freddie folds himself into the cramped passenger’s seat of his low-seated sedan.
They drive in a surprisingly comfortable silence through mild Toronto traffic, the inside of the car quiet enough that Connor can hear the tapping of Freddie’s fingers against his leg, in rhythm to a random pop song playing on the radio, volume just above a whisper. He idly wonders if this is the kind of music that Freddie likes, or if he’s into other stuff.
By some grace of the universe, Connor manages to find parking only a block down from the place he had in mind, a little sandwich shop near the edge of Chinatown. They make good food and are, for the most part, usually not too busy. Freddie even holds the door for Connor on the way in, and Connor isn’t sure how long he’ll last without falling headfirst for the goalie.
If Connor had thought having Freddie’s attention on him was intense when they’re in a group, focus fleeting between the conversation and Connor, nothing could have prepared him for the full force of Freddie soaking up everything he has to say, seeming to hang onto every word. Freddie talks, too, makes comments on the stories Connor is recalling, or pointing out people that pass by the window they’re seated next to, in between bites of his lunch. It’s nice, easy.
They hang out a few more times during the offseason and into training camp, covering safe topics of conversation, swapping tales from their childhood and discussing favorite TV shows.
At first, Connor was surprised that Freddie talked as much as he does, when prompted, but he certainly doesn’t mind the easy back and forth banter. Additionally, Freddie’s lack of mention of a soulmate has not gone unnoticed in Connor’s mind.
He first catches glimpse of the thin, black cover wrapped around the goaltender’s right bicep when Freddie settles down across from him with a paper cup of coffee in each hand. They sip their drinks and talk about how they feel training camp had gone, about their increasing anxiety about the regular season creeping up on them. Freddie seems just as ready to get back into the swing of things as Connor is.
As their chat progresses, Connor finds his eyes drifting back to the ring of black peeking out from beneath the sleeve of Freddie’s tee shirt, standing out against the pale, freckled skin that stretches over his solid bicep. Connor does his best not to get too distracted.
There’s a lull in conversation and Freddie takes the pause to calmly inform him, “You can ask about it, if you want.” He reaches across his chest to scratch at his arm, as Connor searches his face for any signs of violation or discomfort, but all he finds is the same stoic expression that seems to be Freddie’s resting face. Connor doesn’t say anything, at first, just nods and swallows thickly, picking at the sleeve on his cup.
“Have you met them?” He decides to start with, a pretty mild, noninvasive question, he hopes. He pretends not to have a preference of answer that Freddie could give. Thankfully, Freddie just shakes his head, giving him a patient smile. “Yeah, me neither.” Connor admits, figuring it’s the least he can do to open up about his mark just as Freddie is doing. “Do you think you’ll ever meet them?” The goalie purses his lips consideringly, tilting his head to the side.
“I’m not sure. Last time I checked, I was thousands of miles away from them.” He shrugs, tracing the corner of the table with his thumb. Connor can’t help but track the movement with his gaze. “I don’t really care, to be honest. I can fall in love on my own.”
Now, that way of thinking isn’t necessarily unheard of, but it still takes Connor by surprise when the words pass Freddie’s lips. Connor, being the complete and utter romantic that he is, can’t imagine not wanting to know who your soulmate is. He had always assumed that, if he ever met him, he would just know. He doesn’t obsess over his mark anymore, but he still completely believes in soulmates.
“You aren’t even a little curious?” He asks, wincing at how in awe he sounds, eyes a little wide as he watches Freddie drain the rest of his coffee, tilting his head back and putting his neck and jaw on display. It’s, like, absurdly attractive, but not enough to distract him from the world-shattering news that Freddie had just shared with him.
“No, if I’m being honest.” Freddie shrugs again, folding his hands on top of the table. “I just think it’s worth considering that maybe the universe doesn’t always know what’s best for us. Maybe we give it too much credit.” He says nonchalantly, watching Connor with those careful, evaluating eyes. The light streaking in through the window casts delicate shadows across Freddie’s face, highlighting his cheekbones and the curve of his nose. It’s beautiful and distracting and Connor struggles to scrounge up the words for his reply.
“I guess that makes sense,” is what he finally settles on, wrapping his fingers around his since cooled coffee, ducking his head a little. He feels a little ridiculous, wanting to defend the universe when it put his soulmate on the other side of the planet, but he supposes it’s something to put your faith in when hope seems lost. Freddie presses his lips together, wearing a tight expression that Connor can’t read, but then again, he usually can’t read him.
The two of them are swept into the regular season as October arrives swiftly and without warning, dragged under by the routine of practice after practice after game after practice. Connor thinks that, when they’re home, Freddie spends more time at his place than his own.
It raises a few eyebrows, the first time he has the boys over and Freddie’s already sitting on the couch like owns the place, but Connor doesn’t really care.
He feels drawn to Freddie, he can’t really describe it. Besides calling it what it is, which is a pretty pathetic crush on one of his closest friends on the team. He doesn’t necessarily feel like a part of him is missing when they aren’t together, or anything like that, but when they’re about to meet, Connor swears he can feel a distinct tugging in his gut, his heart grabbing him by the hand and willing his feet to go faster. When he finally sees him, he tries to ignore the feeling of something slotting into place. Like he said, it’s pathetic.
These days, he thinks less and less about the lines curling up his forearm, thoughts now taken up by hockey and his friends and Freddie. Competition in the Atlantic division heats up and he really doesn’t have time for much else than analyzing his play, working on getting better. As they delve deeper into the season, he really has no choice to sink or swim, to improve or get the hell out of the league.
Things with Freddie grow closer, more intimate, too, and Connor feels like he’s teetering on the edge of something so, so dangerous. He could easily let himself fall, fall in love with him, thrust his heart into Freddie’s careful hands and never look back, but he can’t do that. Not with the sport they play, not with the uncertainty that still crowds Connor’s veins wondering if Freddie could ever see him like that.
But with every night that he spends on the couch with Freddie, toes tucked under the goalie’s thigh, body sinking into the back of the sofa as they bathe in the stale glow of the television screen, it gets harder and harder to keep himself upright. His chest screams at him to do something about it, but he always talks himself out of it, he could never lose what him and Freddie have.
Their reality comes to a crashing halt one night in February, doing what they do almost every night. Connor is leaning against Freddie, cheek against his shoulder as he curls in on himself, hands buried between his knees as their eyes stay carefully trained on the game unfolding in front of them.
If Boston wins in regulation, they’ll demote the Leafs to the third seat in the division. It isn’t horrible, but it’s far less comfortable than sitting at second. So the game is high stakes enough to put the both of them on edge.
Marchand takes a crack at a fairly open net and Freddie winces, hand going to Connor’s arm. It connects with his sleeve, and a searing pain shoots across the forward’s skin, pooling under the cover he secures over his mark. Connor yelps, yanking his arm away, grabbing at his own forearm. Freddie gives him a concerned look as he stumbles off of the couch.
“Are you okay?” He asks, voice too sincere for Connor’s own good. He feels dizzy when he nods, in attempt to assure Freddie, but it doesn’t smooth over the worry lines creasing his forehead.
“I’m good, just a cramp. Need some water. Want anything?” Connor lies through his teeth, not even waiting for Freddie to respond before he crashes into the kitchen, rolling up the sleeve on his sweatshirt and ripping the cover off of his forearm. He stares at the needle stretching across his skin, an angry red, the script beneath the compass reading 20 feet . Connor’s heart drops, and he has to grip the counter for support. It isn’t- surely that isn’t right. Either someone just broke into his apartment, or Freddie is his soulmate.
He has to take three deep breaths and four gulps of water before he can fully gain his composure and return to the living room, where Freddie sits, blissfully unaware of the way Connor’s world comes crashing down around him.
Connor doesn’t say anything, not that night, not the next day, not in the next week. He doesn’t see a point, considering Freddie doesn’t even care to find out who his soulmate is. Even if he did, Connor isn’t sure he would know how to bring it up. Oh hey, by the way, we’re soulmates .
If Freddie doesn’t reciprocate Connor’s feelings now, he doubts the fact that they’re soulmates would change that. He probably didn’t even want his soulmate to be a boy, like Connor did- does. It’s possible that it’s a one-way soulmate, a phenomena that, while rare and extremely unlikely, has been known to happen. He doesn’t know which scenario would break his heart more.
So he doesn’t say anything, he avoids all discussion pertaining to soulmarks when he’s around Freddie, even when they hang out with the team, but it’s easy. Freddie doesn’t really care to talk about it to begin with.
There’s always that inkling in the back of his mind, now, that what if . He’s back to obsessing over his mark, like he had when he was a teenager. Now, though, it seems unattainable in a completely different way, a much more painful way. He tries not to let it affect his friendship with Freddie, or his play on the ice. It was never an issue, though, as Connor turns that part of his brain off every time his skates greet the ice in a welcoming embrace. The only time when his head is quiet and clear.
So he doesn’t tell anyone, except Zach, who is able to get it out of him after a few rounds in the ring with a bottle of cherry vodka, about a week after the discovery. Thoroughly tipsy, tongue loose and heart on his sleeve, Connor had laid his head on Zach’s shoulder and spilled everything, the discovery and all of the self doubt that tagged along with it.
Zach hadn’t laughed at him or pitied him, he just tugged Connor closer and pretended not to notice the way drops of water soak through his shirt as he listened to Connor talk. Zach’s a good friend, but Connor already knew that.
It’s after a crushing loss at the end of March that bears a heavy dent in their playoff hopes. It won’t be impossible to recover, but if they let their morale sink lower than it already is, their shot for playoffs will slip out of their fingertips until it’s out of reach.
Freddie follows Connor home and wraps around him before he can even shut the door behind them. The forward buries his face into Freddie’s neck, letting himself melt against him until he doesn’t know where his own body ends and Freddie’s begins. They’re always this tactile, enough so that Connor sometimes questions if they’re pushing the boundaries of bros or if he’s just projecting. But something about tonight feels different.
Connor feels, fuck, he feels complete . He’s on top of the fucking world with nothing stopping him, he feels so at home it’s dizzying, and as much as his mind is screaming and begging and pleading him to pull away, that he’s letting himself fall, his skin feels melded to the fabric of Freddie’s shirt. Every nerve in his body is buzzing and his heart is clawing at his ribcage to get to the goaltender. This is dangerous, Connor knows it, but he doesn’t care.
He doesn’t know how long they stand there, or who pulls away first, but he feels the disconnect as soon as his face slides out from the curve of Freddie’s neck and he can see again, reality dragging him back down to Earth by the ankle. The loss creeps back up around the soft edges of the warm and fuzzy, but right now, it feels years away.
Connor stands close enough to Freddie that he has to tilt his head back to look up at him, at the handsome face draped in an expression close to fondness that is heavy enough for Connor to avoid unpacking. He can barely see him, in the dark of the foyer, but the light from the streetlamps filters in through the glass of the door, casting a wavy glow over the two of them.
He doesn’t know it’s happening until it’s almost over, Freddie crowding in close once again, hands securing around his waist and pressing his lips to Connor’s. Something sparks in Connor’s chest, bubbling under his skin and flowing out through his lips as he kisses back, a mantra of finally, finally, finally ringing out loud and clear in his head. A heat in his forearm is building as he steps closer, hands running over Freddie’s shoulders and down his chest, back up again to cup his jaw.
He’s so aware of everything, the stubble lining Freddie’s jaw under his fingers, the way Freddie pushes blunt nails under his shirt as his fingers climb up Connor’s back, the uneven breaths he keeps drawing in through his nose, out of beat. Months of wanting and hoping tie up their biggest loose end as their mouths move together in a steady rhythm. Connor finally lets himself fall.
They pull back for air, foreheads together as their panting echoes through the hallway, and the sting in Connor’s forearm is white hot. Connor clutches at the crook of his elbow, a painful hiss escaping between his teeth as he swears under his breath. Freddie’s face is painted with confusion, but he seems to gripping his own arm as well, hand pressing down on the black cover over his bicep.
Connor removes his cover first, letting it drop to the floor with a satisfying clatter, to reveal the lines across his skin are a glittering gold, and the script reads 0 feet . When he looks up, Freddie’s looks the same. The goaltender’s eyebrows lift to brush his hairline, looking between Connor’s face and his mark, to his own arm.
“Did you know-“ Freddie finally speaks, voice in a hoarse whisper as he stares at Connor in bewilderment. Connor nods, a little sheepishly, as the pain dulls under his skin. Freddie opens his mouth like he’s going to say something, but no words come out. “I fell in love with you on my own,” Freddie clarifies, pulling his shoulders back ever so slightly. Connor’s heart swells at that, hearing the words I fell in love with you . “But I guess the universe does know what’s best for me.” Connor shakes his head, overwhelmed by everything.
“We’re such fucking idiots.” Connor laughs, before dragging Freddie in for another searing kiss that settles warm in his chest.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” Freddie asks later, as they lay pressed together under Connor’s thin sheets. Connor traces patterns across Freddie’s bare chest, pinned under the solid weight of his arm wrapping around his back, hand resting at Connor’s hip.
“You said that you didn’t want to know.” He answers simply, fingertips dancing across the lines of Freddie’s skin, still a little hazy and a little cum dumb, eyelids threatening to flutter shut and not open until the morning. “I didn’t want us to be soulmates but you still not have feelings for me, or something.” The heaviness of Connor’s admission settles over the two of them, the air thick with vulnerability. Freddie swallows, staring up at the ceiling. He lets out a slow exhale, tightening his arm around Connor.
“I started to wonder, after I met you.” Freddie says finally, still not meeting his eyes. “I think I started to hope that it was you, after a while. But I didn’t want to find out that it wasn’t, so I never looked.” Connor smiles against Freddie’s chest, his grin pressed into his skin. To have someone want you to be their soulmate before they even knew, that’s a lot. To have the man you maybe-love want that, now that’s something else entirely. Connor just stretches up, hand brushing against Freddie’s face, and kisses him, long and slow. When he pulls back, Freddie’s eyes are brilliant and warm.
“Now you know, and I’m not going anywhere. You’ll have me for as long as you’ll take me.” Connor tells him softly, reaching down to tangle their fingers together. Freddie smiles, raising their hands to his mouth to brush his lips over Connor’s knuckles.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m going anywhere either,” is the last thing Connor hears before sleep finally overtakes him, wrapping him in a warm embrace as he drifts off, pressed against the man meant for him.