Auston doesn’t know if it starts in Dallas, the morning after their 7-4 win against the Stars, but that’s when he first notices it.
They’ve just had a great practice in Frisco and everyone’s still flying from last night’s win, and the team’s monster start, so the atmosphere is loose and light and happy. Auston is changing at his stall next to Mitch just like normal when Mitch, who is still mostly dressed, only halfway through untying his skates, looks up at Auston with this bright smile, the kind that still takes Auston’s breath away, even after two years.
“Hey, Aus?” he says.
“Are you today’s date?”
“What?” Auston asks, confused.
“Because you’re ten out of ten.” And then he winks, and Auston can feel his cheeks heating up, and he lets out a strangled laugh and practically sprints for the showers.
He spends his shower convincing himself that Mitch wasn’t, like, making fun of him or anything. Yeah, Auston has definitely seen Mitch use dumb pick-up lines like that on other teammates, now that he’s thinking about it. And definitely not just when they were all out drinking somewhere, right?
There’s no way Mitch knows about Auston’s crush.
Auston keeps an eye out, just in case, to see if Mitch acts any differently towards him, but it’s all pretty much the same. Mitch still drapes himself over Auston whenever he can, still takes the seat next to him on the team bus and plane. They still play Euchre with Patty and John, still make each other laugh with just a look. Still weirdly co-dependent, just like always.
No more pick-up lines, though, which is...a relief? Maybe?
Maybe Auston wants it to happen again, shut up, you don’t know.
But it doesn’t, not again in Dallas, or at all in Detroit, or on the plane to Washington.
And then they’re renting scooters, Auston and Mitch and Brownie and Hyms and Kappy, and they’re trying to figure out exactly where they wanna explore, and Auston and Mitch are off to the side and Mitch looks at Auston, like, right into his eyes, long enough that Auston’s cheeks heat up again.
“What?” he asks. If he were a better person, he might break eye contact with Marns, try to get rid of some of the weird tension. But he kinda likes it, so.
“Do you have a map?” Mitch asks, and it’s so out of the blue that Auston blinks, and then looks for Hyms.
“Uh, no?” Auston says. “I think I saw Zach pick one up, though, lemme ask him --” but Mitch grabs his arm before he can, makes Auston look at him again.
“I need one,” Mitch says, seriously, “because I keep getting lost in your eyes.” And then he grins, brilliantly, like it’s all a joke, and Auston laughs, once, short.
“Right,” he says. “So Hyms probably can’t help you with that.”
“Nope,” Mitch says. He’s still looking at Auston with that big smile, and Auston gets the distinct impression that Mitch is making fun of him, even though that doesn’t necessarily feel like his style. Auston doesn’t know what to say though, how to call him out on it just in case that is what he’s doing, and he doesn’t get a chance to before Kappy is punching his shoulder, telling him where they’ve decided to go.
Auston, like, doesn’t not sit next to Mitch on purpose for the rest of the day, but like. There’s usually a couple people between them anyway, and Auston can’t say he minds.
He feels better after the game against the Caps -- actually, he feels fucking fantastic. They won, again, and he’s got ten goals in 6 games, and he’s not in, like, actual Mario Lemieux territory, not yet, but he’s close.
So when they go out after the game and Mitch drops into the seat next to him after a couple of drinks, Auston just grins at him.
“‘Sup?” he says. Mitch looks at him thoughtfully and grins, wide.
“Am I cute enough yet? Or do you need more to drink?”
Auston laughs, loud and real. “More to drink, definitely,” he chirps, and Mitch dutifully goes to the bar to get him another drink, and that’s the last out of the ordinary thing Mitch does for the rest of the trip.
And then they’re seven games into the season, with a 6 and 1 record, and Auston just got more money for the Childrens’ Hospital by stopping Gards and Zaits on, like, seven two-on-ones in practice, and he’s done with media and Mitch is sitting next to his stall, ready to go and just fucking around on his phone, waiting for Auston
Mitch lights up when he sees him, and Auston can’t even pretend to hide his own smile.
“If it isn’t future Selke winner Auston Matthews,” Mitch says, and Auston just laughs.
“Hey, um, quick question.”
“Shoot,” Auston says, distracted, digging through his locker.
“Where are you from again?”
“What?” Auston asks with a laugh, but when he looks at Marns, he’s just very seriously looking back. “You know where I’m from.”
“Are you from Tennessee?”
And Auston doesn’t have any idea what to say to that. Mitch still looks serious, though, so Auston asks, “Marns, are you feeling okay?”
“Because you’re the only ten I see,” Mitch says, like Auston didn’t even talk. And there’s that big grin, and he winks again this time, too. Auston just shakes his head.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” he says, trying to hide his smile, but judging by the smug look on Mitch’s face he does a bad job of it.
Before their game against Pittsburgh, Mitch is shoving Skittles in his mouth and cracking jokes with Dermy, laughing with his mouth open so Auston can see all the gross Skittles in his teeth. It’s not attractive -- it’s, like, super disgusting, actually -- but Auston still feels absurdly fond, anyway.
And then Mitch catches his eye, waggles his eyebrows once, and says, “Hey, I’ve got Skittles in my mouth.”
“Yeah, I can tell. Everyone can, Marns,” Auston says, rolling his eyes.
Mitch grins. “Wanna taste the rainbow?”
And that is as blatant a come-on as any of the pick-up lines have been. Auston says something, probably. He definitely sort of laughs, and then he turns around and starts a conversation with John for no reason other than he’s not Mitch.
Auston tries to put it out of his mind, tries not to think about it and just focus on the game. He focuses on trying to shut down Sidney Crosby, and then when that absolutely doesn’t work, he tries to focus on shutting down Pittsburgh’s fourth line, which he does slightly more effectively.
He still thinks about it, though, and after the game, before he catches a ride home with Marns again -- and why does he still do that, he knows his way around well enough, he’s gotta stop torturing himself -- he pulls Brownie aside and says, “Hey, can I talk to you?”
“Sure, man,” Connor says, easy, and Auston takes a deep breath, tries to figure out the best way to say this.
“You know Mitch, right?” is what he comes up with, which obviously makes Brownie look at him like he’s nuts. “I mean. You know that thing he does where he, like, uses pick-up lines on you?”
Brownie laughs. “No idea what you’re talking about, bud.”
“You know,” Auston says, frustrated. “The, like, dumb pick-up lines. The joke ones.”
“Like, ‘I’d rearrange the alphabet to put U and I together’?”
“Yeah, exactly!” Auston gets a weird surge of jealousy at the idea that Mitch uses the same pick-up lines on Brownie, which is dumb, because that’s why he’s talking to him. Auston pushes it down and says, “What do you do when he does that?”
“You mean Mitch?” Brownie shakes his head. “He’s never tried to use them on me, man, I don’t know what to tell you.”
Auston groans. “Yeah, okay. Thanks anyway.”
Brownie claps him on the shoulder and leaves Auston where he is, thinking. Not for the first time this season, he finds himself desperately wishing Willy were here. He thinks about texting him, even gets so far as pulling up his messages and typing hey so marns keeps trying to use pickup lines on me and i cant tell if he’s flirting??????????? before deleting it and shoving his phone back in his pocket. He buries his face in his hands for just a moment before going to find Mitch to take him home.
At least he’s starting to recognize the signs. When Mitch looks at him just this side of too long after morning skate on Saturday, he almost expects the out-of-nowhere question.
“Hey, what does your dad do again?”
Auston sighs, just raises his eyebrows at Mitch and waits for the punchline. Mitch grins, easy.
“Is he a thief or something? Because someone stole the stars and put them in your eyes!”
Auston genuinely laughs. “Okay, that one was pretty good,” he says, and Mitch bumps their shoulders together, his smile going a little softer and overly fond.
Not so nice is losing their second straight, at home, and going pointless, again, and yeah, it’s not really a skid until three games, so Coach doesn’t outright bag-skate them at their Sunday practice, but he still pushes them pretty hard, and Auston, at least, is pretty worn out.
He sits in his stall for a minute, after, trying to get up the energy to shower, and change, and head to the gaming event they have after this. He’s got his head down, his arms on his knees, when he feels someone next to him.
“Baby,” Mitch starts, and Auston’s head shoots up. Mitch’s smile is tired, but there. “You must be tired, because you’ve been running through my head all night.”
Auston huffs out a soft laugh. “Not your best, Marns.”
Mitch shrugs. “Can’t win ‘em all,” he says, softly kicking Auston’s ankle. “We’ll get ‘em next time, huh?”
“You got it, bud,” Auston says, and they softly fist-bump before Mitch moves back to his own stall and Auston actually gets up, gets going again.
They’re on the ice the next time it happens, getting water between line rushes at morning skate in Winnipeg. It’s not just them, half the team is around them, including Patty and Johnny, when Mitch looks really seriously at Auston and Auston gets immensely grateful that practice means his cheeks are already flushed, because he can feel the blush coming.
“You know,” Mitch starts, and Auston groans. “You have a kickin’ bod, Aus. Wanna hold it against me?”
Pretty much every guy in earshot cracks up -- Mo starts laughing so hard Gards has to hold him up -- but Mitch just keeps grinning that same grin at Auston, waggles his eyebrows a few times. Auston grins at him, gently facewashes him.
“Yeah, maybe after the game, asshole,” he says, and Mitch’s mouth drops open so like. Maybe Auston’s finally figured out the best way to deal with this.
He puts this theory to the test when they’re out at a bar later that night and Mitch sits so close to him he’s almost on Auston’s lap. He’s got that same big grin on his face.
“That’s a nice shirt,” he says, picking at the sleeve with two fingers. “Can I talk you out of it?”
“You know what room I’m in,” Auston says, smooth as anything, and he manages not to visibly check Mitch out but, like, just barely.
Mitch goes bright red and nods. “Cool. Cool. Cool cool cool,” Mitch says, and then he yells, “I’m coming Johnny!” and leaves the table at light speed.
Auston locks eyes with John, actually sitting a table over and looking over to figure out why Mitch yelled at him yet is somehow nowhere to be found, and shrugs.
Mitch doesn’t mention anything when they get back to their hotel room later that night, either, and Auston doesn’t push it, but he does grin when Mitch says, “Okay, good night!” in a weirdly high-pitched voice and buries himself under the covers before Auston can even turn the light off.
He’s normal in the morning, though, and on the plane ride home, and it’s not until they’re taxiing in Toronto that he grins at Auston, wide. “Hey,” he says.
Auston faces him full on. “Hey.”
“You know what would look good on you?” Mitch is now grinning so widely that on anyone else it’d probably hurt.
Auston grins back almost as wide, shakes his head and lets Mitch give the punchline.
And they’re still technically on the plane, surrounded by their teammates, and there’s probably no way this isn’t a bad idea, but Auston leans forward and kisses that dumb fucking smile off Mitch’s face.
“Hey,” he says when they pull apart to breathe. “You wanna come over to my place and make out on the couch?”
Mitch nods, and laughs, and kisses Auston again.