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Don't Get Cut On My Edges

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Matthew Williams put his back to the door and sighed when he saw that the previously empty portion of his dorm room was covered in clothes, boxes, and unhung posters. He had been desperately hoping to have a few days to himself before his roommate arrived, if only to mentally adjust to being away from home. It didn't help any that he had just come from meeting his new teammates. He had known that he would be a nobody here, that his reputation was going to stay at home. Experiencing it was something entirely different.

Hockey had always been his sanctuary. Skating felt like flying and he often found himself craving the same adrenaline rush that games brought in the off season. Practicing and playing was the only time he and his twin brother, Alfred, had never clashed. Instead, they made a lethal team in the rink that had earned them several local monikers, his favorite being "Fire and Ice." Alfred was the forward, the fire, the one who made all the showy plays and scored the goals. Matthew was the defenseman, the ice, freezing most strategies their opposition attempted. With them playing, few of the other team's tactics worked. It had made both of them targets for foul play, though that stopped after the first few attempts. They were excellent players to begin with, but what made them the best in their league was that they were their own enforcers.

That's the thing about fire and ice; make your choice but both can burn you alive. Separate, they were dangerous. Together, they could kill you.

The problem for Matthew with their minor athletic celebrity back home was that it never translated to his everyday life. It didn't change that, off the ice, he was still awkward, quiet, overly polite Matthew. He preferred to stay home and study, trying desperately to earn good enough grades to get a scholarship to university. In public, he faded into the background to the point that people didn't even notice if he was there.

If he was unremarkable next to everyone else, he was invisible next to Alfred.

Alfred was the all-American golden boy. Funny, outgoing, and naturally smart, he was the one that drew everyone's eye in a room. He stole the hearts of guys and girls alike, a fact he took advantage of. He was loud, brash, and irreverent. By a fluke of nature, Alfred had been born at 11:58 on the Fourth of July and Matthew had followed six minutes later, at 12:04 on July 5th. Alfred was the one who got fireworks on his birthday. He didn't.

Matthew was fine with that; they were different people and the thought of having everyone's attention like Alfred constantly did made him nervous. After a certain point, he had gotten used to being invisible and that allowed him certain freedoms that Alfred didn't have. It didn't make him love his brother any less.

What did, however, was how Matthew was the one who constantly was stuck smoothing the feathers that Alfred ruffled. He had been cleaning up Alfred's messes for as long as he could remember, doing his best to make everyone happy. What bothered Matthew was how little Alfred seemed to understand or care about him off the ice. He was constantly pushing his "little" brother to go out with him and his friends, to date someone, to be more like him. He resented the fact that Alfred did just as well as him on tests and assignments even though he put in only a fraction of the time that Matthew did. They disagreed about almost everything and Alfred was the only one who could make Matthew lose his temper in a short period of time. Yes, Matthew loved his brother, but he didn't like him.

Matthew would never tell him, but it was a relief when Alfred decided to go to a school 200 miles away.

But back to the point. Hockey was one of the few ways people saw him and respected him at home. He had proven himself and the knowledge that Alfred would always have his back on the ice was comforting. Here, he was just another freshman and his teammates had taken one assessing glance before dismissing him. He knew he needed to show he was a valuable member of the team before they would warm up to him, but he was still hoping to see a friendly face. Matthew didn't know anyone in the state and he was awful at making friends. He saw that everyone was talking to someone else when the coach finished addressing them and took his leave. The last thing he wanted to do was intrude where he wasn't wanted.

Maybe if he accepted the fact that the next four years were going to be spent alone, he eventually become okay with it.

Matthew heard loud voices in the hall and moved to finish unpacking what little possessions he had left in boxes. The people got louder and a strange clicking noise came from the door as a keycard was inserted. Looks like it's time to meet who I'll be living with for the next year.

"I don't CARE if you live in the same building, you bastard. You're not—" Matthew watched as a tan, somewhat short boy froze in the entrance of the dorm. His eyes were wide and a strange olive color and Matthew abruptly realized that this guy was gorgeous. Jesus, he hoped he wasn't his roommate; living with a boy that beautiful could give a guy a complex.

When nothing was said for a second of Matthew and this mystery man just staring at each other, a second, equally beautiful guy stuck his head into the room as he said, "Ve, why'd you stop, Lo—oh! You must be Lovi's roommate. Hi!" His eyes were squinting to the point that he couldn't make out the color of them, but he at least was smiling.

Involuntarily blushing, Matthew smiled back awkwardly and said, "Uh, yeah. Um, sorry. I'm Matthew Williams. It's nice to meet you." He stepped forward and offered his hand first to this Lovi, who had yet to move or say anything. He was his roommate, apparently; he should be greeted first, right?

His roommate blinked at him in confusion for a moment before squinting at him suspiciously but moved to take his hand anyway. "Lovino Vargas. This idiot is my brother, Feliciano."

"Ve, call me, Feli!" Feliciano moved to take his hand and shook it enthusiastically. Goodness, he had a lot of energy.

"Great. You both can call me Mattie or Matt if you want. Neither bothers me." When Lovino nodded and moved further into the room towards his stuff, Feliciano started speaking again.

"Okay, Mattie. Are you a first year, too?"

"Uh, yes—"

"This is the freshmen dorm, Feli," Lovino, grumbled under his breath, still loud enough to be audible.

Feliciano seemed to roll his eyes. "I know that, Lovi, but some sophomores live here, too, and RAs can be upperclassmen."

"Um, it seemed like you two were talking about something when you came in. I can leave and give you some privacy, if you like. I don't want to intrude."

Lovino frowned at him. "I'm not going to kick you out of your own room, Matthew, but I appreciate the offer."

"Besides, we should get to know each other!" Feliciano said. Matthew winced internally, not really up to dealing with Feliciano's energy level.

Lovino saved him. "Don't you have your own roommate to get to know?"

Feliciano pouted a little. "He hasn't shown up yet. You know that, Lovi."

"Why did you guys move in early, if you don't mind me asking? I had to because I'm an athlete. Do you play something?"

"Yep! We're on the footba—sorry, soccer team. What do you play, Mattie?"

"Let me guess…" Lovino gave him a slow look up and down that made him flush again. Good lord. "…you run track? Or maybe swim?"

"Ah, no. But those were good guesses." Matthew wasn't as solidly built as his brother, let alone the other members of his team. What he lacked in strength he made up with speed, cunning, and sheer ruthlessness. People underestimated him because of his personality and size. It was a mistake, when acted on, they didn't make twice unless they were particularly thick. "I actually play hockey."

Feliciano's eyes widened, showing they were a startling gold color, and Lovino raised his eyebrows at him. "Dangerous sport for someone as nice as you."

Matthew looked at his roommate. "Just because I prefer to be nice doesn't mean I can't be mean."

Lovino smiled at him for the first time. "You know, Mattie, I think this roommate thing might just work out."

Feliciano looked at them askance before shrugging. "That's good. Ve, do you know anyone else here, Mattie?"

"No, not at all. I think a few people from my high school are going here, though I'm not sure. My brother might know."

"You have a brother?" Feliciano seemed intent on asking him questions, but Matthew wasn't going to complain. It was nice to have someone show interest and without him there, an awkward silence might follow. This was fine.

"Yes, a twin. He's starting school a bit farther north."

"What's his name?"

"Alfred. Hope you never meet him."

"Why?"

"He can be a lot to handle."

"What are you studying?"

Jesus. There's questions then there's an interrogation. "History and French, but I'm pre-law. How about—"

"Oooh, what kind of law?"

"I'm not really sure yet. Um—"

"Christ, Feli, let the guy—"

"Are you gay?"

"Pretty sure but I don't-!" Holy shit. Matthew slapped a hand over his mouth and stared at a grinning Feliciano in shock.

"What the everloving fuck, Feli! We just met the guy!" Lovino looked upset and that made Matthew fear that he would be for more than one reason.

Feliciano shrugged. "What? It's good to know if the person you're living with is going to be homophobic or not. If not for a general human assessment, then it was good for me to know how to act around him." Feliciano looked at him and waved. "Hi, Feliciano Vargas, openly pan."

Still a little shocked, Matthew lifted the hand not covering his mouth and waved back.

"Still, that was way too fucking personal, even if Matthew is too shocked to say anything. Fucking Christ, you don't trick people into coming out to you."

"I just asked, Lovi."

"We all know you didn't just ask. Fucking shit." Lovino looked at Matthew. "I apologize for my brother, Matthew. He was just leaving." Lovino cut his eyes to Feliciano with a glare.

Feliciano put his hands up in surrender and started backing towards the door. "I'm sorry if I offended you, Mattie, but I needed to know. Don't worry; I'm not going to tell anyone without your permission. To answer what I think was your question earlier, I'm an art and Italian major. Ve, ciao!"

Feliciano opened the door then disappeared into the hall. Matthew slowly lowered his hands and looked at Lovino worriedly. "Um, will this be a problem?"

"I fucking hope not. Christ, my brother needs to learn boundaries. Ya think you raise 'em right then BAM! I can't fucking believe—oh, you meant that you're gay."

Matthew laughed a little, nervous. "Something like that. Yes, that's what I meant."

"Only if you have a problem that I'm bi, too. And for the sake of peace, can we agree here and now not to date each other, at least for the year? It's not that I wouldn't want to date you because you're kind of ridiculously attractive and appear to be one of those rare people I can bear to be around for extended periods of time. It's just, if we broke up and still had to be roommates, it would be too fucking awkward." Lovino had turned cherry red by the time he was done talking and was glaring angrily at the floor. It made Matthew smile, though he didn't know how to deal with the ridiculously attractive part, especially considering who was talking. He opted to ignore it.

"Sounds like a plan to me. Friends?"

Lovino looked up at him and the corner of his mouth twitched. "You'll do."

Maybe this whole college thing didn't have to be as miserable as he was expecting.

Chapter Text

"No, that idiot is exactly two years younger than me. I took a couple years to work after finishing high school. I wanted a break from classes and didn't really see the point of spending a fuckton of money on college when I had no goddamn clue what I wanted to do with my life."

Matthew nodded. He and Lovino had gotten hungry and had decided to brave the school's cafeteria. They were both on meal plans and more than a little apprehensive about the food situation after high school. It wasn't anything to write home about, but it could have been much worse. "That makes sense. I'm here on a scholarship, so I lucked out a bit. I'm surprised you decided to go to the same school as Feli. I was so happy my brother took the offer from his school that I couldn't see straight."

Lovino shrugged. "He's an idiot, but he's my idiot. I've gotta look out for him, otherwise who knows what kind of trouble that bastard would find. Hell, the kid walks around with his eyes damn near closed. I'm frankly surprised his ass hasn't fallen down some manhole."

Matthew laughed and leaned back in his chair. "So what did you decide to do, if you don't mind telling me?"

Lovino rolled his eyes and waved his hand. "Matt, we're living together. You've got to stop with that overly polite shit. Makes me feel like I need to be in a monkey suit or somethin'. Also, what the hell do you want me to call you? You never said what you would prefer."

Matthew's mouth twisted wryly and he said, "Mattie. Now, you avoided the question."

Lovino smiled at him. "See, that wasn't so fuckin' hard, was it? I worked at a local gardening center for those years and found that I really like plants, especially tomatoes. So I'm here for their botany program. I'm also in Italian, but that's more because I already know it and want to get the language requirement out of the way."

Matthew raised an eyebrow. "Tomatoes?"

"Oi, you got a problem with tomatoes?"

Matthew laughed and put his hands up in surrender. "I have no opinion on tomatoes."

"Damn fuckin' right. Tomatoes are the shit, man, you have no—" Lovino's eyes were drawn to something behind Matthew, which was most of the rest of the room. "Ah, fuck me."

Matthew smirked. "I thought we agreed not to go there, though I'm open to renegotiation."

Lovino looked at him in shock before turning bright red and throwing one of his left over fries at Matthew when he saw that he was just teasing him. "You asshole, that's not what I meant. I met the rest of my team today and the fucker that is the captain just walked in. He called me cute in front of everyone and now I'm going to be endlessly teased. It doesn't help that Feli pegged him immediately as my type: tall, competent, and way the fuck out of my league."

"Okay, I'm having trouble believing that last. I'm pretty sure on looks alone you could attract just about anyone."

Lovino narrowed his eyes at him. "You need your prescription checked. Either that or you're fucking with me."

"You're joking, right? Do you own a mirror?" When Lovino's expression didn't change, Matthew said, "Oh, we are so having a talk when we get back to our room. In the meantime, point this guy out to me before I start waxing poetic about how gorgeous you are in a crowded cafeteria."

Lovino rolled his eyes but was visibly fighting a smile before pursing his lips and nodding somewhere over Matthew's right shoulder. "He's over there. The one with impossible eyes, just-woke-up hair, and a body Adonis would have killed for."

Matthew did his best to be subtle as he turned around a little to figure out who this guy was. He started to make like he was searching for someone when his eyes stopped on the first guy he had ever seen that made his hormones immediately sit up and take notice. Slouching in a way that made his rickety wooden seat look like a throne, the guy was smirking at something his friend was saying. Worryingly pale with a strange shade of silver as his hair color, he gestured pointedly. Since he was in a simple black tank top and grey sweatpants, exactly how fit he was easy to see, and his movement making the black ink of a tattoo on his back all the more obvious. When he turned a little towards Matthew to look at his other friend, Matthew felt his breath catch at the sharpness of his jaw, pink lips, and the startling crimson of his eyes. When his smile turned wicked, Matthew felt the sensation of static electricity race up the back of his thighs as something tightened in his gut.

A little dazed, Matthew turned back to Lovino with an astonished, "Fuck me."

Lovino took one look at Matthew's face and burst out laughing. Matthew glared at him until he gained enough control to say, "Fucking hell, Mattie. You look like someone brained you with a sledgehammer."

"This isn't funny, Lovino. Oh, I do not like this. Does most attraction feel like this? I feel like I'm losing my goddamn mind." Matthew groused testily. His mind helpfully supplied all sorts of wonderful images of things they could do together that had him blushing intensely. Fuck.

Still chuckling, Lovino said, "The fuck are you talking about, Mattie? You said you were gay."

Matthew looked around briefly and saw that no one was close enough to hear them. "I didn't finish talking. I was going to say, 'pretty sure, but I don't ever feel the need to act on it.' I know I like guys, but I've never looked at someone and just felt like, like—this." He started drinking the soda in his cup, if only to shut himself up. His eyes flicked back over to the guy before he caught himself, only to focus intently on Lovino's face. Looks like I'm a fucking open book today.

Lovino looked surprised and not a little curious. "Really? You've never looked at a guy before now and thought, I'd be down to bounce on your dick?" Matthew started choking on his pop. "Shit, you okay over there?"

Matthew glared at him and desperately wanted to hide as he felt his face turn red and his eyes water. In between gulping breaths, he emphatically said, "No!"

"Which question are you answering, the dick one or—" When Matthew threw one of his lukewarm fries at him, Lovino grinned. "Hey, it's a valid question."

"I hate you."

"No, you don't. We're friends." It was true. Despite this unfortunate incident, over the past few hours Matthew really did come to like Lovino, foul mouth and all. "Besides, now you understand what I was talking about. Hell, just looking at him made you curse for the first time in front of me. Oh, and to answer your question: no, all attraction is not like that. Whatever the fuck you just experienced seems like a class of its own. Mazel tov."

Matthew had regained his composure for the most part in more ways than one. The boy, no, man was honestly the hottest person Matthew had ever seen, but he was interested in his roommate, which was fine. Hell, he was happy for Lovino, if a little (okay, very) envious. "You had a point. I don't know if I should be jealous that you'll be getting sweaty with him regularly or relived. I have a lot of self-control, but I would probably end up making a fool of myself after a week around him."

Lovino groaned. "Not helpful, Mattie."

"Look, if you get blessed by the gods, just warn me before bringing him back to the room? Put a hat on the door or something and I'll hole up in the library. Alfred and his conquests had an unfortunate habit of wandering and I would really prefer not to walk in on you."

"Fair enough and same for you. Though it would take a miracle both for a guy like that to like me that much and for me to get over what a fucking bastard he was."

Matthew frowned. "First, I'm still sure he's in your league." He was so far out of Matthew's league, they weren't even playing the same sport, but that wasn't the issue here. "Second, did he do something beyond calling you cute?"

Lovino huffed out a breath and turned red, refusing to meet Matthew's eyes. "Not really. He was actually really nice to everyone. I guess it's kinda silly…no! It's reasonable not to want to be undermined before I even start playing, goddammit." And he was back to being angry. Matthew was going to leave that alone. If anger was Lovino's way of coping, who was he to judge, especially with his past.

Trying to lighten the mood, Matthew smirked and said, "Well, in that case, you wouldn't mind if I—"

"Oh, hell n—I mean, go right ahead. What would I care? Hell, you're a decent guy. Just don't bring him around the room. I'll see enough of his perfect ass and annoying green eyes at practice."

If Matthew's thoughts had breaks, they would be screeching to a halt. "Wait, what?"

Lovino gave him a deadpan look. "I said that, I wouldn't mind if—"

"No, not that part and for the record, I wouldn't date a guy my friend was seriously attracted to. The part about his eyes. You said green?"

"Yeeesssss? Antonio has green eyes. Why are you being so fucking weird about this?"

Matthew relaxed and laughed a little. "We're talking about two completely different people. What does Antonio look like?"

Lovino looked disbelieving but said, "Grass green eyes, wavy hair the color of dark chocolate, a wide smile, tan like he's been in the sun too long, and, to reiterate, the most perfect ass I have ever seen."

Matthew turned to take a second look and managed to look past the heart-stoppingly gorgeous guy he had seen earlier to find someone who matched Lovino's description. Face open and smiling, the person that had to be Antonio was very attractive. He also seemed to have an unusually attractive group of friends. Beyond the life-ruining albino, he was sitting with a blond, blue eyed man who was so beautiful he could have been androgynous. But something about his face made him seem very masculine and his expression made Matthew think he probably wasn't thinking PG-13 thoughts. There was almost something familiar about him…but Matthew didn't want to be caught staring to try and figure it out. The last guy at their table had his back to Matthew, but he would bet that the tall, lanky red-head would fit right in with his tablemates.

Matthew took all this in within about 5 seconds, not wanting to be caught looking. When he turned back to Lovino, he said, "Antonio sure has an attractive group of friends."

Lovino slowly started to smile at him. "So who's the guy you want to jump? It's only fair that you tell me now."

"Wow, it's been at least 30 seconds since you cursed. Have you started experiencing withdrawal?"

"Shut the fuck up, you bastard. Tell me before I guess and go up to him and say how much you want to—"

"You wouldn't."

Lovino pretended to consider it before smiling. "Nah, but it's amusing as hell to think of it. You're stalling."

Matthew bit his lip and sighed before saying, "The guy at Antonio's table with the black tank top and tattoo. And in my defense, red eyes are a hell of a lot more impossible than green ones."

Lovino's eyes cut behind him before he was even finished talking. Then he started to smile slowly, evilly, and Matthew regretted everything in his life that led him to this point. "I wouldn't have pegged you as the type that likes bad boys, Mattie. I can work—fuck, Antonio saw me. Time to go."

Lovino had turned that alarming shade of red again and he was now frantically piling his plates together to take over to the dish collection area. Matthew took pity on him and stood immediately, hoping to make it look like he had suggested leaving. He pushed in his chair and grabbed his plates, turning to take the long way around to avoid getting within earshot of the tragically hot guys. Lovino saw and said, "If we go that way, it will look like we are running away."

"Lovi," Matthew said with incredible patience. "We are running away."

Lovino stared at him for a second before shrugging. "Fair enough. And I'm going to let you call me Lovi because I like you just that much so don't fuck it up, alright?"

Matthew grinned at him. "Sure, Lovi."

They walked quickly, with Matthew walking on Lovino's left to try and shield him a bit. He also acted like he didn't see Antonio waving to them. It was probably best for all involved. Matthew felt a shiver go down his spine and barely resisted the urge to look over, fearing that someone other than Antonio was watching them leave.


Gilbert noticed immediately when Antonio's gaze focused on something outside of their friend group. Francis stopped complaining about the syllabus his professor had sent him and said, "Mon ami, what is it?"

"One of my new players is here. His name is Lovino and he's really cute, if a little angry at everything." Antonio smiled a little dopily and continued with, "But he was looking over here and smiling, so maybe he doesn't hate me after all!"

Gilbert looked over to see a relatively short tan guy, who was built like a runner and his face was cherry red. He looked as if he was pouting as he talked to someone who stood to leave. Gilbert could see the appeal, though he was more Antonio's type than his. "Are you sure, Tonio? 'Cause it looks to me like he's embarrassed."

"An' what did ye do ta make him hate ye so soon?" Alistair asked, as usual getting to the heart of the matter.

Gilbert looked back to his friend to see him start pouting as well. "I said he was cute. It was a compliment!"

"Where did ye say it?"

"…At the meeting today."

"Well, fuck, Tonio." Gilbert said, laughing. "I would hate you too if you called me cute in front of my new teammates, especially if I was a freshman and you were my team captain."

"And if I already thought you were hot," Francis threw in for good measure.

Antonio frowned and started to wave over to try and get the attention of the now leaving friends. "I didn't mean anything by it. I just thought Lovi was cute so I said so."

Gilbert turned to watch them leave and his gaze was caught and held not on Lovino, but on the friend who seemed to be doing his best to protect him. Tall, the guy had his somewhat long blond hair in a messy bun and was wearing glasses. He couldn't tell exactly what he looked like, considering the guy was wearing a sweatshirt and loose jeans, even in this hot weather. Gilbert didn't know why he was so interested in him, but he didn't fight the urge to watch as both he and Lovino left without making eye contact. It was only when the guy paused at the exit and turned to smile at Lovino that Gilbert realized that whoever this guy was, he was beautiful.

It was hard to be sure from his distance, but Gilbert could have sworn his eyes were damn near purple and kind. He struck Gilbert as soft until his kissable mouth smirked mischievously at Lovino as they turned to leave the room, his way sped along with a quick shove. He was laughing as the door closed behind them. The sound didn't carry over the noise of the dining hall, but the action made his face light up and had Gilbert blinking in surprise. It had been a hell of a long time since he had been so effected by someone's appearance and he wasn't sure if he liked it.

"Who was that guy he was with?" When silence followed his question, Gilbert looked at his friends only to see them staring at him. "What? Did I interrupt someone or something?"

Almost in sync, his friends started to smirk at him. Shit.

"Why do you want to know, Gil?" Francis asked, his tone suggestive.

Backpedal, dammit. "For Tonio, of course. If he makes friends with Lovino's friends then he'll have a better chance at getting the new guy to like him."

"Uh-huh." Alistair said, clearly not believing him.

"Lovi seems like a very angry person and Feli, his brother, said that he doesn't make friends very easily. They might be roommates or something," Antonio supplied helpfully.

Gilbert's eyes darted between his friends suspiciously. "It's not like I care. I don't even know the guy."

"Gilly," Alistair said, "we just watched ye stare at that boy fer a good thirty seconds. We know no one has caught yer interest since Roderich and can't help but be hopeful."

"Oui, Alistair is right, Gilbert. I may not understand your choice, but if you want to pursue him, then we'll support you. I'm surprised you even noticed him next to the beauty that was Lovino," Antonio glared at him so Francis quickly followed with, "But you did notice him. I can find out who he is for you. He did seem a little familiar, like I could almost swear I…"

Gilbert threw his hands up in exasperation. "Look, I noticed a cute boy, big fucking deal. I don't even know his name and you are acting like I'm ready to give the guy mine! Chill. For all we know, he and Lovino are dating or, hell, he could be straight as an arrow—but that is not the point."

"I'll leave it, but if you have the chance to get to know him, promise you'll try?" Francis asked, more serious that the situation called for in Gilbert's opinion. Yes, the whole deal with Roderich and Elizabeta had been one huge mess and sure, Gilbert hasn't exactly been lucky in love but he was twenty for fuck's sake. He had all the time in the world. And he had been busy! Between class and work, he had had no energy to bother with even thinking about looking for someone else, so their reactions were completely uncalled for. Hell, he would probably never see the guy again, but if it got them off his back…

"Yeah, sure. He looks friendly enough and if he's a first year then he could use a familiar face. Now, can we please get back to the topic at hand? Why don't we give Tonio the third degree about hitting on freshmen at a team meeting?"

"Hey!"

"What a good idea…" Francis said, focusing back on Antonio. Gilbert sighed and thought he was out of the woods, only to notice that Alistair was still looking at him closely. Shit. If Alistair got their head around something, then there was no deterring them from it. They were a computer science and computational linguistics major and probably the most dangerous out of their friend group, which was really saying something. If they wanted something, they got it, especially if it was information.

Gilbert shrugged mentally and raised an eyebrow at his Scottish friend before turning to tease Antonio. Since Alistair was going to do what they wanted anyway, there was no reason to worry about it. It wasn't likely to come to anything.


"Lovi! Mattie! Wait up!"

Both Lovino and Matthew turned towards Feliciano, only the latter with a smile. Matthew didn't resent Feliciano for tricking him into coming out earlier. In fact, he would thank him from not only breaking the ice but obliterating it between him and Lovino. It had allowed them to talk without a lot of barriers with those facts out in the open. He would thank him if he wasn't concerned that he would be reinforcing a bad habit. Not everyone was as comfortable as he was with his sexuality or other people knowing about it.

"Hi, Feli."

Feliciano had reached them out of breath but managed to huff at them, "Lovi, why didn't you answer your phone?"

Lovino frowned and pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Shit, Feli. My phone was on silent. What's wrong?"

"Ve, nothing really." Feliciano lowered his voice and they started moving as a group towards their dorm. "But I was flirting with this really pretty girl earlier and then I saw this reeeaaally handsome guy that I wanted to say hi to but I was scared and was hoping you could give me some advice, that's all."

Matthew laughed lightly to himself. "It seems like this campus is infested with them."

Feliciano's eyes widened. "What happened? There's more guys like that? Or did—ve, Lovi did you see Antonio again?"

"Shut up, you bastards, at least until we get to our room. Fucking hell, you would think we were in privacy, the way you two were spouting off other people's business," Lovino grumbled as they swiped in and headed for the stairs. Both Feliciano and Matthew just grinned at him. In the silence that lasted the journey to his room, Matthew marveled at how familiar he was to Lovino after knowing him no more than four hours. With any other person, that comment would have made him flush with shame and worry. But Matthew knew damn well that there was no one else around them when they were talking and that his new friend had just a sour disposition. Still, he kept quiet and so did Feliciano.

By the time Lovino was using his ID to open the door, Feliciano was nearly vibrating with restraint. Matthew had to bite his lip and look away to avoid laughing. The Vargas brothers were so different, it was funny.

Lovino was scowling as he motioned everyone inside then shut the door. It only deepened when Feliciano blurted, "Did you see Tonio again?"

"Why are you calling that bastard that stupid name, Feli? I might have seen him but that has nothing to do with anything—"

"False," Matthew interjected with a grin that earned him a glare.

"—And you were here to talk about something else, so get talking about that. Or, hell, soccer bastard is old news. Ask Mattie about the pale dude with a tattoo that made him want to get on his—"

"If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me. I fucking dare you to finish that sentence."

Lovino's mouth closed with an audible snap of his teeth and scowled at Matthew.

"Soooo, yes?" Feliciano supplied with a smile. He was looking between the curiously, like he was trying to figure something out before shaking his head and turning to poke Lovino repeatedly. "Ve, Lovi, do you like Tonio? I caught you staring at him when he was leaving and it's been forever since I saw you blush like that because someone said you were cute."

"Fucking Christ, Feli, just tell Matthew my life story, why don't you?"

Feliciano frowned at him. "But you texted me that you told Mattie you were bi. And he implied that he thought you liked Antonio, too." Feliciano then smiled mischievously at Matthew before saying, "Which makes me wonder what else Mattie would have to say on the matter?"

Lovino shot Matthew a look that was almost like he was checking for something and Matthew shrugged before saying, "Nothing really. Lovino pointed Antonio out and there was a mix-up when I thought that someone else was Antonio from his description. That's all." He didn't lie, but Feliciano was smart enough to look confused at his abbreviated explanation.

"How could you confuse Tonio with someone else? He's kinda distinctive."

It was Matthew's turn to look at Lovino who sighed and threw his hands up. "Okay, I might have only described him as somewhat attractive—"

Feliciano cut him off with a squeal and a rough hug. "Ve, I knew you thought he was hot!"

"Yeah, well, Mattie here thought I meant some guy with red eyes who just happened to be at that bastard's table. And I don't mean that in the stoner sense, either. Did you even notice anyone else at the table or did you just eye fuck him then turn back to me?" Lovino lifted an eyebrow at Matthew teasing but also trying to obviously re-direct the attention. Matthew crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at him, though he wasn't actually angry.

"A: I did not eye fuck him."

"Yes, you did."

"B: Of course I noticed other people in that room."

"Yeah, no. I call bullshit."

"C: I would like to state for the record that I never said anything about going down on him. You were the one who brought sex into the conversation, not me."

Lovino looked at him pityingly. "Mattie, you didn't need to say it. It was written all over your face. I'm pretty sure that if he said 'fuck you' in your general vicinity, you would say, 'yes, please.'"

Matthew really wanted to deny it, but he didn't want to dig his hole of lies any deeper. If someone put them both in a room together alone and the other guy was somewhat charming and a bit interested, Matthew knew he would be putty in his hands if his libido had any say about it. In theory, at least. Even thinking about it too long made him feel weird. He was left with nothing to do but glare at Lovino.

"Oooh, Mattie! You guys had the best dinner. I wish I had gone." Feliciano pouted and Matthew saw a way out of his embarrassing situation.

"But then you wouldn't have seen your guy, Feli. Who was he?"

"Yeah, Feli. What about this guy made you want to run to your big brother for advice?"

Instead of cheering Feliciano up, he just looked sadder. "In the student center there was this really buff guy who was reading a book and looked very serious. He had blond hair and really pretty light blue eyes. I didn't want to bother him and he looked a little scary and too smart for someone like me but he was so pretty and I want to be his friend but, ve, I don't think he'll like me."

Matthew was knocked speechless but Lovino blew up. "Oi, what the fuck did I tell you about that, idiota? There are different kinds of smart and which one of us is here on a super fucking completive art scholarship, hm?"

Quiet, Feliciano said, "Me."

"Damn fuckin' right, you. If he can't see that then you don't need to be around him." Lovino nodded decisively like that was the end of the discussion, but Feliciano still looked sad.

Matthew said, "And you don't know that he won't like you, Feli. Just be yourself around him and maybe ask him what he's reading about if he looks like he would be open to talking to someone. But if he looks really engrossed, it might not be good to interrupt him. I'll keep an eye out for him on campus, but I really think you shouldn't worry. Classes haven't even started yet and neither has practice for us. You never know who you might meet, like that girl you were talking to earlier. What was she like?"

"You mean Eliza?" Feliciano's face lit up. "She was very nice and asked me if I was new and offered to give me directions if I ever got lost. I even got her phone number! She said that she was dating someone but was always looking for new friends, so I'm happy we got to talk."

"See what I mean? And the rest of the student body isn't even here yet. You might even meet someone more attractive than that guy you saw today."

"Ve, thanks Mattie, Lovi. That really helps. Oh, Mattie, what's your schedule like? I want to see if we have any classes together."

They spent the next hour or so talking about schedules, upcoming practices, and clubs they might want to join. Matthew couldn't help but think that he really got lucky with his roommate, but still didn't have much hope for making a lot of friends outside these two. It was easy for Feliciano to make friends as his encounter with Elizabeta showed and Matthew was sure he wouldn't have a problem meeting people. He was another matter altogether but, all told, he was happy with his situation. Really, hoping for anything else seemed like asking too much. He just needed to get his feet on the ground and survive his first semester. That was going to be hard enough as it was. He hoped he was up to the task.

Chapter Text

Matthew looked at the syllabus in his hand and fought off a growing wave of panic. The assignments were reasonable enough for this level of class and it was his own fucking fault anyway for taking a class designed for sophomores his first semester. The problem was, all of his other classes were like this or worse, with both final papers and exams at the end of the term, all due at the same time, with the same level of work throughout the semester. Because the universe hated him, everything was due at the height of hockey season. And he still hadn't gone to his last course!

To add insult to injury, this wasn't even a class he wanted to take. Here he was, fulfilling that last stubborn science credit that his AP scores didn't take care of, dreading every second. He understood the reasoning behind the core curriculum, but damn if he didn't wish it would go away. Abnormal psychology was the most interesting class out of the bunch that didn't require a bunch of prerequisites and wasn't chemistry, biology, or physics. It was only for one semester, but fuck if it didn't look like a hell of a lot of effort for one class.

Then the professor's words began to register again and made his already low heart sink through the floor.

"…is relatively intensive class and I know that more than a few of you are incoming first years. You still have the option of dropping, but for now, I have randomly assigned each of you a study partner with whom you will meet twice a week. There will only be two check-ins with me during the semester, so technically you could not do this. However, I've found that students who do so get much higher grades overall, not to mention that convincing me you're meeting with your partner is worth 7% of your grade. Why 7%? It's the difference between an A and an A-, a 4.0 and a 3.7 in this university's GPA scale. That should be incentive for the most ambitious of you."

Fucking hell. Between all of his other classes and hockey, Matthew didn't exactly have time for this. But it looked like he was going to have to make time.

"Now that I've explained everything, I'm going to call out the pairs. When I'm done, you're dismissed, though I suggest talking to your partners to set up meeting times before I go."

Matthew sat back and waited, taking a minute to absorb everything. He was taking five classes this semester, which was a reasonable amount and necessary for if he wanted to graduate on time with two majors and a pseudo-minor. He was going to have to get used to the course load, especially since he would need to start taking upper-level classes soon enough. At least he wasn't stuck in class for eight hours a day like in high—

"Matthew Williams?"

Matthew's eyes focused once more to the front and he raised his hand. "Yes?"

"You're with Ludwig Beilschmidt."

Movement in his peripheral vision had Matthew turning to see the rather severe expression of his study partner. Matthew couldn't get a good look at him from across the lecture hall, but he noted his large stature and slicked back blond hair. He smiled at him and received a short nod in response before Ludwig turned to study the paper in his hands.

Fuck, Matthew thought, fighting the urge to slouch until he melted onto the floor and rolled down the tiered room. He had had a brief hope that maybe his study partner would be friendly and would make meeting twice a week something to look forward to, but it seemed like Ludwig dismissed him at a glance, just like his teammates.

The thought made his lingering aches from practice that morning make themselves known again. Ugh. He was planning on heading to the school gym after class to hopefully find some room to do some stress reducing exercises or at least a free heavy bag to pound his anxieties into before stretching, but he might have to delay depending on what his partner said.

As for his teammates, not all of them looked through him. The other defenseman that he practiced the most with, Nate, had come to respect him and their new goalie, Tino, was incredibly sweet. Nate didn't say much and Tino seemed to be attached to one of their older forwards and team captain, Berwald, though Matthew was a little unsure if it was entirely voluntary yet. At the very least, he knew that if anyone got too rough with Tino, he wouldn't be the only one throwing punches from their side.

Still, it was only the second day of classes and he was beginning to feel a little drained and he hadn't even started doing regular homework. Overall, Matthew thought he could honestly say he was fucked and not in a good way.

Not that he knew what that was like, but hey, who's keeping track?

When she finished calling out the pairs, the professor said, "Great. Welcome to the new semester and I'll see you on Thursday. Don't forget to read the first chapter of the book and to do the first assignment. I only collect your work every other week, but trust me when I say you do not want to try and start that an hour before class." With that, she left.

Muttering broke out in the room and people began to get up and find their study partners. Matthew started to work his way towards the front and over to where Ludwig was sitting, but it was difficult going with most people not seeing him until they ran into him and the general size of the class. When he looked, he didn't see Ludwig anywhere.

"Matthew." Ludwig didn't yell, but his voice cut through the crowd and made Matthew look towards the door. He smiled and headed over, determined not to be awkward.

Unfortunately, he tripped on his own feet when he finally made it to the door.

Matthew had a lot of practice with falling, nowhere near as graceful off the ice when he wasn't paying attention. He managed to catch himself on the doorframe, but Ludwig still reached out to steady him.

"Crap! Sorry." Matthew said, face turning red and shoulders hunching. He was looking at the floor, hoping a hole would open to swallow him up and aware that, even with his height, Ludwig made him feel delicate. Not many people had that ability.

His voice was low, deep, and accented as he said, "Don't worry about it."

"Thanks. Um, should we…" Matthew gestured forwards with his hand.

"Uh, yes, that would probably be best."

Ludwig turned to almost march forward and Matthew sighed to himself. Not knowing what to say, Matthew snuck a glance up to Ludwig, who had to be about 6'5". Barrel-chested and with biceps Matthew wasn't sure his hands could fit around, Ludwig was brutally handsome with a strong square jaw and patrician nose. His eyes were a cold, light blue and Matthew frowned at the feeling that he was forgetting something.

Ludwig looked at him and, a little startled, Matthew tried to smile as disarmingly as possible. "Um, so full disclosure: I'm a freshmen and this is very much so not my area, but I work hard and will try my best to be useful. I play hockey, so my schedule is dictated largely by that, but unless I'm in class, my time is relatively free. How about you?"

Ludwig frowned at him and Matthew was able to hold his gaze, keeping his expression friendly. After a moment, Ludwig started to smile back, just a little. "I just started as well, though psychology is one of my majors. I'm not in any sport—" (Holy fuck, Matthew thought. How are you not playing football or wrestling with that physique?) "—nor club as of yet, so I'm usually free."

Matthew smiled wider. "Okay. How about we meet Monday and Wednesday evenings? I usually have practice in the mornings and games on Friday, but this will let us prepare for class on the next day. Does that work for you?"

"Yes, that's fine."

"Great. Um, I have to head to my next class soon, but how about we meet in the library commons around seven tomorrow? We can talk about the reading and go over the problem set."

"All right. See you tomorrow, then." Ludwig smiled then started to turn to leave.

"Wait." Ludwig paused and turned to look back at him, a little confused. Matthew blushed again but he did his best to ignore it. He pulled out his phone and unlocked it before handing it to him. "Could you please create a contact for yourself and include your phone number and email? I'll send you my information, that way if one of us has to cancel, the other won't sit there indefinitely waiting."

"Sure." When Ludwig silently put his information in and handed the phone back, Matthew smiled again and turned to go.

"Thanks, Ludwig. I'll see you tomorrow."

Matthew began walking, tapping out a quick text with his name and email address to Ludwig so he would know.

"Matthew?" He startled and stumbled to a stop when Ludwig called out his name. When Matthew righted himself and looked back, Ludwig was wincing and walking towards him. He sounded sheepish when he continued with, "I'm headed that way as well. Would you mind if I walked with you?"

Matthew grinned. "No, not at all." They fell into step and he asked, "You said psychology was one of your majors? What else do you study?"

"Criminology and linguistics. I'm hoping to go into national law enforcement after I graduate."

Matthew raised his eyebrows. "That's an interesting choice, considering the times."

Ludwig shrugged. "If there aren't some good cops, then who will punish the bad ones and actually protect and serve? What about you?"

"That's a good point. I'm a history and French major, but I'm also on the pre-law track."

Ludwig looked at him with askance. "So, a lawyer? Why that?"

Matthew smiled wryly. "You mean the one profession with a worse rep than cops, you mean?"

"When you put it that way…" Ludwig looked uncomfortable and Matthew cursed himself.

"No! I was just joking with you, really. I guess I could say my reasoning matches yours. With all the lawyers out there working to actively screw people over, where would we be if someone just as trained didn't fight back? Plus, my brother just started studying business and is about as unethical as they come. If someone like me were to make his life difficult…"Matthew smiled and shrugged at the end, earning a surprising light laugh from Ludwig.

"I take it you don't get along with you brother, either?"

Score! Common ground achieved. "You could say that. He thinks being six minutes older makes me the 'baby brother' which to him means clean-up crew."

Ludwig winced in empathy. "I understand. My brother has the capacity to be organized and neat, but he actively chooses not to. He says he's morally opposed to order but I do not think it's unreasonable to ask that his mess stays contained to his room."

"You live with him? I thought that all freshmen had to live on campus."

"My brother has a propensity to flout any rule he deems stupid and has like-minded friends that enable him to do so. I don't think I want to know how he did it, but I never got a letter from housing asking why I wasn't living in a dorm. It is much cheaper to live with him and it's close to campus, so I don't see the point in complaining." Ludwig's words were coldly logical but his tone was fond.

Matthew smiled. "It sounds like you don't mind it too much."

"I guess I don't, but it doesn't make living with him any easier. Our personalities clash like nothing else. I like everything in its place and he is actually studying how to professionally destroy things." Matthew frowned at him, confused, and Ludwig provided, "He wants to go into demolitions. He studies chemistry and engineering with an architecture minor. I'm disturbed to say how much I know about bombs and the structural weaknesses of most buildings just from him leaving his textbooks around."

Matthew laughed. "Look at it this way: he found a useful way to channel his destructive tendencies."

"You might have a point. I shudder to think of what he would do if he wasn't making things explode all day." They shared a brief laugh, then Ludwig asked, "Where are you headed? I know this campus is obscenely large, but we've been walking for a good while now."

"I'm heading to my French cinema class which is, of course, in the farthest possible location from the psych building. I'm seriously considering investing in a bike just to get to classes on time, but I'm afraid I would end up running into people." It was a legitimate concern. Classes that had gone on for the full time period were just getting out and the walkway was increasingly congested. "How about you?"

"Home; I'm done for the day." Ludwig frowned, like he was remembering something. "French cinema? Is that taught in French?"

"Yeah. I've been studying French since I was a child and spend last summer in Quebec, so I'm as close to fluent as I can get without being raised with it or living full-time in a Francophone country. Why do you ask?"

Ludwig looked impressed. "Just curious. I understand how long it takes to become fluent enough to understand films, that's all. German is my first language and I still don't get some references in American movies even after living here for so long."

"Oh, a lot of cultural references go right over my head. It helps to be in a class that will explain some of it."

"That would be helpful. Yet, even after someone explains something to me, half the time it doesn't make any sense. Oh, I know what I wanted to tell you. One of my brother's friends might be in that class."

Matthew was surprised but came to realize that he needed to turn off soon. "Really? Small world."

"Yes. I know this may sound weird, especially since we just met, but be wary around him, alright? I've known him for years and wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. You're very nice and Francis is very…he has an interesting moral compass."

Matthew would have said something like you look like you could throw him as far as you wanted to but okay, but Ludwig was very serious and surprisingly concerned. He remembered how intimidating Ludwig first was when he saw him and started talking to him, and wondered if anyone else had managed to get past his seriousness to have an actual conversation with him.

"Thank you, Ludwig, I appreciate the thought. I'll be wary if I run into an upperclassman by that name, though I can handle myself. I play hockey, remember?" Matthew smiled to soften the reminder. He gestured to the right. "I'm going this way. See you tomorrow."

"I'll see you later." Ludwig lifted a hand and turned to continue the way they had been going, pulling out earbuds as he went.

Matthew turned his way, still smiling as he kept his eye out for the correct building. Ludwig was nice, if a little too serious for his own good. He hoped that they could become friends, though the pressure to not seem completely lost at their study sessions was now in the forefront of his mind. He would have to study for the study sessions. Matthew sighed. Looks like I'm heading to the library after class.


It turned out that there wasn't a Francis in his class, but something about the name bothered him. Matthew didn't think he knew anyone named Francis who spoke French, but it still felt like he was forgetting something.

"Ve, Mattie, what are you thinking about?"

Forgetting something other than Feliciano's mystery man, apparently.

"Feli, can you describe that guy you saw last week again? With a bit more detail?"

Lovino groaned aloud. "Ah, hell, Mattie. Why'd ya have to bring up him again? It's been—"

"You think you've seen him?!" Feliciano asked, excited.

They were sitting in one of the corners of the dining hall, trying to take in as many calories as possible. Lovino and Feliciano had their first game on Friday and looked like a stiff wind would knock them over. Matthew was just hungry.

"Feli, I don't know why you're so fuckin' hung up on this guy. The campus is actually lazy with hot people and you pick one random dude you saw once."

"But I was drawn to him. Ve, I think I swooned when he adjusted his glasses. And you don't get to talk, Lovi. You see Antonio every day and don't think I don't see you watching him every time he turns his back. And at least I'm doing something about what I feel, unlike you two."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Lovino looked apocalyptic.

"Whoa, do not bring me into this. I'm just a helpful bystander." Also, he didn't feel anything about anyone, thank you very much. That thing that happened the other day was a fluke. He hadn't suddenly felt sexual attraction for anyone else, not even Ludwig who was certainly deserving of a lustful thought or two. He had mixed feelings about the whole thing but decided not to dwell on it; it was what it was. As far as Matthew was concerned, Antonio's hot friend was his version of a unicorn; you might see one once, but never again. It would be a waste of time he didn't have trying to find him.

The two brothers, oblivious to Matthew's internal monologue, carried on.

"It means, Lovi, that you like him more than you're letting on and are doing nothing to about it."

"I do not like that tomato bastard!" Lovino said loudly, drawing the looks of a few other tables. His face turned red and he pointedly took a very large bite of pizza.

Something clicked in Matthew's head. "Wait a second. Tomato bastard?"

"I guess Lovi didn't tell you?" Feliciano grinned at him and Lovino took a larger bite of pizza. "Tonio's in his department, researching tomatoes. Ve, when Lovino introduced himself in his first botany class and said that he liked tomatoes, his oh-so-helpful professor put him in contact with Tonio."

"It isn't like I could tell someone who will probably be my major advisor 'sorry, can't meet with the person doing the most research on my subject even though you went through the effort to reach out to him very fast just because he's my team captain and I—'" Lovino cut himself off sharply, to Feliciano's great amusement, before he could finish the thought.

Yikes. It seemed like the universe was conspiring against him. If Lovino didn't look so embarrassed that his eyes were watering, Matthew would have laughed at the circumstances. As it was, he said, "That's rough, buddy. But, Feli, you said he had glasses…?"

Feliciano frowned before smiling brightly. "Oh, right! He had light, almost platinum blond hair slicked back. His eyes were a surprising pale blue. Oh, and he looked like he could bench press all of us without trying too hard. He was wearing jeans, a white button-up shirt, and what looked like black boots."

Yep, that sounded like Ludwig, minus the glasses. Matthew almost shook his head. What were the odds of this happening? At least now he had a reason to be damned glad that he wasn't attracted to his study partner.

"I might know him, Feli, and he seems nice, but let me get to know him a little first before I introduce you two? He definitely seemed like the type to take to people slowly and I don't want to scare him off."

Feliciano nodded quickly. "Sure, Mattie. I trust you. Can you at least tell me his name?"

"It's Ludwig. Tell you what: why don't you swing by the library commons about 7:30 on Monday? I can introduce you in passing since we will be studying and you can tell me later if he is actually the right guy." Monday was much better than tomorrow, in Matthew's opinion. He barely knew Ludwig and didn't want to scare off a potential friend with overeager match-making.

"Okay." Feliciano frowned a little. "What do you mean, 'studying?' We don't have any classes together and how would you know—"

"Oh, sorry. Ludwig was my assigned study partner for my psych class and we're meeting in the main library on Monday."

Lovino, who had been uncharacteristically quiet, nearly dropped his soda at the news. "Holy shit. You've got to be fucking with me right now."

"Wow, how lucky is that! What can you tell me about him? What's he studying? Which dorm does he—"

"Feli, wouldn't you want to get to know him yourself? To have Ludwig tell you?" Also, Matthew didn't feel comfortable giving away his information like that. It wasn't like it was told in confidence, but it felt like spying on someone he barely knew.

"Ve, good point, Mattie. Between me with Ludwig and Lovi with Tonio—"

"For fuck's sake, I'm not even interested in him!"

"—we just have to find your guy, Mattie. And Lovi, please stop saying that. We don't believe you. Thou doth protest too much," Feliciano said with a giggle.

Between the near hour of grumbling Matthew has had to endure about Antonio near daily and the oh-so-specialized nicknames, that was a safe assumption for Feliciano to make. But the other thing…"Oh, no. No, nothing has to be done about me. I saw the guy once and have no attachment to him. He's not my anything. So just forget about him because I have."

On the same side for once in that conversation, both Lovino and Feliciano looked like they didn't believe him. Fuck.

"Mattie, where are we sitting?" Lovino asked, like he was explaining something very elementary.

"In the cafeteria. What does that-?"

"We're sitting in the corner of the cafeteria and you're sitting with your back to the corner. You can see the entire room."

Matthew realized that they were right and he had led them to the table. "So? There's a lot of people here and this was one of the few tables left. I don't see why—"

"Ve, this is the third time in four days you've chosen this table. And there were a loooot fewer people here when we walked in."

What? "Really? Huh, I didn't realize that." Matthew got quieter, seeing where this was going. He really hadn't been paying attention.

"And your eyes do a scan of the room every two minutes, like goddamn clockwork. I don't even know if you mean to do it or if it's a fucking automatic response at this point."

Matthew slouched in his seat and said, "Okay, maybe I didn't forget about him. But I seriously don't have time to even worry about that. Also, for the love of God, please don't ask Antonio about his friend."

Feliciano snorted. "Fine. But, honestly, like we do? Ve, you gotta make time, Mattie. What's life without a little fun?"

"This idiot has a point. You can't spend all your time in practice and studying, it's just not healthy."

"That's all I did in high school." Conversations continued around them, Matthew was sure, but his two friends were silent for once, staring at him with open mouths and a steadily increasing horror. It was their quiet that was unsettling and made him feel like he could have heard a pin drop, even if that was completely illogical. "What?"

Feliciano looked at Lovino, eyes wide and face serious. "Lovi, I know you don't want to, but you have to now."

Lovino actually nodded. "I'll consider it fucking community service."

This wasn't unsettling at all. "Guys, what are you talking about?"

As one, they turned to him and Matthew has never felt as hunted as he did then. Whatever they wanted, just no.

"You're going to our game on Friday, right?"

"Yes…"

"Ve, then you should come to the team party afterwards."

"No."

"Ah, come on, Mattie. You'll need a break by then. Hell, we'll all need the break."

"No. It will be a team bonding thing and I don't want to get in the way of that."

"I'll ask Tonio if you can come, just to be sure. I'm sure he won't mind!"

"I hate parties, guys. I never know what to do at them and feel awkward."

Lovino snorted. "We wouldn't take you with us then fucking abandon you, Mattie. We would all hang out."

Matthew clenched his teeth in frustration. He was running out of excuses, but he really did not like parties. Maybe he should try to have more fun, but a college party seemed like being dropped in the middle of the ocean to learn how to swim. It didn't help that Matthew was entirely sure if he wanted to see—okay, that was a lie. He wanted to see his unicorn again (yes, that was exactly how Matthew was going to think of him: beautiful, mythical, and thoroughly out of his grasp), but he didn't know if it would be wise. He also didn't know how to get them to let this go, but Matthew was a master at delay tactics. "Look, let me use this weekend to get my feet on the ground. Between classes and morning practices, I'm exhausted and it's only Tuesday. I'll use the weekend, including Friday night, to get ahead and I might go to the next party. My scholarship is both athletic and academic and I'm going to apply to law school. I can't get behind my first semester."

The both looked like they wanted to argue, but couldn't think of a good enough argument to counter I can't lose my scholarship. Lovino said, "Fine. But you have to agree to go to the next party after this one, which is after our next home game."

Matthew still hesitated. "I don't—"

"Ve, that's two weeks from now, Mattie, and before your first game. It would be a perfect time to go out with us. Plus, this gives you more time to plan ahead."

Fuck. "Okay, I'll go, but only if Antonio says it won't be a problem."

Feliciano grinned while Lovino shook his head at him. "Mattie, we've got to work on that damn over politeness. This is college; no one gives a shit about formality."

"Great! Lovi will ask Tonio tomorrow."

"I'll do what now?"

Lord help him.


Lovino could not fucking believe he let his brother talk him into this. He could believe even less the timing of it all.

He took a deep breath and marched himself over to where Antonio was talking to one of the new recruits, Kiku. The guy was alright and Feliciano just adored him for some reason that Lovino didn't try to understand. Kiku saw him coming and seemed to make some polite excuse to exit the conversation.

Antonio was staring after him with a confused frown when Lovino said from behind him, "Oi, bas-Antonio. Do you have a minute?"

Antonio whipped around, causing his hair to swoop to the side across his forehead. His green eyes brightened with a surprised smile and Lovino let off a stream of curses in his head. Whatever he might say aloud, his team captain was the hottest guy he had ever seen, a fact he was forcibly reminded of as he took in the sweat soaked shirt that clung to his torso. Maybe he should have asked before practice…

"Hi, Lovi! Sure, I always have a minute for you. Is it about the email I got from Dr. Johnston?"

Lovino, to his great displeasure, turned red at the statement. Jesus, does this asshole know what that sounds like? "Ah, no, though you really don't have to do anything about that…"

If Lovino hadn't known it wasn't true, he would have sworn Antonio cooed at him. "¡Ay, eres muy lindo, Lovi!"

"The fuck does that—"

"I want to help you. Not many people like tomatoes and it would be great to talk about them with someone."

God fucking dammit. Lovino would never turn down the chance to talk about and learn more about tomatoes. "Okay, fine, but look, I have this friend who doesn't get out much. If I can't get Mattie to take a break, I actually think the kid will fucking lose it by October. But he's super hung up on formalities and I had to double check with you to make sure we can bring friends to the after-game parties. So, is that okay?" By the time he was done talking, Lovino was looking at the ground, feeling way too awkward. It felt a little too much like asking his grandfather if a friend could come over to hang out and if Lovino hated one thing about living at home, it was having to ask permission to do the simplest things.

"Of course he can come. Everyone brings some friends out with us and—"

"Great, thanks. See you later!" He had gotten what he wanted; now seemed like the perfect time to beat a hasty retreat.

"Wait, Lovi! What does Mattie-"

Too late, bastard! Lovino was already picking his stuff up on the other side of the field and racing back to his room. Oh, right. That was why he waited until after practice. Sure, he would have inconvenient thoughts about that clingy shirt later, but he could now avoid Antonio indefinitely if he was careful. Worth it.


Matthew was sitting in the library waiting for Ludwig to arrive (he had been there for an hour or so working on other things) when his phone buzzed from its place on the table. He looked at his phone with trepidation when a text message came through. He had been dreading hearing from Lovino all day and it looked like the wait was finally over.

Lovi: ur good 4 the party + am now out of excuses bastard

Well, shit. It wasn't like he expected Antonio to say no based off of what Feliciano and Lovino had told him, but it still felt like his hopes were dashed. To distract himself, he decided to tease his friend.

Matthew: Thanks, Lovi. I'm sure Antonio was thrilled to have you ask him.

It didn't take long to get a response.

Lovi: the fuck's that supposed 2 mean

Matthew smirked and was about to type out a frustratingly vague answer when someone appeared beside him and said, "Hello, Matthew."

Matthew startled but still looked up with a smile and greeted, "Hi, Ludwig." Matthew put his phone down and switched out the reading for his Latin American history class for the abnormal psychology work. "How are you?"

Ludwig sat down and started pulling out his work. "Fine, thank you. Yourself? I did not leave you waiting for long, did I?"

"I'm alright and no, you didn't. I just thought I would snag a spot early and get to work on history readings for the week. You're right on time."

Ludwig nodded, serious even as some tension that he always seemed to be carrying left his shoulders. "Good. I hate to keep people waiting on me."

"Me, too, but you weren't late, so there's no need to worry. Now, what did you think of the homework?"

Ludwig shrugged and they got to work. It was only introductory work, but Matthew got the distinct impression that Ludwig was going to be a difficult study partner to have. It wasn't that he was going to be lazy, ignorant, or otherwise a pain, oh no. The seriousness with which he addressed each problem like this was brain surgery and not a simple assignment, the sharp and frankly intimidating intellect of his gaze, the deliberateness of his every word and movement made Matthew certain he would be the dead-weight in this semester-long partnership. Considering they were only three days into the term, this was rather disheartening to realize. At least his grade for this class was guaranteed to be good since he would be studying to work with Ludwig rather than for just being one in the hundred sitting in a lecture hall twice a week. If he managed to earn Ludwig's respect by the end of it all, he would count it as a win.

The incessant buzzing of his phone might make that difficult, however. He had tossed the phone into his backpack with a hurried apology when the first text message came through, but the vibration was still audible. At around the tenth notification, Matthew's shoulders slumped and he sighed. "Would you mind if I checked that? It's probably my roommate, his brother, or my brother, and I can tell all of them to stop." Thus, Matthew had listed the entirety of his contact list (besides his parents) who would bother talking to him. He decided not to dwell too much on that fact.

Ludwig offered an expression that Matthew could best describe as half of an amused smirk and half of an empathetic grimace. "Go ahead. My brother periodically bombards me with texts, especially if he knows I am busy, just to annoy me. I understand."

"Thanks," Matthew mumbled as he fished out his phone. Six messages. Great.

Lovi: Mattie what does that mean

Lovi: I dont like him

Lovi: he just has a perfect ass and im not blind dammit

Lovi: dont ignore me im telling the truth

Feli: what did you say to him he's pouting

Alfred: hey bro hows class

Matthew shook his head and said aloud, "I was wrong; it's all three of them."

"Lucky you," Ludwig said dryly, making Matthew scoff lightly. He sent three messages in quick succession.

Matthew: I didn't mean anything, Lovi. I just meant that he was happy to have you talk to him without yelling. Now stop pouting. I'm in a meeting.

Matthew: I mentioned Antonio. If he claims anything else, I'm innocent.

Matthew: Hi, Alfred. Class is fine and I'm meeting with my study partner right now. I'll text you later.

"Okay, they should stay off my back for a while…yeah, no, that's a lie. But I can now say I answered them. What else do we have to go over?"

"We are actually just about done. It really was an introductory assignment, though the length does not bode well for our workload once the class picks up."

"I know what you mean. Between my classes and practice, I think me going to the activity fair on Friday would be a waste of time. I would never have the energy to make any club meetings."

Ludwig nodded. "There are only a certain number of hours in a day. I do not want to attend either but my brother is harassing me to go. He is the president of the MMA club and has threatened to do horrible things to me if I do not stop by his table and prove I talked to at least one group."

Matthew raised his eyebrows at him. "That's impressive and it sounds like he means well, at least."

Ludwig rolled his eyes. "Do not let him hear you say that; the last thing Gilbert needs is encouragement."

"He sounds like Alfred, if more well-meaning."

"Then I am sorry. That sounds like a particular kind of hell."

Matthew shrugged. "Thanks, but it wasn't all bad. We were perfectly in sync when we were playing or practicing. We are just very different people off the ice."

Ludwig frowned. "You played together? I did not—" Someone shushed them, cutting Ludwig off. He sent a cold look their direction that made the student turn away quickly, but Matthew figured they had a point.

In a quiet voice, Matthew said, "Yes, we were on the same team. Schools actually tried to recruit us as a pair, but it didn't work out and I know that was for the best. Hey, since we're pretty much done anyway, do you want to head to dinner? I haven't eaten in hours and I'm starting to get uncomfortable."

Ludwig looked surprised but said, "Sure, but I'm not on a meal plan since I live at off campus and commuter plans are so expensive."

"No problem, I can just swipe you into the cafeteria. You might want to go once, just to say you've had the college experience."

With skepticism plain on his face, Ludwig acquiesced and they headed across campus to the dining hall.

After about an hour, Matthew had gotten to see the value in Ludwig's dry sense of humor, had successfully argued that his brother was the worst, and had made a new friend, someone to balance out the almost frantic energy that came with the Italian brothers.

Here's to hoping it would last past Matthew's clumsy attempts at matchmaking.

Did Ludwig even like guys?

Chapter Text

Ludwig stepped in to the house after a surprisingly mediocre (he expected the truly horrific quality of his public school’s cafeteria) dinner with Matthew. The boy was hiding a cutting wit under his shy personality and gentle demeanor and had managed to startle him into laughter a couple of times during their meal. He still had a difficult time imagining Matthew as what he assured him was an “enforcer” position on the team. Hell, the thought of his classmate in shoulder pads conjured images of him being drowned in extra material, sort of like a retriever puppy peeking out of a pile of human clothing.

His mouth quirked at the image as he toed off his shoes and headed into the living room. His brother, lounging on the couch with a text book in his lap looked up in greeting only to stare at him for a second too long in what appeared to be shock, expression all the more dramatic because of his unusual but familiar coloring. Then again, he wasn’t naturally subtle at anything. Ludwig didn’t bother waiting for his only sibling to speak first. Speaking in their native tongue he said, “Hello, Gilbert.”

“West…were-were you smiling when you came in? Did something happen?” Gilbert gasped and slammed his textbook closed. “Did you meet someone?” He asked excitedly, and Ludwig winced.

“I am capable of interacting with people, you know.” He responded, dropping his bag by the couch and continuing onward into the kitchen. He knew they had some cider in the fridge and a hot cup of it sounded perfect. It also gave him something concrete to do when his brother did the predictable thing and pushed.

“There’s a difference between the ability to do something and actively choosing not to do it, which you do. Constantly.”

Point for him. He opened the fridge and groaned. “Did you drink the last of the cider?”

“You know I don’t drink that syrup, but it was probably one of the usual suspects. I’ll pick up more tomorrow on my way home from work.” Ludwig sighed but reached for the milk. Gilbert’s cadre of friends often came over during the week to get out of their apartments/dorms and study. They were eclectic and more than a little morally ambiguous, but Ludwig was generally unbothered by their presence. They respected his space and were good to Gilbert, helped him find balance in his otherwise insane schedule, so he couldn’t really ask for more. Well, except that they replace the cider when they finish it. His brother followed him into the kitchen and continued, “You’re avoiding the subject. Who’d ya meet, baby bro?” The last question was drawled in painfully American English.

“Please stop doing that and it’s just my study partner for my abnormal psychology class. We had to meet to talk about our assignment and had dinner in the cafeteria afterwards.”

Gilbert made a face. “You went to the Commons? Voluntarily? After studying. Man, you must like this person. Tell me about them. What’s their name? What are they studying? Are they single--?“

No, Gilbert.”

“No, they’re seeing someone or—“

“No, I am not doing this. You would just hunt him down and harass him and I would lose the one friend I have managed to make so far.”

Gilbert rolled his eyes. “One, you’ve already told me everything I need to figure out who it is.” What the fuck? Ludwig thought, immediately alarmed. “Two, I wouldn’t harass him just because he’s hanging out with you. That’s creepy as hell and honestly, ain’t nobody got time for that—” the Americanism in English once more. “—least of all me. Finally, is it so wrong to want to hear about your life? You know all of my friends. Can’t I know just a little bit about yours? West, I’m wounded.”

Ludwig regarded him as he sipped from his freshly poured glass. Now that he was thinking about it and considering how difficult it has been in the past for him to make friends, maybe Gilbert had a right to his curiosity and his barely concealed concern. And since he had apparently already given away the keys to Matthew’s identity if Gilbert really wanted to find out… “His name is Matthew. He is a history and French major and he wants to be a lawyer. He is quiet and kind and apparently on the hockey team. I do not know if he is seeing someone as that was irrelevant to our conversation.”

Gilbert smirked at him. “That’s never irrelevant. Is he cute?”

Ludwig felt his face heat and cursed his brother’s need to tease. “Objectively, yes. But!” He said, seeing his brother light up at the confirmation and cutting him off before he could start. “I like him as a friend, East.”

“Hmmm…” Oh, Ludwig did not like that look. Would he never know peace? “Bring him by the MMA table on Friday so I can meet him.”

“Absolutely not!”


The question as to Ludwig’s sexuality remained unanswered by the time Matthew spoke with Feliciano next on that matter.

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Feliciano asked at lunch the next day. Lovino was partially slumped over a shitty cup of coffee, exhausted and trying desperately not to listen. Matthew hoped his roommate was going to be okay between his game tomorrow and classes. While they supposedly in the middle of “syllabus week,” some professors said fuck it and gave them work. Turns out that after working full time, transitioning back to classes was jarring as hell.

Responding to Feliciano, he said, “I mean I don’t know, Feli. That’s not something I’m comfortable with asking him right now and it otherwise hasn’t come up.”

“What about your ‘dar?”

Matthew squinted at him confusedly. “My what?”

“Your gaydar, duh.”

“Uh, fresh out of those. Sorry.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m really not.” Matthew had never understood how people could guess someone else’s sexuality by looking at them. The way they just know without talking to the person seemed about as realistic as the Force. Also, Feliciano’s ice-breaking tactics aside, how the fuck do you find out someone’s preferences just from a casual conversation? Hi, my name is Matthew. Oh, nice to meet you. If you have a preference, what’s your favorite gender to fuck? In what universe is that actually acceptable? Okay, maybe in a fetish setting or sex club (which Matthew was aware existed, thanks), but that was…oh, nevermind. Lovino was saying something.

“—hew! Matthew are you even—oh, thanks for tuning back in. Anyway, as I was telling my thirsty-as-hell brother, there will be time for that later. Like, Monday. We have other, more immediate concerns.”

Matthew felt a brief wave of panic over having forgotten something that made Lovino stop trying to take in as much caffeine as possible and look so serious. “What? What am I forgetting? Shit, did I—“

“No, no, you bastard, calm down. You didn’t forget to go to a class or leave the oven on.”

“We don’t have a—“

“It’s a metaphor, Mattie. Right now, our biggest concern is…” Lovino smiled slowly and alarm bells went off in Matthew’s head. “…If you’re not going to come with us to the team party tomorrow, what are you going to do the first Friday night of the semester?”

Matthew tensed and answered truthfully. “Go to your game?”

“And…?” Lovino asked and Feliciano leaned forward in his seat, eyes intent as they waited for the inevitable disappointment.

“…and do homework after?”

Both Lovino and Feliciano groaned and threw up their hands dramatically. Matthew couldn’t help the twitch of his mouth into smile, laughing internally. No matter what they said to him, he was sticking with his plan.

Feliciano and Lovino could goad him all they wanted. But Matthew had logic, responsibility, and relentlessness on his side. And the only person Matthew had met who was more stubborn than he was when he put his mind to it? Was his brother.

Bring it on.


Resisting the will of his two Italian friends left him feeling rundown by the end of the day. Mounting anxiety over the speed of the lecture kept him alert through psych, but he was done. He luckily only had one afternoon class the next day, so maybe he could take a nap between practice and class. He considered his options as he walked out of the room, only to be pleasantly surprised to find Ludwig waiting (presumably) for him outside. “Hey, Ludwig. How are you?”

“Hello, Matthew. Quite fine, thank you. Yourself?”

Matthew smiled at his formal speech and said, “I’m okay. It might be a little hypocritical of me to say but…you know you don’t have to speak formally if you don’t want to, right? I would like us to be friends and all. If you prefer to speak that way, that’s fine. Just wanted to put that out there.”

Ludwig cleared his throat and Matthew could have sworn his cheeks colored a bit. “Of course. I would like us to be friends as well. This is…just the way I talk.”

“Okay, then. I won’t mention it again.” Matthew shot him a smile he hoped was reassuring while his mind started grasping at topics to keep an awkward pause from setting in. “Are you done again for the day?”

“Yes, I am. You have French cinema, correct?” They began walking towards the other end of campus.

“Nope. I only have that once a week and am going home to do some work. I have a bit more to read for tomorrow and want to get a head start on the weekend’s work.” He would probably nap or faff about online for a while as a break, but that was the ultimate goal for the evening.

Ludwig was silent for a second, not one to fill pauses with extraneous noises, before he said, “That seems wise. Between practices, games, and classes, you probably have to plan ahead. Are you still not going to the activity fair tomorrow?”

“Um, actually I’ll probably be forced along. My roommate and his brother are…active in their concern about my lack of social life and have asked me to at least attend to at least see what clubs there are. Why do you ask?”

Ludwig grimaced and Matthew blinked at the expression. If his new friend showed emotion or physically reacted to something, there was usually a reason for it. “I mentioned you to my brother last night and now he is rather annoyingly insistent that you show up at his club’s table tomorrow. As my friend, I am asking that you stay far away from the MMA club’s station if you do decide to attend.”

Matthew coughed to stifle his giggle. “Ludwig, you have to know that saying that mostly makes me intensely curious about the club.” When he blinked at him, Matthew grinned. “I’ll keep my distance, but I won’t act like I don’t know you if I see you and I will probably walk past the table once or scope it out. Is that fair?”

Ludwig gave a gusty sigh but Matthew saw a small crinkle at his eyes and a slight uptick of the corner of his mouth. “Fair enough.”


“I’m still not quite getting why you’re so gung-ho all of a sudden to go to this,” Lovino half-heartedly griped. He was pleased Matthew had come with him to look at what clubs first-years could join, but he was still unclear on his friend’s thought process. “You still don’t want to join anything, even though it’s the right thing to do. You fucking need community involvement, leadership or some shit like that to get into law school, right? So you need to pick something and stick with it. But, no, why do something for actual reasons when you can maybe meet your new best friend’s brother?”

“Lovi, that’s ridiculous,” Matthew said, smiling benignly. “You’re my new best friend. I am going to pick something to commit to, but that has nothing to do with whether I actually want to do it. And I’m mostly here because Ludwig specifically tried to keep me away. I will avoid his brother as requested, but a little curiosity never hurt anyone.”

“Pretty sure there’s a saying about cats that disagrees with you.”

“Nope. Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back.”

Lovino stopped walking just as they approached the crowded and noisy line of tables arraigned under a tent on one of the university’s quads. A thought occurred and he stared at his friend. “You contrary bastard. You’re only here because he asked you not to be.”

Matthew shrugged. “I can have multiple reasons for doing something. You were right that I do need to pick something for law school.”

“No, you stubborn ass. You’re here because you were specifically warned against it. God, is this why you won’t come out with us tonight? Fuck, you probably aren’t even going to work, are you? I know you’re ahead because of last night, so don’t even play. Now you’re just staying in because you said you would.”

Matthew winced. “Well, not really? I need to—“

Lovino burst out laughing, half not believing the situation, half relieved that Matthew had some kind of personality flaw. He knew there had to be something besides the occasional snark and it made his friend more human rather than the perfect student that he tried to make himself out to be. Future lawyer, indeed, he thought. “You better be happy I like you, you bastard,” he said, fond.

Matthew grinned at him. “I’m endlessly grateful for that fact, Lovi. Now, come on; let’s get this over with. Two minutes max per table, remember.”

“Remember? Bitch, I set the schedule.” Neither of them wanted to be here for a long time and Lovino still had to get ready for his game, aka to kick some ass!

They braved the first aisle of tables and into the crowd of chattering students. It was so cluttered it was difficult to see what each club was offering. Lovino knew he was scowling as he tried to push through the rows of students and had the distinct thought, I’m too old for this.

It wasn’t like he had aged significantly in the two years between high school and now, but he certainly felt disconnected from most of the other first years. They’re all so…eager and fresh. They all remind him a bit too much of his brother. Working and managing finances while Feliciano finished up school had left him bitter and he often thanked the random roommate fairies that Matthew was his roommate instead of one of the overly ambitious coeds that had pre-planned what frats and clubs they were going to join before arriving. For all his unhealthy work-ethic, Matthew was by far the most laid back and self-aware first year he had met.

There was a tug at his sleeve and he looked up to meet Matthew’s eyes. “Lovi, do you want to stop at the Italian club table?”

He wrinkled his nose. “Hell, no. If I wanted to be reminded of Italy I would call my grandfather.” He turned his gaze to the table array once more and paused as he spotted a patch of greenery. Community Gardening, their sign said. “I’ll go check out the green thumbs over there. Those are my people.”

Matthew smiled. “Okay, I’ll catch up with you in a second. I’ll investigate the French conversation club.”

He nodded and set off on his own towards the group’s table. He didn’t really know how to start a conversation politely, so he just walked up, met the eyes of a smiling girl he had never seen before and said, “What does this club do?”

While Lovino internally cringed at the statement, it set the green-eyed girl off on an excited explanation of gardening, sustainability, open community access to food, and he was sold. He felt good enough about his decision to sign up that he shot her (Bella) his most charming smile and a promise to show up at their introductory meeting next week.

Feeling rather self-satisfied, he wandered back over to Matthew and saw he was chatting hesitantly in French with one of the students at the table. He sidled up to him and (after checking that Matthew had already written his name down on the sign-up sheet) said, “Would you look at the time, we’ve got to go!”

Lovino pulled Matthew back into the stream of people by his arm and heard his hasty goodbye to the person he was talking with. Then he heard him laughing. “Lovi, you didn’t have to do that. You could have just poked me or something.”

“Sure, but where’s the fun in that. Besides, you should have seen the faces of the people around us. Anyway, we still have at least two more rows to walk down and I—“

“Lovi!” Lovino knew that voice, knew that tone, and froze. They were situated at the end of the first aisle, far too visible to duck behind anywhere or melt back into the crowd. He felt his face heat as Matthew frowned in confusion at first then smiled mischievously as Antonio walked over to them, waving.  He hated himself a little as he took in the approaching form, and admired him a bit too much for his own comfort. The man was fit. He met those deep green eyes and felt his mouth twist to the side in a half grimace-half pout.

“Yeah?” Lovino answered, crossing his arms in front of him, feet spread apart and hip cocked. “What do you want, Tomato Bastard? Don’t you see enough of me as it is?”

“Aw, I just wanted to say hi! I never see you outside of the lab or practice. Are you excited for our game?” Antonio asked, his vowels rolling and hair swept across his face with a lazy flick of his head. He stared back at Lovino as he asked the question, attention focused fully on him to the point that he felt the need to look away.

Damn him, he thought testily as he forced out, “Sure, I guess.” Lovino was actually hyper-competitive and was psyched for the game, but Antonio didn’t need to know that.

Matthew coughed to poorly conceal his laughter, probably because he knew the truth of the matter since he had been talking about the game for most of the day. It was a shitty attempt but Lovino appreciated it all the same.

“Hey, is this your friend?” Antonio asked and before Lovino had a chance to reply he looked at Matthew and stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Antonio! Lovi and I play on the soccer team together.”

“Really? You don’t say,” Matthew said coyly as they shook and Lovino was about to fucking lose it. “I’m Matthew. Lovi and I are roommates.”

Antonio blinked at his friend then smiled. “Oh, so you’re Mattie! It’s nice to meet you and you should definitely feel free to come to our after-game party. Friends of players are always welcome! In fact, come by tonight!”

“Um,” Matthew said, clearly startled at the invitation and Lovino saw the opportunity for what it was.

“Yeah, Mattie. Come to the party. It’s only the first Friday of the semester; you should relax.” Lovino’s tone was sugary sweet. The look Matthew shot him was not.

“I’m sorry, I have something else planned,” his friend demurred and Lovino narrowed his eyes at him. He would bet money that those plans, if written down, were do nothing/piss Lovino off. “I will be attending the game, however.

“Oh, I see my friend from class. I should go say hi and leave you two alone,” Matthew continued, eyes darting to somewhere over Antonio’s shoulder and Lovino felt a wave of disbelief that his friend was doing this to him. “Nice to meet you, Antonio, and good luck at the game!”

Matthew scurried off and Lovino watched him go, curious as to if his other friend was the one his brother was so intent on speaking to and feeling a little betrayed for being left alone with his team captain. He looked back at said person when he said, “You’re coming tonight, right?”

“Of fuckin’ course. It my team's party.”

Antonio smiled at him and his traitorous hormones sent a thrill through him at the sight. “That’s great, Lovi. It will be nice to hang out with you.”

He felt his face become beet red and just knew he was being messed with. “Why are you teasing me? I honestly don’t get it. Is it because I’m older than the other students? Is that it?”

“What? No, of course not.” Antonio stepped closer and Lovino realized that the captain’s most dangerous expression was not his smile. “We’re the same age, Lovi, so why would that be an issue for me? And I would never tease you about this.”

His heart was beating a worrying tempo in his chest and his mind was screaming abort, abort, abort! He looked down and stepped back, ceding ground but needing the space as he searched for some way out of the conversation. His eyes caught and held on who Matthew was talking to about thirty meter’s away and he grabbed his outrage with both hands. “Oh, hell no. That’s who Feli is interested in?”

The guy was standing tall with a stiff posture and stern face. The blond hair was slicked back and the eyes were an unfriendly, glacial blue. There was absolutely nothing inviting about him, not to mention the fact he looked like he could break his little brother over his knee without even trying. Oh, that was not a good mental image.

The topic seemed to catch Antonio’s interest as well. He turned to spot Matthew only to begin laughing. Without explaining what was so funny, he took out his phone and snapped a picture of Matthew and his other friend. Lovino was not amused. “What’s so fucking funny?”

Antonio’s fingers were flying over his phone as his laughter died down. “So many things. You said Feli likes Ludwig?”

“Possibly, to be confirmed. But, wait, you know him?” Lovino narrowed his eyes at the new information. How could Antonio possibly know him? How did everyone but Lovino know this bastard?

“Oh, yes. Ludwig is one of my best friend’s younger brother.  And he’s friends with Matthew? Oh, this is perfect. Gilbert had been curious about who his brother was hanging out with and now he’ll know. See?” Antonio showed Lovino his phone screen. He saw a group message called Four Horsemen* and a picture of Matthew smiling at this Ludwig character. Already there were dots dancing on screen as someone was typing a reply and something about the name struck him. Four people, huh.

“Hey, Antonio? Does Ludwig’s brother happen to be a tatted up albino? And does he happen to be in the area?”

Antonio whipped his head around and stared at him. Meanwhile, his phone received a messages in quick succession: first from a "D" which read unfuckingbelievable, then from a "F" which went with rotfl, and finally from "W" which just said, FUCK. “Yeah, actually. How did you…?”

Lovino felt his mouth widen in a wicked smile and said, “Think you could get him to just happen upon his brother so he can introduce himself to Mattie?” Two can play that game, Matthew. “Let me explain a bit about my dear, dear roommate…”


Matthew was chatting with Ludwig about clubs he was considering participating in when his friend looked to the side and visibly stiffened. Matthew frowned and followed his gaze only to see a laughing Antonio and a far too smug Lovino. That’s not a good sign. He asked, “Ludwig, what’s wrong?”

“I see one of my brother’s friends. At events like this, if you see one of them, the rest usually are not far behind.”

“Wait, are you talking about Antonio?” A thread of trepidation spread through him and he remembered the first time he saw the soccer player…and his three friends.

Ludwig looked back at him with wide eyes. “You know him?”

“Sure, just met him. He’s talking to my roommate. But seriously, what’s wrong? You make them sound like a plague or something.” Please, God, let me be wrong. Don’t let my new friend’s brother be my unicorn. I’m not prepared for this. It was one thing to see his unicorn again, just to prove to himself that someone like that actually existed, but it was completely another to be introduced to him. His mind was spinning, somehow doubting that Ludwig was related to the redhead from Antonio’s table, so that just left the blond and—

“You are not far off. We should go—“

“Aw, West.” Came a low, amused voice and Matthew almost had an out of body experience as a tall, pale, and muscled man dressed in a black tank top and low sitting distressed jeans appeared from behind the mass of Ludwig’s body to sling an easy arm around Ludwig’s neck and pull him into a hug. His hair shone light silver in the sunlight, darkly tinted lenses hiding eyes he knew to be red. Oh, God, this was really happening. “That’s no way to talk about your beloved brother.”

His friend all but growled, “Gilbert-“

But Gilbert (he had a name, he was real, what am I doing here?) continued like he hadn’t spoken. “And who is this? Your friend from psych, perhaps?” Gilbert’s accent wasn’t as heavy as Ludwig’s. It was more relaxed, almost lyrical in that tone and oh, shit, he was talking about him!

“Ah, yes!” Calm down! Stay cool, he told himself, while freaking out. “I’m Matthew. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise. I’m Gilbert.” He disengaged from Ludwig and offered his hand to shake. Matthew was reaching for it before he knew what was happening and could only hope his palm wasn’t sweaty. He did his best to smile as they shook, and he felt immediately as if Gilbert was weighing him with his covered eyes. He suddenly felt woefully underdressed in his plain blue t-shirt and jeans and felt a light blush rise to his cheeks. Gilbert’s lips moved to form a small smirk and his face fucking flared. Goddammit.

The handshake ended after a respectable amount of time and Matthew cleared his throat. He needed to regroup and be away from this conversation fast. “I should go; my friend and I—“ He gestured towards where Lovino and Antonio had been standing, but kept his focus on the brothers in front of him. “—are on a tight schedule. See you on Monday, Ludwig?”

Ludwig’s eyes were darting between him and his brother, but he said with pursed lips, “Of course. Have a good weekend, Matthew.”

He smiled and couldn’t help flicking his eyes to Gilbert before getting the fuck out of there.

As he walked away at a carefully measured pace, he heard Gilbert call out, “See you around, Matthew.”

He managed only just managed to trip over his own feet.


“You said he was cute. You didn’t say he looked like that,” his brother said to him in German as he watched his shy friend walk away. Ludwig, already disturbed by what he had seen pass between the two of them and the overly self-satisfied duo Matthew was walking towards, could only sigh and slap his brother upside his head. Gilbert barely flinched. “What?”

“Leave him alone or so help me—“

“Relax, West. It would take more than a pretty, pretty face for me to go for a freshman. Although… something tells me he could more than handle himself. He plays hockey, you said?”

Oh, he did not like where this was going at all. He grabbed the back of his brother’s neck and hauled him back towards the tables. “Aren’t you supposed to be at a table or something?”

“I was summoned and so I appeared,” he stated simply, saluting Antonio with his phone and continuing his running gag about being a demon. And that played rather worryingly off of he and his friends’ reputation of being the campus’ Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Well, horsepeople but Alistair apparently recognized the power of a brand and wasn’t bothered. Gilbert focused again on him and asked, “So, what are you two doing on Monday?”

Studying.”

“Are you sure?”

He knew his brother was just doing it to get a rise out of him but he couldn’t help running a hand over his face. Gilbert’s resulting laughter only confirmed that he was going to be insufferable.


Lovino smiled as Matthew approached him, Antonio still at his side for some reason. “How was your chat?”

Matthew’s eyes flashed in quickly banked annoyance before sliding over to Antonio and saying pointedly, “How was yours?” Touché. His smug expression fell and he felt Antonio’s eyes on him. They had taken mutual satisfaction in watching Matthew and Gilbert interact, and Gilbert clearly watching Matthew after he left. It made Lovino feel like he and his captain were a little too comfortable together for his emotional health.

He made a show of checking his phone for the time and said, “Looks like we need to get moving.” Truce? He silently asked Matthew, hoping he saw it for the olive branch it was.

“You know, I had the exact same thought,” Matthew said with a small smile. Of course.

“Food?”

“Food. Nice to meet you, Antonio.” With that, the two of them walked away from the activity fair, leaving a slightly confused Antonio behind.

When they were out of his earshot, Lovino said, “Soooo? His name is Gilbert?”

Matthew slumped a little and blushed. “His name is Gilbert.”

Chapter Text

Lovino was in a generous mood.

Why?

Because they had fucking rocked the game that's why! Fuckers didn't even know what hit them!

He was feeling so generous, he didn't try to get Matthew to come with them to the after-party one last time after dropping his stuff off at home and showering/changing. That didn't mean he wasn't going to keep him appraised of what a great time he was missing out on.

Lovino: u should have been here what r u even doing rn?

Mattie: Finishing my homework. And if you were having such a great time, you wouldn't be texting me.

Rude. Kind of accurate.

Lovino: Mattie it's fuckin midnight stop that

Lovino: and is it so wrong 2 want my bf with me?

Mattie: Are we dating now?

He looked at that again. Fuck.

Mattie: Antonio will be so disappointed.

Lovino: I MEANT BEST FRIEND, BFF

Lovino: fuck u

Mattie: I'm getting mixed messages here.

Mattie: You should direct those messages to Antonio.

Mattie: So I can finish my work and actually have the weekend free after practice tomorrow.

Lovino: U take that back!

Mattie: Nah. It's just us, Lovi. You're down to…how did you say it?

Lovino: Hoe, don't do it

Mattie: Bounce on his dick?

Lovino: omg

"Ve, who're you texting? Mattie?" Feliciano sidled up to Lovino suddenly, craning his neck to look at Lovino's phone and drink sloshing dangerously in his stereotypical red plastic cup. Before he could blank his screen, his little brother snatched the device away, scrolling up through his messages.

"What the fuck, Feli!" Lovino grouched, grabbing for his phone only to have Feliciano dance away, smile growing on his face. "No fucking manners, no goddamn couth. I did not raise you to be like this."

"Yes, you did, Lovi." Satisfied, Feliciano helpfully gave his phone back and Lovino saw there was a new message.

Mattie: You're just mad I'm right. We both know you like him and not just because he has the most perfect ass you've ever seen. I'm quoting you here.

Lovino: damn Mattie why r u coming for me like this

"So…." Feliciano trailed off, a little drunkenly. They both could drink a bottle of wine and not blink due to their upbringing, but however many liquors were in the punch bowl reserved for the team and whoever the makeshift bartender (a junior forward named Luciano) deemed worthy were far from their normal fare. Lovino took his cup and sniffed, recoiling instantly from the smell.

"Jesus, how are you drinking this? It smells like paint thinner and Kool-Aid."

"It's really sweet! The key is not to breathe when you drink it. And don't change the subject. Did you really say that?" Feliciano was looking at him seriously, the gold of his irises visible. He really meant business, then.

"So what if I did?" he grumbled. He took a sip from Feliciano's cup, scowling only to grimace at the overly sweet drink. You couldn't taste the alcohol at all…which was a bad sign.

"Get your own," Feliciano said, taking the cup back and gulping down a large mouthful in a move that had Lovino immediately worrying about his younger brother's liver. On second thought, as long as he made sure he didn't get serious alcohol poisoning, Feliciano could survive a cheap-liquor hangover. Let him learn from experience. "And it matters because he likes you, too! He's standing literally across the room. While you've been holding up the wall, he keeps looking over here, which you would have noticed if you left Mattie in peace and looked up from your phone once in a while."

He'd been doing a pretty good job pretending like he wasn't aware of Antonio whenever he was in his possible field of vision, but bringing him up had Lovino's eyes flashing to their fearless leader. He looked more carelessly perfect than usual, comfortable in the space and wearing a light blue button-up and relaxed jeans, veering from the more popular (and Godawful) pastel shorts that everyone and their brother seemed to be wearing now. Lovino looked away before his brother could call him out of blatantly staring. "I like holding up this wall. I'm good at it." Lovino mumbled.

The truth was…he hated parties, especially if he was sober and knew no one else there. Sure, it was his team's party and he was happy to be there but he honestly hadn't hit it off with a lot of people since coming to school and knew he was difficult to deal with for anyone who wasn't Matthew. He was also aware that he was different than a lot of the other first years. He was more mature than many of the upperclassmen, but they still treated him like a freshmen. Fair enough, but he was either too jaded or too new to fit neatly into any social circle at the moment. Hopefully joining the gardening club would help, but it was still the first week of school. He had tired of the same introductory conversation that everyone had with each other by the first day of classes. You know the one: oh where are you from, what's your major, which dorm do you live in, what clubs do you want to join, etc. Thank God for Matthew. He might have really felt like a fish out of water if his roommate had been anyone else.

"Fratello, the wall doesn't need your help. Come on, let's get you a drink."

No, nononono. Feliciano started pulling him from the wall towards the punch and Lovino's eyes widened. This was not a good idea. "How about no? No fucking way. No more liquor for me. That is a bad idea."

"Why? You're a nice drunk." Feliciano had never seen Lovino liquor drunk. Wine drunk, he was relaxed and talkative. Friendly, even. Liquor drunk…he was slutty as hell.

"Is there wine?" Lovino asked, already knowing the answer. This was a college party; there was no wine in the building.

"Nope! Just the punch, the keg, and the really hard stuff. It gets better after the first cup. No more aftertaste!"

Probably because you can't feel your tongue. Lovino would rather walk over broken glass than voluntarily consume the swill in the keg, but liquor was dangerous in a way he wasn't prepared to deal with. "One of us should be sober."

Feliciano shrugged. "Suit yourself. I just thought since you took a sip of mine, you wanted to. At least you're no longer attached to the architecture. Ve, let's mingle!" Ugh.

The party was being held at a house that a number of the older team members rented together, including Antonio. They were just on the edge of the campus bubble, relatively close to frat row, but far enough away to avoid most of the shit show. It was a three story monstrosity that fit into the more upscale neighborhood immediately next to campus. Lovino understood why it housed seven of his teammates; they had to have the numbers just to make rent, let alone the utilities…Meh, it was probably still cheaper than living on campus.

Lovino hated mingling. It was draining, he wasn't good at it, and he was way too sober to be comfortable making small talk. Next time, he was bringing a bottle of wine for himself or pre-gaming hard. He had a stash stored away in his tiny closet to last him until March rolled around and he was finally legal in this ridiculous country. Matthew didn't know about it, but he doubted the guy would care all that much. He wasn't as uptight about rules as Lovino would have expected for an aspiring lawyer.

Lovino made it through standing on the sidelines of Feliciano's conversations twice, managing to make appropriate noises at the right time, before he broke. "I'm getting a drink." If he only had half a cup, it might make things more bearable without making him lose all his inhibitions. It would only be half a cup.

Feliciano smiled as Lovino separated from him, weaving his way to the alcohol while checking his phone. He was prickly, but he wasn't rude enough to check it while he was supposed to be in an active conversation with people.

Mattie: Because you're my friend and I'm trying to get you out of your own way.

Mattie: Tell me you actually don't want him or give me a reason and I'll stop. But you like him, he likes you. From where I'm sitting, it's not complicated.

Mattie: I'm going to sleep now. Call if you need something.

Lovino sighed and put his phone away. It was complicated by the fact that Antonio was both his team captain and his unofficial peer mentor in his major. He was nice and they had clicked earlier in the day and Lord, but he wanted him physically. The way that boy moved on the field…

But one thing he didn't like was awkwardness. If Lovino let himself even consider the possibility of hooking up with him or sleeping with Antonio, there was a high probability it would be a one-time thing. Which would be fine, in theory, as it might get the boy out of his system. But Lovino had the feeling it would do the opposite for him. And one thing he wouldn't be able to stand would have Antonio avoid him or look through him when they had to interact so much just to get through the week. It was one thing if Antonio lost interest in him after one night together and they never saw each other again. It was another to see the apathy every day.

Lovino hated being morose, especially over a stupid thing like who he was attracted to. He knew he thought too much about things like this, but that didn't make him any less right. The attraction would fade over a couple of weeks. He just had to wait it out. Prolonged exposure was the key. Antonio would do something to kill his raging hard-on for him and Lovino would be glad for his restraint.

Right.

He approached the drinks and smiled at Luciano. He was the keeper of the mood-bettering alcohol; Lovino could muster a little cheer for him. "Hey, Lu."

The Brazilian smiled at him, no sign of his fiery temper that made him so effective in the game. "Lovino! Joining us degenerates, I see!"

Lovino shrugged. "Well, since no one else seemed to care about the fact we're supposed to stay dry…"

"Oh, that," Luciano said, rolling his eyes a little. Lovino looked the boy over. They were probably the same age and the forward was certainly worth his attention, looks-wise. They were the same height, Luciano with dark brown hair and rich brown eyes, athletic in the way they all were and…no. Lovino stopped that thought; he would not sleep his way through the queer members of the team. Lovino was not going to be that person. "As long as it doesn't impact your performance, no one really checks. Since this was our first win, you basically have a free pass. If you're going to get wasted, this is the time to do it until the season ends."

Lovino winced. "Being wasted is the last thing I need. Can I just have like half a cup of the punch?"

Luciano shrugged, "Yeah, sure." He ladled two scoops of the nearly florescent red liquid into a cup and handed it to him. There was a loud noise from the front of the house, then shouts of greeting. Luciano grinned at him as he passed Lovino the cup. "You might want to down that before the cops get here."

"Why do you say that?" He took a sip from his cup, a little more full than he wanted it to be, but it was fine. A ripple of tension and palpable excitement went through the room to Lovino's great confusion.

"I keep forgetting you're a first year. Let me explain something about our captain." Luciano leaned over his makeshift counter, eyes dancing with amusement. "He wasn't expecting to be leading the team this year. Yeah, he's damn good, but a senior named Francisco was supposed to have the title. Because everyone knew this, Tonio and three of his friends made a bit of a name for themselves last year. Wherever they showed up for a party, there was only an hour, maybe two at most before the campus police were called."

"Okay, then how did they keep getting in to parties if they tended to shut them down?"

"Because before the cops show it's the best two hours of the night. Everyone started taking their arrival as permission to let loose, so things get crazy pretty fast. For upperclassmen, having all four of them in one place is a sign that things are about to get wild."

Four of them, Lovino thought. Then he remembered what the group message was called on Antonio's phone. "The Horsemen. That's what they're called, right?" The music that Lovino had only been marginally aware was in the background cut out for a moment. Then it was replaced with something that had a deep, thrumming beat that made Lovino blink in surprise.

"Yep, after the apocalypse variety. Death just changed the music. They're the redhead. Famine's the blond and best wingman you'll ever find. War's the one with silver hair and can beat you in any drinking game, so don't even try. Also, he can end any fight just by walking up to it now."

"So, Antonio…" Lovino said, drinking absently from his cup. The taste really wasn't bad after the first shock of it.

Luciano's grin sharpened and he lowered his voice as he leaned in, just a little. "Pestilence. You need a drug, he's your guy. He's the middleman for a lot of dealers in the area, never selling personally but he's the best connection to have if you're looking for something recreational. He draws the line at the hard stuff and has been rumored to personally ruin the lives of people who used date rape drugs. That's what we think happened to Francisco, but no one's been able to confirm it."

"Huh." Lovino, went to take another sip, only to find that he had knock back the remainder of his punch. That had gone quickly. Too quickly. "What the hell is in this?"

Luciano straightened and winked at him. "Alcohol. You want another?" A group of young women dressed in…well, he wasn't exactly sure what to call them, but they reminded him of the pennies they wore during practice. Anyway, the girls were approaching them and his teammate turned a bright smile towards them.

He shouldn't but… "Yeah. Just a little, though." He could handle it, if it was only another half of a cup. "Do you have any water back there?"

Luciano laughed as he took his cup. "Nope!"

Lovino watched him proceed to fill his cup to the top. "Lu!"

"It's your first team party, Lovino. Enjoy it a little." The junior turned towards the women and Lovino sulkily sipped from his cup as he moved away. The atmosphere in the house had completely shifted, becoming more intense and seductive to match the music. His first instinct was to find Feliciano.

Once he meandered his way slowly back to the living room, watching the party evolve in fascination, he found the area turned into one mass of grinding bodies, a makeshift dance floor. If his little brother was in there, he didn't want to find him just yet. He looked around the room for someone he wouldn't mind standing near if not talking to, when his eyes landed on Antonio. He was talking with his friends animatedly, smiling and gesturing and Lovino wanted to know what his smile tasted like.

Whoa! The thought had him recoiling, blinking as he shook his head, turning his eyes away from Antonio. They found a group of female students looking at the Horsemen with appreciative eyes and Lovino decided he needed to find the kitchen. He needed to dump the rest of the drink down the sink and fill the cup with water. He hated to waste the alcohol (even if it was something cheap like Everclear) but that one thought was innocent compared to what he would be thinking if he allowed himself to drink the rest.

Lovino turned and went deeper into the house. Maybe it had been too long since he had drunk any serious amount of alcohol, but it was starting to feel like there was fire in his veins, pulsing with every beat of his heart. The feeling was familiar, was a sign that he'd had just enough to be a little freer with his affections than he would normally be. Considering how fast the shift had been and the fact that his current drink cup was now half empty (when did that happen?), he needed a glass of water.

He strode to the kitchen with purpose, trying to ignore the want in his body. It wasn't like it had been too long since he'd last been laid. He had had a friend with benefits back home and she had given him a wonderful send off only three weeks ago. It wasn't like he was in a drought.

Of course, out of all the counter space in the kitchen (which was a nice size for the house), the couple currently making out in it decided to stand in front of the sink. Lovino didn't care; he was a man on a mission. "Could you two move three feet in either direction? Maybe get a room? You're blocking the sink."

The girl shifted them over about one foot, but it gave him access so whatever. He poured out his drink, rinsed the cup, and then filled it with water, all the while awkwardly standing next to an otherwise engaged couple. I am both too sober and too drunk for this situation.

Lovino walked back to the living room, considering his options. He didn't want to leave yet, especially not without at least checking on Feliciano once. He checked his phone to make sure that he hadn't texted him, and there were no new messages. He was horny, but needed to stay away from Antonio because he would definitely do something regrettable. Maybe he could find someone else? There were plenty of girls here and at least some boys that swung his way. The problem with finding guys in this setting was making sure they weren't on his team, so a girl would be his best bet. It had been a while since he had been with a guy, but he didn't mind. Girls were awesome. Lovino surveyed the room, finding his previous spot on the wall conveniently empty as he sipped at the water and leaned against it.

"Hey." Lovino turned his head to see a tall, built guy looking at him. He had light brown skin, dark hair and eyes, and well maintained five-o'clock shadow. He was handsome, smiling at him, and Lovino smiled back.

"Hi." More like hello! Maybe it was possible to find a boy for the night after all. "Do I know you?"

"Not yet. I'm Sadiq Adnan," he said, offering his hand. Lovino straightened and took it.

"Lovino Vargas." They shook and the strength in his hand had Lovino's hormones standing at attention. "You're not on my team."

"No, I'm not. Is that a problem?" Sadiq hadn't released his hand, so they were just maintaining the contact.

"The exact opposite." Lovino made his smile wicked, inviting. "You want to dance?"

"No, he doesn't." Antonio appeared by Lovino's side, startling him. He was close enough that Lovino felt the heat coming off of his body and Lovino's id reminded him who it really wanted. "Why are you in my house, Sadiq?"

Sadiq smiled at him and it was mocking, almost cruel. Lovino pulled his hand back. "It's a party, Antonio. I came to have fun."

"Get out." Lovino had never heard that cold fury in Antonio's voice before. He looked at him and saw his eyes focused, jaw clinched into an expression that Lovino hadn't thought Antonio capable of. He hated Sadiq for some reason and that immediately made Lovino wary of the other boy.

Sadiq raised his hands in surrender. "I'm gone. You want to come with me, Lovino?"

Antonio tensed beside him but Lovino said, "No, I think I'll stay here." He shifted minutely towards Antonio and felt a hand come to rest on his lower back in response. He shuddered a little at the touch and immediately regretted it.

Sadiq looked between the two of them and said wryly, "Suit yourself."

He left then without further protest and Lovino turned towards Antonio. "You want to tell me what that was about?"

"We had a disagreement freshman year. He holds a grudge." Looks like you do, too. Antonio dropped his hand from Lovino's body, fingers brushing his hip on the way down. Any lingering anger drained from his face as he smiled at Lovino from the edge of his personal space. "Are you having fun?"

"Not yet," Lovino automatically replied, voice a little too leading, eyes a little too leering. He cleared his throat and looked away from the intelligent, enchanting green eyes, taking a large gulp of water. The slow, grinding beat of the music and Antonio's proximity with the alcohol made him hyper aware of the other boy and the pounding of his heart. I should leave.

"Why not?" Antonio stepped closer, asking in as intimate a tone as possible with the background noise of the party. He should push him away, raise a fuss over the blatant teasing and storm out of this situation but…

Antonio was looking at him like he was the only person in the room. He distantly remembered Matthew and Feliciano's words, about how his team captain wanted him and… He licked his lips and said, "I don't really like parties if I don't know people."

"You know people, Lovi. We're your team." Lovino shrugged, looked away. "You know me."

"And I've been avoiding you." Lovino answered casually, only to turn red at the admission. That was entirely too truthful and he needed to leave. But Antonio leaned into his space and Lovino was caught in his gravity, couldn't escape it. He was now on a collision course he was no longer sure if he wanted to alter.

"Why's that? I thought we were friends." Antonio had put on some kind of cologne before the party and the heady richness of it was filling Lovino's already scrambled senses.

"You're smart, Tonio. You can guess why." Lovino said, swaying closer to him before pressing himself against the wall to his back, struggling to remember clearly this was a bad idea. The effort was not aided by his brain helpfully supplying all the ways they could have fun together sans clothing. For example, what would it be like to run his tongue down the muscles of his stomach, along the V of his hips, and just—

"No, I think you need to spell it out for me, Lovi." Antonio moved just a little bit closer and leaned over him. Lovino tipped his chin up to maintain eye contact and he continued, "What are you thinking?"

"How much I...I—" Lovino cut himself off, breathing heavily and obviously. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard, trying to put a leash on his hormones, on the lust that was ruling him. He needed to do something…

Antonio touched his hand, dragged his fingers lightly down his palm and along his wrist, the light touch sending shocks of awareness through him. "Do you want to dance?"

Fuck it.

Lovino opened his eyes, having made his decision, and smiled slowly at the taller boy. Consequences were a problem for Future Lovino. Right now he was horny, being hit on by someone he had been lusting after for two weeks, and just intoxicated enough to make only the present matter. He ran his free hand up Antonio's arm and saw the surprise in his eyes. "If you want to, but I had something else in mind."

Antonio blinked at him and put his hands on his hips. Lovino was now determined to have the time of his life. "Like what?"

Lovino lazily shifted his hand to trace down the path of Antonio's shirt buttons. "Something that involves a bed and privacy."

Antonio leaned down to say in his ear, "I have my own bedroom."

Lovino felt his smile turn just a little evil. Antonio had no clue what he was like in bed, but Lovino was going to blow his mind. "Show me."

Antonio didn't waste time, taking his hand and walking towards the stairs Lovino had seen. Feliciano was standing by the foot of the staircase around the corner from the living room, chatting with Kiku. He saw his brother see him, took in Antonio leading him up the stairs, and grinned at him. He even went as far as to give him a thumbs up. Lovino felt the blush come as a natural response, but was also to the point of shamelessness, so he rolled his eyes and climbed the stairs. The sounds of the party faded into the background as they made it onto the second floor and started moving down the hall. There were a couple of people lingering in the corridor, but Lovino forced himself to not pay too much attention to them. Instead, he looked at Antonio, knowing he would finally find out if his hair was as soft as it looked and what he looked like as he came and what his body would feel like against his.

Antonio stopped in front of a door, pulled out a key from his pocket, and unlocked it. He pulled Lovino in then immediately closed the door and pushed him against it. The action sloshed water from the cup Lovino was still holding over both of them and Antonio flinched back. "Shit, sorry."

Lovino shrugged. "It's just water." He drank the little that was left and set it on the desk that was in reaching distance of the door. Antonio was back in front of him, one hand tipping his chin up while the other locked the door with a click. The sound signaled to him that they were finally alone, but Antonio was just looking at him from the short distance rather than doing something that they both wanted. "What? Is something on my face?"

"No," Antonio said, other hand coming to Lovino's hip and his body now pressing his into the door. Lovino gasped at the sensation, hands coming up to hold him closer. "I'm still surprised. You're sober, right?"

"Pretty close. I didn't have much to drink. I want to be here, Antonio." Whatever reasons he had for why he shouldn't be here had absolutely nothing to do with what he wanted. "Don't you?"

"Yes." Antonio leaned down and kissed him for the first time. It was tentative, as if Antonio was still unsure of his welcome even with his body pressed against Lovino's. It sparked the lust inside Lovino. His body didn't want anything other than to be pressed as close as possible to Antonio, as soon as possible. So Lovino kissed him back, surged against him, made his need obvious.

Antonio made a startled sound but gave back as good as he got, licking at and then inside his mouth. The hand that had been on his face drifted to his hair and Lovino groaned into his mouth. He really liked having his hair pulled during sex. He took the opportunity to finally palm Antonio's ass and squeezed a little. It was firm but gave at the pressure and more than filled his hand. In other words, still the most perfect ass Lovino had ever encountered.

Lovino was starting to become short of breath and turned his head from the kiss, panting. Antonio just started kissing down his neck as he asked, "What do you want, Lovi?"

"I want you to fuck me." He moved his hands to the front of Antonio's shirt to get to work on the buttons as the junior sucked marks into his neck and bit at his earlobe.

"How?" Antonio's fingers found the button fly of his jeans and unfastened them. The action eased the pressure on his erection, but then there was a hand rubbing his dick over the cloth of his briefs. Lovino arched into the touch, small sounds of want escaping his throat. His hands became clumsy from pleasure, but he managed to get Antonio's shirt unbuttoned and tried to push it down his shoulders.

Antonio took his hands off of him long enough to let the shirt slip off but kissed his mouth again, taking away his ability to answer him. Lovino toed off his shoes and let the jeans drop to the floor as they fed at each other's mouths, the need in him growing with every caress of the other boy's tongue against his until he was shaking with it. They worked on the buttons of Lovino's shirt, getting it off of him in record time. Lovino then pushed Antonio away, further into the room so they could get on his bed. Antonio let him go easily and the second he stopped touching him, Lovino threw off his undershirt and socks, leaving them in the makeshift pile by the door. Antonio just stared at him for a long moment and Lovino guessed it made sense to leave all his clothes in one place. He pushed down his underwear, hissing at the loss of pressure on his increasingly insistent erection, and kicked them to the side.

Antonio's eyes roamed over him freely, but he still made no move to join him in nudity. In fact, he was still mostly dressed and that was enough to have Lovino questioning himself again. He really should have kept the briefs on. He blushed and asked, "I-is something wrong?"

"You're gorgeous. Madre de Dios, look at you. Beautiful." Lovino blushed for a different reason then.

"You maybe want to get naked so we can fuck?" He grumbled, because the bravado was fading with the disparity between them. It was reminding him of other things, like the fact that Antonio was his—

Antonio took off his shirt in an easy fluidity and however that thought ended was no longer Lovino's concern. "Apologies, mi cariño. I forgot myself at the sight of you." Lovino's flush flared again. How can you just say things like that? "And you never answered me, Lovi. How do you want me to make love to you, hermoso?" He kicked off his shoes and took off his socks.

"I want to ride you." Lovino said, stepping to him and kissing him. Antonio wasn't moving fast enough for him, so he undid his pants and pushed them down…only to be met with skin. He was going commando and Lovino couldn't help but wonder if he did that often. "Do you have—"

"Yeah. Get in bed, Lovi." Lovino resented being told what to do, but Antonio kissed his forehead at the request, so he didn't protest. He did look his fill of Antonio as he walked towards a bedside table, the uninterrupted expanse of skin mesmerizing and this decision might be a mistake, but for the view alone it may be worth it.

Lovino walked over to the surprisingly made bed and pulled back the covers. As he climbed in, he took in the rest of Antonio's room, all of it surprisingly together. The bed was a queen and unadorned but for the grey comforter and ocean blue sheets. The room itself was shockingly free of mess and clutter, only a few personal pictures on the desk and a movie poster on the wall. There was a small bedside table, dresser, and a desk, all in a matching dark wood, and a cheap but functional rolling chair at the desk. On top of the dresser, facing the bed, was a mirror and Lovino watched himself raised his eyebrows at it. Interesting.

Antonio fished out a couple of condoms, a latex glove, and a half empty bottle of lube from the drawer. He stood at the edge of the bed and was back to staring at Lovino who was sitting with his legs crossed as he leaned back on his hands. When he didn't immediately join him, Lovino looked him over, bit his lip, and queried, "Antonio?"

"Sorry." A blush colored his face now and it was a nice reversal as far as Lovino was concerned. He went to Antonio and took the condoms out of his hand.

"I guess you can look all you want, but I can be doing something at least." He opened one and rolled it on, Antonio doing the same now that his brain seemed to be functioning. It was certainly flattering that he could distract one of the most attractive guys Lovino had ever seen, but he did want them to have sex as some point in the very near future.

"You can't blame me for being distracted, not with how you look, Lovi." Antonio kissed him then, pushing him back against the mattress and finally pressing their bodies together. Lovino moaned at the feeling alone, one hand securely carded through Antonio's soft chocolate hair. The other roamed over him, mapping out all the valleys and hard ridges of Antonio's body and committing the resulting picture to memory. He wanted to do more exploring but with his mouth.

Antonio was settled between Lovino's now spread thighs, so Lovino pushed at his shoulder until they rolled over and he was on top, straddling him. He kissed now swollen lips once more before beginning to work down his body. Antonio kneaded his ass as he sucked and bit a mark to a sensitive spot along his jugular. As he went lower, tongue and lips and teeth learning him, Antonio's hands claimed and conquered whatever part of him they could reach most easily, his mouth releasing sounds of appreciation and words every so often.

Eventually, Lovino acted out the thought he had earlier, nipping at Antonio's hip before running his tongue down the indentation in his body, and ending in finally taking his cock in his mouth. Antonio's neck arched, fingers coming to grasp at Lovino's hair. It had been a while since he had given a blow job and the taste of the condom was just as unpleasant as he remembered, but it was worth relaxing his throat and taking as much of Antonio in his mouth as he could. He watched Antonio writhe, body a mess of Lovino's own making, as he sucked him down, tongue experimenting to see what his team captain liked. When he reflexively pulled at his hair and Lovino moaned around him, near frantic green eyes met his.

Lovino didn't try to hide one ounce of how he enjoyed destroying Antonio, stripping away his control like this. The boy had so much power of him, usually, that seeing him like this, bare before him in more ways than one and with his favorite body part in his mouth, was fucking amazing. Lovino bobbed, mouth making obscene slurping noises as he went, moaning deliberately just to fuck with him, and he saw something in Antonio's eyes snap. He damn near snarled, "Enough."

Lovino pulled off slowly, watching the need build in Antonio's face as he did it. When he finally released him with a pop, Lovino smirked at him, bringing a hand up to wipe at his bottom lip with his thumb. "It's been a while; I forgot how much I enjoy that."

Antonio sat up and kissed him, aggressive now. Lovino kissed back with a groan, loving how wanted he felt from the action. Antonio pulled them together only to flip them and bodily press Lovino into the mattress. His hands trailed down Lovino's hips and thigh, spreading his legs as far as possible before he ended the kiss abruptly to sit up and look him over.

Like this, Lovino was totally exposed to him. It was hard to bear as Antonio did nothing but take him apart with his eyes for some time. He didn't say anything since he had told Antonio to look as much as he wanted, but he couldn't help squirming, couldn't stop himself from throwing an arm over his eyes. A second after he did so, there was a gentle touch at his arm, Antonio moving above him. Lovino stopped blocking his own vision and met Antonio's gentle eyes with his own. "I don't want you to hide from me, mi cariño. No matter your goal, I refuse to rush through the pleasure of being with you. You are beautiful, Lovino; let me appreciate you."

…Lovino may have miscalculated how this would go. He nodded, wide eyed, and Antonio grinned down at him. It wasn't mocking or expectant. The expression wasn't anything but…happy, genuinely cheerful. Huh. Antonio reached for the glove and lube, saying, "Let's get you ready."

As he put on the glove, Lovino managed, "It's—it's been a long time since I was with a man like this."

Antonio looked at him sharply, surprised, but nodded. "I'll be careful." When his fingers were coated in a generous amount of fluid, he put his hand between his legs and leaned over to kiss his mouth. As they kissed, slow and deep, Antonio began preparing him. The first intrusion left him gasping into the kiss, then soon pushing back on it, silently asking for more. When the second finger pressed into him, the stretch burning in the best possible way, Lovino arched his neck and squeezed his eyes shut. Antonio began to suck small marks into his body, traveling south in the same way as Lovino, but there was nothing rushed or urgent about his actions. Small, desperate sounds of need were kept up in a steady stream now, on almost every inhale.

When Antonio licked at his sensitive nipple at the same moment he brushed his prostate, Lovino's back arched into the touch, moan torn from him as his hips jerked. Antonio muttered something in Spanish before sucking over the same spot, fingers unerringly finding his prostate again. Lovino clutched at him, crying out, "Tonio, please!"

Antonio paused, saying against his skin, "What do you need, mi tesoro?'

"I don't want to come like this," Lovino whimpered quietly, looking down his body to find himself unsurprisingly already being watched.

Antonio hummed in acknowledgement and started moving his hand again, a third finger joining in. Lovino clinched his jaw at the slight, but quickly fading pain. Antonio ran his free hand soothingly down his side, gaze attentive as he resumed his discovery of Lovino's body. It wasn't long until Lovino was moving his hips in time with Antonio's rhythm and finding that he needed more.

"I'm ready," He panted after several moments. Antonio took him at his word, kissing the spot just below his belly button and pulling his fingers from him. Lovino whined at the sudden feeling of emptiness. Antonio only patted his hip lightly in comfort as he spread the excess lube over his dick and moved to the side of the bed to dispose of the glove in what had to be a small trash bin. Lovino rolled to his side and came to kneel on the bed, waiting for Antonio to sit against the wall to crawl over to him.

Antonio was slightly slouched, legs stretched in front of him when Lovino straddled him, hands coming to rest on his shoulders. They kissed as Antonio guided his cockhead to Lovino's entrance. Lovino bore down on him at the first touch, jaw slackening and brow furrowing as the first ring of muscle was breached. As he took more of him in, Antonio said, "Look at me, Lovino."

He opened his eyes, watching the pleasure, wonder, and strain of control all fly across Antonio's face. It felt good, so good, and Lovino knew his immense enjoyment was written in his expression. When he'd chosen to ride him, Lovino didn't expect it to be as intimate as it was. As Antonio sank deeper and deeper into him, they stared at each other from a short distance away, sharing each other's gasping breaths.

When they were as close as possible, Lovino kissed him because he needed to adjust to Antonio inside him like this and it was a shame not to when his lips were so close. The moment was perfect, everything good about their joining that he had imagined would bring.

After a long moment, Lovino pulled back, dazed, and blinked at him. "I'm going to move."

Antonio nodded.

Lovino began to roll his hips and the perfect moment got better.


If someone had asked Antonio 24 hours ago if he thought he would be waking up beside Lovino Vargas anytime in the near future, he would have laughed and asked what the hell they were smoking because that was some good shit.

Now, as he blinked awake in the early hours of Saturday morning with last night's memories in his head and the slumbering freshman against him, he could barely believe this was happening. Lovino, the adorable, intriguing new recruit to his team, was also the beautiful, sexy lover that could make him forget not only his name but his entire sense of self.

As a rule, Antonio tried to be generous in bed, but he'd never been so focused on the other person's pleasure to the point that he forgot his own needs. Secondary, sure, but completely off his radar? That had never happened until last night, when Lovino had looked at him utterly helpless in a way he would never have expected and whispered, "Please, Tonio, I need…"

The night had already been one of his most intense sexual experiences before that. After…well, Antonio wasn't quite sure what to make of it in the light of day.

Further uncertainty surrounded how Lovino would react when he woke up. He had been avoiding him at the party before Sadiq showed up, something that was never explained fully but Antonio could guess. For all that they were the same age, Lovino was a new member of the team he was leading and kind of his peer mentee, though there was no official term for that in their department. It was one thing to lust after him, another to fuck him, and something else entirely to share what they did last night.

What happens now? What did he want to happen now?

Well, he wanted to sleep with him again. In fact, he would like to sleep with him regularly. He also wanted to know how Lovino ticked, what made him abrasive and off-putting to most regularly but somehow able to make Antonio lose his mind in bed. He wanted to see Lovino smile more, preferably at him, the way he did after they both had come. The smile had been completely without reservation, giving the boy deep dimples and making his eyes almost sparkle with simple happiness.

Antonio didn't know what all that added up to, but he was eager to figure it out.

Everything depended on what Lovino wanted, too.

He rubbed gentle circles into Lovino's bare back, trying to wake him slowly. After about a minute, Lovino shifted and groaned, snuggling into his side. "Let me sleep," he slurred, not quite awake.

"Lovi." At the sound of his name, Lovino tensed, body instantly alert. Antonio felt the flutter of his eyelashes against his chest as Lovino opened his eyes then slowly lifted his head.

"Oh, fuck." Lovino's eyes were wide and…horrified? "That wasn't a dream."

Antonio smiled at him, hands still petting his back. "Do you dream about us having sex often?"

Lovino turned red and his expression crumpled into something like despair before a shield seemed to snap over his eyes and anger appeared. Antonio cursed himself because he'd known that Lovino doesn't like teasing. "I should go." Lovino rolled away from him and to the edge of the bed with surprising speed, Antonio releasing him because the last thing he wanted to do was make him feel trapped. But he needed to act fast to stop him from leaving like this.

"Lovi, wait. I didn't mean to tease you; I genuinely wanted to know. Did you want to sleep with me before last night?" Lovino paused, poised to stand but remaining sitting at the question. His back was to him, but Antonio could see something close to anguish in his expression in his mirror.

"So what if I did? It doesn't matter." Antonio scooted towards him, testing his welcome with a soft kiss to his shoulder.

"Yes, it does to me." He wanted to know if Lovino was just looking for anyone to bed last night or if he specifically wanted Antonio. He thought it was the latter, but he needed to be sure.

Lovino didn't relax at his touch, but he didn't move away either. Antonio continued to press kisses along his shoulder and slowly up his neck as he came closer to him. "Yes," Lovino whispered, the word having a weight to it. "I-I did."

Antonio hummed in acknowledgement, one hand daring now to draw light patterns on his side. "If you want to leave, I will not hold you, hermoso. But I would like it if you stayed a while."

Lovino turned his head towards him, his hesitance clear on his face. "You would?"

"Yes." Antonio kissed him gently. "If you are tired, we could go back to sleep. I think it's still pretty early. It's up to you."

The tension drained out of Lovino as he leaned back against Antonio. "I want to stay." He turned his head and pressed a kiss to Antonio's jaw. "You woke me up too early."

Antonio grinned. "Then come back to bed. Are you sore from last night?" The pain on Lovino's face had been real, after all. He had hurt Lovino, he just wasn't sure how yet.

"A little, but in a good way." So emotional pain, then. Antonio pulled them back towards the center of the bed, getting comfortable with Lovino tentatively settling himself against him. Antonio wrapped his arms around him and pressed a kiss into his hair, satisfaction curling through him as Lovino truly let himself relax. He liked this. He liked this a lot.

"Sleep, mi cariño."

Lovino huffed a laughed against his chest. "Don't tell me what to do," he murmured…before falling asleep.

Antonio grinned, shook his head, and followed him.

Chapter Text

It was still relatively early on a Saturday morning. As such, the recreation center was probably as deserted as it ever got during operational hours. Matthew swiped his school ID to get through the turnstile and turned a friendly smile on the cranky looking student employee behind the welcome desk. "Hi. Would you mind telling me if someone is using the room with the heavy bags right now?"

She squinted at him, sighed, then clicked around for a second on her computer. She had bags under her eyes, a very large cup of coffee next to her hand, and Matthew wondered what time her shift had started. If she had been up as long as him, he understood her mood. "It's free, for another half hour."

"Great, I'll be out before then. Thank you!"

He moved towards the stairs and wound his way past cardio machines, the weight room, and a spinning class, body craving being able to hit something over and over again until he was exhausted. Why, you ask?

Matthew was just…a little frustrated. Maybe embarrassed. Angry? Nah.

He was pissed.

He knew he really should calm down and that he was getting worked up over what in the grand scheme of things amounted to nothing but…

He was fucking sick of being ignored by his own teammates.

Matthew sighed in relief that there was no one else in a large, open room that was probably used for kickboxing or yoga classes, the floors padded and large mirror taking up one side of the space. Along the wall farthest from the door there was a line of four heavy bags hanging from the ceiling, spread out enough to give people room to really go at them. He set his bag down and began to get ready, wrapping his hands in a manner that was rote after all these years and warming up his body, mind in a whir of tangled rage and despair.

Matthew took off his hoodie, leaving him in running shorts and a tank top. His hair was tied back and he still had his contacts in from practice, so he had complete freedom of movement. He put in some wireless, noise-cancelling sport headphones (a much appreciated Christmas gift from his parents), started his music, and got to work. He started punching, each impact satisfying in a way that was both addicting and soothing, the thrumming cords of the rock song encouraging him, and allowed himself to think.

Most of his teammates were a couple years older than him and much larger. As far as they were concerned, particularly the starters, Matthew was an oddball choice for a fresh recruit. He was seen as too slight to go head-to-head with much of their league, but wasn't trained enough to be a goalie. They looked at him and saw a last-resort fill-in, the out-of-place newbie who might be useful…in a couple of years. On the ice was the one place Matthew had always been accepted, been valued as an individual, been seen. That the people he was supposed to form a small family with continued to dismiss him was a little emotionally eviscerating.

He switched to kicks, knowing his skin would be bruised after but not caring. He took his time, letting his muscles remember what each type of kick felt like.

What made it worse was that they were kind of right. Matthew didn't bide his time a couple of years to finish growing up like many of his teammates did. He point blank could not have afforded to. While his family was in no means poor since they could afford to have him and his brother grow up in a sport that took a special kind of training, they didn't have a lot of leftover cash either. He needed the academic and athletic sides of his scholarship to be able to attend a school good enough to give him a decent shot at a top-tier law school and he wasn't ashamed of that reality. All of this meant that he was smaller than many he would play with and against, a point only driven home by the fact that everyone he meets can't believe he's here for hockey.

There were ways to compensate, of course. His mother was a petite woman, but she was the one who taught him how to throw a punch. From an early age, she had drilled into her children that size actually did matter in a fight and that the only way to win when things were so unequal was to be the most ruthless bastard around. In the real world, she would say, there aren't rules of fairness. You either win or you lose. In a fight, that might mean the difference between death and survival. So strategically seize every advantage, watch your back, and always cheat. Matthew knew how to use size against a hockey player, knew how to use their training against them, and he knew how to take a hit if necessary. He was good at what he did and knew it. It was why he was recruited in the first place.

Matthew moved into combos, the music blaring from his headphones driving him as much as this necessary release of emotion and control.

The problem was getting his teammates to believe it without him seriously injuring them before the season started. Nate was usually the right wing to his left in practice and seemed to actually like him. They played well enough together. The real problems stemmed from two upperclassmen: Ivan Braginski and Matthias Denson.

Ivan was a senior defenseman and fucking huge. His talent seemed to be creating an unmovable wall of defense; if a player was moving forward, he was just there, appearing almost out of thin air. He was obviously the one other players looked to for leadership outside of Berwald and he still refused to acknowledge Matthew's existence.

Matthias, on the other hand, openly mocked him. The sharp-eyed junior was their star centre with his quick movements and almost preternatural aim. When Matthew hadn't responded on the third day of classes to Matthias' first query as to Matthew's place with the rest of the team, he had escalated over the past few days until today when he deliberately ran into Matthew off the ice and made a laughing comment about his (lack of) weight. Considering they were in a hallway full of his team and that only Nate, Tino, and maybe Berwald seemed like they didn't find that funny, it really fucking hurt. It wasn't that Matthew had problems with his weight; he just could never gain the muscle mass that many players had and knew better than to try. But the fact that it took a stern word and look from Berwald to get him to stop was insulting. They were a solid two weeks into practice and only had three weeks until their first game kicked off a long season. He wasn't gelling with the rest of the team and that was a problem.

Matthew was panting, his muscles burning with use as sweat dripped from him. He blinked the moisture out of his eyes, changed his movements to ease the pain just a little, and kept going.

The real kicker here was that Matthew was singled out for this treatment. If all freshmen on the team were similarly hassled and ignored, he would have brushed it off as some form of hazing and accepted it as a temporary price they all had to pay. But it was literally just him and he was nearly at the end of his rope. Either things had to change, or he would be pushed to the point of proving what he could do through force on the ice.

Matthew held back in practice because, with the size disparities, a lot of what he would have to do to remain effective involved a relatively high chance of minor injury. Legal, sure, but just dirty enough to even the odds. It took a lot for Matthew to get angry enough to act on it, but once he had reached that point, he was a mean as a snake. He knew that injuring his teammates was an all-around bad thing and would probably only alienate him further, but if this went on for much longer, he wouldn't care. He had tried being respectful, friendly, and open. He was competent enough that their coach wasn't yelling at him during practice. It was enough for Nate, Tino, and Berwald. For everyone else, particularly Ivan and Matthias…maybe force was the only way to change their minds.

For now, however, he was hoping to avoid that outcome. He had needed an outlet for his frustration and anger, so he had gone to his dorm room to drop off his hockey gear. Then he'd picked up a small backpack with the supplies he needed and headed to the school's gym. His mood had been marginally improved by Lovino's obviously untouched bed, recalling with a slight smile Feliciano's celebratory text that had come through late last night about Lovino leaving the party with Antonio. He hoped his friend was having a better morning than he was.

Matthew threw one last punch, putting every last bit of anger and a great deal of his flagging strength into it. The bag swayed and Matthew leaned against it slightly, exhaustion tugging at him as he let loose a small huffed laugh between his gasping breaths. Damn, but he'd needed that.

"-thew!" There was movement out of the corner of his eye in the room length mirror and Matthew whipped around to see none other Gilbert Beilschmidt.

Oh, God.

Wide-eyed, Matthew took out his earbuds and said, sounding just as startled as he was, "Gilbert! Hi." Hi?! I say hi of all things?

Gilbert, bemused, said, "Hello, Matthew." He was dressed in low sitting workout pants and a black tank top, which was expected attire in the gym, and had a small, pull-closed bag slung over one shoulder. The papers and pens in his hands were not. He walled further into the room with a smirk on his face now. "I've been trying to get your attention. I didn't want to walk up on you while you were clearly working through something."

…Matthew was a good person. He didn't deserve to have the most attractive guy he'd ever seen find him in this state. He was sweaty, out of breath, and badly needed a shower. Matthew was a fucking mess. Meanwhile, Gilbert walked around in a shirt that looked like it was painted on him, not a hair out of place, looking for all the world like an artist's masterpiece come to life. He didn't deserve this.


Matthew was beautiful.

It wasn't a novel observation for Gilbert to make by now, certainly wasn't a surprise. But it was all Gilbert could do not to stare at him as he walked further into the room. Matthew was flushed from exertion, lips red from increased blood flow, eyes bright in the way that spoke of satisfaction. Sweat had his clothes clinging to him and the skin that was visible glistening in the harsh light. Very little of the body he usually kept covered under those too big jeans and sweatshirt was left to Gilbert's imagination now and he had to forcibly remind himself that Matthew was Ludwig's friend. He was his baby brother's friend that he most definitely should not seduce. But Matthew was still catching his breath, chest heaving with it, and Gilbert's mind told him quite logically that this was close to what he would probably look like after sex.

That thought led to others, just as unhelpful and entirely to do with the passion he displayed as he stuck the bag over and over again, eyes unwavering from his target. God and the way he'd moved, flowing between one strike and the next, clearly far into his workout and exhausted but remaining unrelenting but for the few seconds he took to adjust his position. Gilbert had maybe been in the room for two, three minutes before Matthew had stopped but he could tell he was trained and could fight…he should stick around.

"What are you doing here?" Matthew asked, face reddening and eyes looking away from him, genuinely shy.

Gilbert shrugged, setting his stuff down on the floor along the wall, about halfway into the room. "I have the room reserved in about five minutes. There's an MMA club meeting here in about twenty, but I like to get here early."

"Oh. I-I've been in here longer than I thought. I should go stretch or…something." His hands immediately removed the earbuds hanging around his neck, and he turned towards his stuff. Without his permission, Gilbert's eyes followed the lines of his back down his body, lingering unabashedly on his ass and thick thighs.

"You could stay." Gil, no, he told himself. "For the meeting, I mean. You obviously have some experience with martial arts."

"I shouldn't," Matthew said, turned away from him as he started unwrapping his hands. "I really need to cool down and eat something. I already had practice this morning and shouldn't workout any more today. I also really want to shower."

Do you need some help with—stop. "Cool down in here for a bit? I would appreciate the company." Gilbert, what are you doing?

Matthew froze and turned to look at him, an adorable confused furrow in his brow. "Really?"

"Really, really."

Matthew gave a bark of laughter and grinned at him. "Did you just quote Shrek at me?"

Oh, God, I actually did. "Did you just recognize the movie from me saying two words?"

"Touché. I guess I'll stay for a few more minutes, then." Gilbert smiled at him as he pulled his arm across his body in a simple stretch.

"What are you trained in, Matthew?" Gilbert asked, curious. He started a light warm-up with some moving stretches. Today's meeting was to introduce people to each other and the club, then they were going to split up into sparing partners based on skill level. He wasn't going to teach any today, though he was certified to do so, but more get people familiar with the basics.

Matthew shrugged as he continued cooling down. "Started with taekwondo as a kid, then jujitsu as a teenager. My mom insisted it was adequate cross-training and would teach us more useful life skills than almost any other extra-circular."

"Cross-training? For hockey, right? West told me you played…"

"Yeah. My brother and I grew up with it. How about you?" Matthew bent over, easily touching the floor with his legs straight, and Gilbert had to remind himself what to say.

"Started with karate but there was an MMA class taught right before mine. I fell in love with the movements and switched when I was about 11. Do you have a sparring partner already?"

Matthew lifted his head from his stretch. "Here? Oh, no. I'm completely out of practice."

Gilbert scoffed. "I wasn't here for long, but you don't look out of practice to me."

"Oh, yeah. Today was…I usually don't…" He paused for a long moment as he moved into a split leg stretch. He didn't push it, waiting to see if Matthew would finish the thought or not. After about 15 seconds he sighed and said quietly, "I guess I'm just tired of being dismissed and picked on."

Gilbert frowned. "Someone's bullying you? Already?" What the fuck? Who would dare bully him? He's great? Who would look at him and think that was acceptable? Does West know? He wouldn't stand for this. Hell, won't stand for this. He's my brother's only friend, I have to do something.

Matthew winced. "Nothing like…no, yeah. I guess it is bullying, for at least one of them." There's more than one!? "But I'm handling it. I will handle it. I was just frustrated and needed an outlet."

Gilbert let that sink in, still outraged but recognizing that he wasn't in much of a position to do anything about it. He didn't know Matthew, not really, but he wanted to. After a moment he decided on saying, "Hey, if you want to get back into practice and want a sparring partner, just let me know. Or even someone to just hold the bag while you unleash yourself on it, I'm your guy, okay?"

Matthew straightened and blinked at him. "Thank you," he said, sounding far more affected than Gilbert thought he would be. He visibly swallowed and continued, "I actually might take you up on that."

Gilbert flashed him a smile and stopped moving. "Awesome. Let me give you my number."

Matthew startled but moved towards his pile of belongings anyway. "Okay, sure." He retrieved his phone and Gilbert walked over to him. "Here you go."

Gilbert quickly put in his information saying, "Text me if you need me. Or just, you know, want to talk. Or if you want someone to kick some ass for you."

Matthew huffed out a laugh. "I do my own ass kicking, Gilbert, but I appreciate the offer."

He offered the phone back. "Call me Gil."

Matthew smiled and looked up the small difference in their heights at him. "Then I'm Mattie." Matthew's hand brushed his as he took his phone, a zing of awareness shooting through Gilbert.

Since Matthew was Ludwig's friend, Gilbert wouldn't actively pursue him. But if he suggested that they get together, he sure as shit wouldn't say no.

The door pushed open and Matthew looked down and stepped away from him, blush on his cheeks. Gilbert watched him do it, wanting to know every way to make him blush and just what it took for him to stop being shy around someone. He turned from that thought and looked to see who had arrived, only to grin wide and shout in greeting, "Scottie!"

Alistair, dressed in their customary sweatpants and t-shirt for working out, shot him a dirty look then very pointedly looked at Matthew, saying, "I still don't understand why we had ta meet on a Saturday mornin', Gilly."

"It's late morning."

"It's 9:30!"

"Exactly!"

"I should…" Matthew trailed off, turning to get his stuff.

"Wait a second, Mattie. Do you know Alistair?"

Matthew looked back and smiled tentatively at his friend. "Ah, no. Good morning."

"If ye say so." Alistair rolled their eyes but came forward to shake Matthew's hand. "I'm Alistair, they/them."

Matthew blinked but maintained his welcoming smile. "Matthew or Mattie, he/him. It's nice to meet you."

They squinted at him. "Ye sound like ye actually mean tha'."

Matthew frowned at them, confused. "I do? I don't really know a lot of people but it is nice to meet you."

Alistair frowned back at him. "Huh. Wha' do ye know."

Gilbert sighed and pressed a hand over his eyes. "You didn't have your morning coffee, did you?"

"Feck off."

"I'll take that as a no." Gilbert smiled apologetically at Matthew. "Please forgive them. Alistair's my best friend, but a little abrasive before their first cup of coffee."

"Don't apologize fer me, Gilly." Alistair said, poking his side.

"It's fine, really. And, Alistair, there are worse addictions to have. I need to go."

"Yer leavin'?" They asked, scowling. Gilbert would definitely be doing the talking to the new members. Alistair was his second in command for the club, taking a joint vice-president and treasurer role, but they were not exactly welcoming to someone who didn't know them before 11:00 and before coffee. But he had work at noon and 9:30 was really the latest he could have the meeting and still be on time.

"Yeah. I'm really hungry and want to get dressed." The door opened and a couple people that Gilbert vaguely remembered from tabling yesterday walked in. Matthew grimaced and hurried to gather his stuff. He stood and said as he moved past them towards the door, "Have a good day!"

"See ye around, Mattie." Alistair actually lived on campus, their scholarship paying for on-campus housing, so that was a real possibility.

"Remember what I said, okay?" Gilbert called after him. Matthew shot him one last smile before all but fleeing through the door. Gilbert watched him go then looked back to his friend, finding them watching him. "What?"

"Ye don't care, ye said. Jus' wanna be a familiar face, ye said," Alistair said, tone dry.

Gilbert winced. "Maybe I care a little now. But he's West's friend and a freshman. That would be weird."

"Uh huh," they said, deadpan.

Gilbert rolled his eyes. "Come on. We have people to greet, a club to run."

"We're talkin' 'bout this later."

Dammit.


Antonio eventually made it downstairs after a…very full morning. He and Lovino had slept about an hour more before Lovino grumbled awake and tried to leave the room. Antonio had asked him if he was trying to sneak out, not bothering to hide the sadness he felt at the thought in his voice. Lovino had hesitated but ended up just using the restroom then returning to bed. Antonio did the same then managed to convince him (with very little coaxing needed) that round two was in order. He had been on top this time, lazily taking Lovino apart as they made love, having him rambling in Italian by the end, before carefully putting him back together in the aftermath. They had taken a shower together (to conserve water, he'd said), and now he had come downstairs, pleased to see that a cleaning crew had already been through the place. One of his housemates, Leonardo, came from a lot of money. He loved parties but hated having a dirty house afterwards, so he always paid a cleaning service to come through the day after.

In any case, some of his housemates were scattered on the first floor, Luciano and João in the living room, Leo with Miguel in the dinning/bar area, and Martín in the kitchen. He had already sent a text to the group chat for house residents about him having someone sleep over and to not make a big deal out of it so help him God, but hadn't said who it was. Lovino was only minutes behind him, throwing on last night's jeans and one of Antonio's t-shirts since his smelled like…well, a college party. That meant he had very little time to convince his housemates not to fuck this up for him.

Lovino hated teasing and had begrudgingly expressed his hesitance to come downstairs because he didn't think his teammates would let his presence pass without comment. Antonio hoped, very much so, to sleep with Lovino again and doubted that would happen if people gave him grief over it. They hadn't talked about what happened next, Antonio fearing that Lovino would dismiss them having a more formal thing out of hand and Lovino hadn't brought it up. But Antonio had made it very clear that he wanted Lovino to stay at least for a cup of coffee and breakfast before heading out, that he was happy to be with him. Now he had to make sure their teammates didn't act like this was strange.

He motioned everyone into the kitchen and they followed easily. Since everyone seemed eager to get the details they followed, João drawling dryly in Portuguese, "I regret that your bedroom is next to mine, Tonio. And that I understand Spanish."

Antonio frowned at him and said in Spanish, "It's not like we were loud."

"Loud is relative when you were against the wall we share." João glared at him, but it had no real bite to it. He was gripping his coffee mug like it was a lifeline but Antonio didn't feel too bad about it.

"Like you've never had loud sex against that wall."

He smirked at him, green eyes shining. "That's why I didn't try to stop you. It's been a while since you were with someone; I didn't want to spoil the mood."

"Wait a second," Luciano cut in, his native Portuguese rushing out of him. "You knew who he was with and you didn't tell us?"

"Yep. I wanted to watch him tell you." João leaned back against the counter, cup of coffee in hand, and sipped at it.

Antonio shook his head at them and said, "Listen, I really like him but he doesn't do well with teasing. Be cool."

Leo asked in Spanish, "Are you making him breakfast?"

"Yes."

Martín whistled, "He did a number on you, buddy. Who is this guy?"

"Um…" Everyone turned to see Lovino standing at the kitchen's entryway wearing one of Antonio's shirts, hair still wet from a shower, and barefoot. He looked perfect. He also looked super uncomfortable. "Morning, guys."

There was a collective beat of silence from everyone who didn't know, João casually answering with, "Good morning, Lovino."

Antonio beamed at him. "What do you want for breakfast, Lovi?"

Someone whispered in Spanish, "Holy shit."

Someone else, probably Martín, asked quietly, "Who won the pool?" Antonio turned narrowed eyes at him, not liking the sound of that at all.

"I did," João said smugly. Didn't want to ruin the mood, my ass.

Lovino looked between all of them, face settling into scowl that Antonio now knew was a defensive mask. "…Is this going to be a problem?"

There was a quick chorus of negative responses, everyone dispersing, giving various excuses to leave the kitchen. Lovino tentatively stepped closer to Antonio to get out of everyone's way, like he was still unsure of the situation. Antonio reached out to grab his hand, only to have Lovino immediately flinch away from him.

That…stung.

Lovino seemed to realize what he had done, turning surprised eyes back to Antonio, and hurried to take his hand. He'd come closer to him while chasing the touch and their sides were nearly pressed together. Quietly, so that only Antonio could hear him, he said, "…I'm not used to being touched like that."

Oh. "I'm sorry, mi cariño. I didn't mean to startle you."

Lovino pouted a little, looking away. "Don't apologize, bastard," he said softly, even as he intertwined their fingers. "It was stupid."

"It's not stupid, Lovi," Antonio murmured. "Can I kiss you?"

"I mean, I guess." He said, leaning into him. Antonio kissed him gently, wanting to treat this action, this person, like it was the most precious, fragile thing in the world. Lovino had flinched at the smallest show of affection from a lover outside of the bedroom and if that wasn't telling, he didn't know what was. Lovino melted into the touch, the careful caress of lips, and Antonio savored the privilege for what it was.

Lovino pulled away and Antonio gave him room to breathe. Then he said, tone grumpy but small smile on his mouth, "I'm hungry."

Antonio grinned at him. "Then I guess I need to make you something."

"Coffee, first. Then…surprise me."

"I can do that, hermoso."

Lovino huffed but his eyes danced with secret pleasure. "Is that a thing, now? You calling me those words?"

Antonio left his side to get them mug. "Yes, I think it is. Now, how do you like your coffee?"


...Lovino was fucked. He was so fucked.

Why?

Because Antonio was fucking wonderful, that's why.

The boy was nowhere close to out of his system. In fact, Lovino wanted him more after last night and that morning, which he honestly saw coming but he had kind of banked on being wrong. After being on the soccer team for two weeks, he had slept with his team captain. After a week of classes, he had already bedded his student mentor. And he wanted to do it again.

Argh.

Lovino keyed his door open, unsurprised to find Matthew lounging on his bed, looking up with a knowing smile. "Well, hello."

"Sup." Lovino closed the door behind him and quickly got to stripping out of the clothes he had worn last night, having forgone underwear because, uh, no.

Matthew groaned, slapping a hand over his eyes. "Geez, Lovi. Warn a guy."

"I ain't got nothin' you haven't seen." He threw all his dirty clothes into his hamper, pulled on a pair of pajama pants, and plopped unceremoniously into his bed. Matthew peaked through his fingers to check that Lovino was indeed wearing clothes, before putting his hands down and narrowing his eyes at him, specifically staring at his chest. Oh. Shit.

"That's not your shirt. It's too big for you."

"Uhhh…"

"Lovi, Feli texted me at 1:14 in the morning about you heading upstairs with Antonio. I mostly want to know if you enjoyed yourself." Matthew said patiently, turning to face him and resting his head on his hand.

Lovino covered his face with his hands and said, "Yes. A lot. More than I should. Best guy I've ever been with."

Matthew smiled. "I'm happy for you, Lovi." And Lovino knew he truly was. "Are you going to see him again?"

"Yeah. Monday. At practice. Because he's my team captain and I'm an idiot."

Matthew frowned at him. "I meant romantically but did he mistreat you this morning? Act like it was a problem?"

"…No. He was…" Perfect. Amazing. Dreamy. "…great. He made me breakfast." It was damn good, too. The boy made a mean omelet. "He can cook."

"That's a good thing."

"Yeah…"

"Lovi? Are you okay?" Matthew sat up, legs dangling over the side of his mattress and concern clear on his face, and Lovino stared at the ceiling.

"I want to see him again," he admitted quietly. "I want…him. The way he…did everything. I felt like I mattered."

"Of course you matter, but it's great he made you feel that way. Does he want to see you again, too?"

"I want to say yes but honestly? I don't know. He made sure I knew he wanted me to stay with him, but it made it so apparent that it kind of felt like he knew this was going to be the only time we were together and he wanted to make it last?"

"You guys didn't, I don't know, maybe talk about what happens now?" Matthew asked, voice betraying some of his disbelief.

"No. I mean, if he wanted to see me again, even if just for sex, he would have told me, right?"

"Well, did you tell him you wanted to see him again?"

"…No. But I wore his shirt home. I held his hand in front of his housemates who are also my teammates. I stayed the night and through the morning. Those are flashing neon signs that I want to see him again." Lovino looked at Matthew only to find his friend wearing an unreadable expression.

"Let me test my understanding. You had a night, and probably morning, of great sex. He left some pretty obvious marks on your neck." Lovino's hand flew up to cover the area, blushing madly. "He made it clear that he wanted you to stay the night. He gave you his shirt to wear while he made breakfast for you in a house full of your mutual teammates. That probably means that your whole team now knows about you two."

Lovino paled. "Oh, God, I hadn't thought of—"

"Focus, Lovi. You just walked through the door and it's two! In the afternoon! Did he call you anything special? Something other than your name in front of other people?"

Mortified, Lovino said, "He said some stuff in Spanish that I didn't understand. Kind of said it like an endearment?"

"…No offense, but if what you did was a flashing neon sign, he made a billboard in Times Square. He wants to see you again."

Lovino sighed, seeing the sense of Matthew's words but…"In what way, though? He needs to tell me but I don't want to be that guy that after one night goes and demands some sort of commitment. And, fuck, Mattie. That bastard and his friends are like some kind of party royalty on campus. They even have special titles after the Horsemen of the fucking Apocalypse. He's going to want to take advantage of that. You should have seen the way people were eyeing the four of them at the party—"

"Oh." Lovino stopped, realizing what he'd said and what that meant for Matthew's crush on Gilbert.

"They weren't looking back! They mostly kept to themselves. Your guy didn't—"

"He's not my anything. And this isn't about me, right now. Nothing you said has convinced me that Antonio won't want to see you again. Out of everyone at the party, he chose you. He actively worked to spend more time with you. He will probably continue to do so."

"…We'll see." Lovino sighed and looked Matthew, really looked at him. "Thanks, Mattie. But what the fuck happened to your shins?"

"Um…I went to the gym after practice today and got into it with a heavy bag."

"Holy shit, why did you go work out after practice?"

"I needed to work through some stuff. You know my team isn't exactly welcoming." Matthew shrugged and looked away from him.

Lovino frowned at him. "Has it gotten worse, Mattie? They're not like hurting you are they?"

"Yes and no. I'll handle it on Monday so don't worry about it."

"…Okay. But if you need me to fuck up a bitch for you, I'm there."

Matthew laughed lightly. "You're the second person to tell me that today. But like I told Gil, I do my own—"

"Skrrt, hold up. Gil?" Matthew's face reddened and Lovino bolted upright, smile on his face. "No! Really?"

"…I might have talked to him today. For a while. He was very nice and gave me his number in case I needed—"

"He gave you his number! Did you text him already?" Lovino was excited this was happening. While he was genuinely happy for his friend, he desperately needed something to take his mind off of the big question mark in his mind about Antonio.

"Yeah, just to give him my number but he said it was for if I needed a sparring partner or something."

"…Or something. And a sparring partner? Doesn't that involved getting sweaty and rolling around on the floor while pressed against each other?"

"…Sometimes. That's grappling but listen, it wasn't like that. It was totally innocent in context. And I was a complete train wreck when he saw me, so I doubt he would even be thinking of me as anything besides his little brother's friend. And he's the MMA club president so he probably knows a bunch of people who need sparring partners."

"Sure. Or he wants to roll around and get sweaty with you on the floor."

Matthew groaned, falling to the side dramatically to bury his face in his pillow and Lovino laughed, feeling worlds better than he did when he walked in the room. There would be time for everything else, specifically on Monday and that was hours away. For now, he had a shit ton of homework to plow through, and he needed to convince his friend that the first person he'd ever truly been attracted to was completely down to fuck him.

Chapter Text

"You're still here, twink? God, why the hell did Coach let something so breakable on the team?"

"I don't know, man. No clue how he even—"

Matthew slammed his locker shut, half dressed as he prepared for practice Monday morning. It was too fucking early for this shit and he was beyond done with Matthias. He told Lovino and Gilbert that he would handle it and that was exactly what he intended to do.

He turned to where Matthias and one of his friends were standing, shirtless but comfortable in his body in this space. Part of him wanted to rattle off just how much he lifted on weight training days. Another (thankfully very small) part of him wanted to punch him in the throat and watch the other boy struggle to breathe around a collapsed trachea. Perhaps that thought was apparent in his eyes since Matthias' friend flinched when Matthew looked at them.

But no, he wouldn't do either since neither would help. The former would make him look insecure and the latter would probably get him kicked off the team. Instead, he opted for what he decided on the night before, what he thought was the most mature response. If this gambit didn't work, then he was going to be left with raw violence or talking to the coach about it.

"Matthias, what exactly is your problem with me?" Matthew asked, the picture of innocence. He crossed his arms, furrowed his brow, and tilted his head to the side, just a little, just enough to look helpless and vulnerable. "Am I just the unlucky freshman to be picked out for teasing this year or do you have a problem with me as a person?"

Matthias looked down his nose at him, sneering at what he perceived to be weakness and taking Matthew's bait. Matthew distantly noticed that he was strikingly handsome in his arrogance but pushed the detail away. "You."

Matthew feigned hurt. "What have I done to you?"

"It's what you've done to the team, you idiot. You're a baby compared to us and you expect that to just pass by without comment? We could have had an actual adult join in your place, someone who was useful instead of baggage."

Now that did hurt, but it also enraged him, sparked some primal instinct for violence. But no. He had a plan. He would not knock out this fucker's teeth on a whim. "If that's what you think, then you should have no problem beating me."

That visibly startled him. "What you talking about, twink?"

Matthew raised his eyebrows at him. "First, my name is Matthew. Second, you do know what that word means, right? Because you're using it wrong and I'm starting to get mixed messages on if you actually hate me. Third, I am challenging you to a one-on-one game." It's either that or I beat your ass.

Matthias sputtered a bit as he processed everything Matthew said before spitting out with an incredulous laugh, "As if! You think you could actually beat me?"

Matthew shrugged and lied through his teeth. "I don't know." If he couldn't beat him, he wouldn't have issued the challenge. He turned towards his locker and resumed the process of getting ready. He sighed before continuing, sounding young and sad. "It's about showing you and the team that I belong here. I probably won't win, but I'm out of ideas to get you all to respect me and I'm running out of time. Our first game is less than three weeks out, after all." Let him think that he was desperate, that he was resigned to lose before they even began. He knew how easily sound carried in the locker room, knew that the majority of the team had heard every word he said.

"…Fine." Matthias said and Matthew felt his stare. "Let's make this quick since we don't have time to waste. I'll let Coach know."

Matthew lowered his head so that his still unbound hair would hide his smile. "Thank you," he said softly before he started pulling on his pads. The locker room was quiet, but it usually was this early so Matthew paid it no mind.

When Matthew walked out of the locker room, Nate was waiting for him. His partner walked with him, saying lowly so no one overheard, "You sure about this?"

Matthew answered him, voice barely above a whisper, "Yes. I really am out of options. It's either this or I send his ass to the hospital in traction."

Nate coughed but when Matthew looked over, he saw laughing hazel eyes. "Could you really do that?"

"Yes. One day I'll tell you about the last time I lost control and fought someone out of rage. It might get the others to stop, but I doubt Coach Morgandorffer would appreciate it." Matthew smiled up at him, wide and innocent and Nate actually laughed. The memory of what he had almost done still twanged with guilt and shame, but there was little space for it in his head at the moment.

"You're not wrong."

They approached their box to take off their blade guards and Matthew was addressed by the coach himself. There were a few people around, including Ivan, but Matthias was warming up on the ice. The man was older with black, receding hair and assessing brown eyes. He had been a massive and intimidating player in his prime, but now he had a bit of a beer gut. He was still agile and strong, but you couldn't tell it by looking at him.

"Williams, what are you doing?" he asked, voice a deep, lazy thing.

Matthew shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "He's been giving me hell, sir. I thought I should give him some back is all."

The coach narrowed his eyes at that, intelligent enough to hear what Matthew wasn't saying, to understand what it meant for the most popular member of the team to "give hell" to a freshman. He sighed after a long moment and nodded at Matthias. "Try not to hurt him too badly. We do have a game coming up and I would like to have him start as planned, not in a cast."

Matthew could almost feel the surprise of his teammates. "I know, coach. Nothing that would be illegal in a regular game."

He snorted. "I've seen what you get away with by being 'legal,' Williams. Do not put our starting centre out of commission."

"Of course," Matthew said simply but felt a mischievous spark in his eye.

He glided onto the ice to warm up as his coach shook his head. He also heard the man say to those who had been listening in, "No one warn Denson. If he made him lose his patience, then he deserves to get the full brunt of him. What the hell was he thinking? I recruited that boy myself."

Matthew smirked. He hadn't bothered to tell anyone else that little detail. He had come to his high school to try and scoop up both him and Alfred, but seemed pleased even though he only had gotten Matthew.

Everyone seemed to take Morgandorffer's order seriously and, when Matthew glanced over before they started team warm-up drills, not a few were staring at him warily. He met Ivan's eyes before looking away quickly, startled by the unexpected attention.

When drills were done, Morgandorffer told everyone but Matthew and Matthias to get off the ice. He then laid out the rules. "Five minutes. Regular rules about contact. After a goal, scorer goes mid-ice until the other gets possession. Whoever has the most goals wins. Do not seriously injure each other."

Matthias snorted, clearly amused at the thought of weak, frail Matthew being able to injure him. Poor dumb bastard.

Morgandorffer gave his centre a pitying look before putting the puck between them and skating backwards out of the way. "On my mark."

They got in position and Matthew couldn't help asking him, "Have you played a lot of one-on-one games before?" Matthew had watched him practice, watched recordings of the teams previous games before deciding on joining the team. He would bet that he hadn't, based off of how he played, how he seemed to be expecting another forward to pass him the puck to score. He played like he relied on other people. Matthew could but it wasn't how he'd learned.

"Enough to know that you're going to embarrass yourself."

Matthew smiled slowly towards the vulcanized rubber. It was not a nice smile. "I'll brace myself for the humiliation, then."

A whistle sounded and Matthew lost the face-off, but he had expected that, already gaining momentum as he skated backwards. Matthias seemed to think he had broken away, but Matthew was very fast and just this side of reckless. As he set up shot for Matthew's unprotected goal, Matthew was already coming around, intercepting the puck smoothly before it made it halfway to the goal. He zipped off, letting his trajectory sling him past a surprised Matthias.

Matthew doubted that the centre had a lot of practice playing defense. Matthew, however, grew up playing his brother, had trained just as much as a forward to understand how they would move. One-on-one games were his bread and butter for a good portion of his life and that came in handy now.

He was fast and agile, mind working to judge Matthias' location from the sound of blades. He slowed abruptly and turned, puck in his control as Matthias zoomed past him, right over where he would have been and damn near crashing into a wall. He had been trying to check him and that was just too damn bad. As he righted himself, Matthew eased the puck into the goal and proceeded to the middle of the ice.

Matthew looked at him expectantly while Matthias damn near had his jaw on the floor. When nothing happened for a count of three, Morgandorffer yelled, "The clock is still ticking, Denson!"

Matthew waited until he pushed the puck out of the goal before quickly retreating further into his territory rather than moving forward as Matthias probably expected. He was in his element defending and he knew his eyes were all but daring Matthias to score.

Matthias started skating towards the goal, gaining momentum, and Matthew did the same but towards him. What he was about to do was the definition of foolish but he was angry and wanted to knock Matthias down a peg. He would never do this in an actual game, but it was only possible because it was the last thing Matthias expected.

So he headed almost straight for him but at a slight angle, putting them on a collision course. Matthias smiled, knowing that, if Matthew bodily ran into him, not only would it be charging but Matthew was more likely to be hurt due to the weight disparity. He dared Matthew to run into him, not altering his own course to avoid him, but that wasn't Matthew's plan.

Timing it right, Matthew did one of the fancier stops, making sure the ice spray from his blades was high—high enough to hit Matthias in the eyes.

Matthias shouted from suddenly having ice on his face, flinching away and losing control of the puck for just a second. That second was all Matthew needed to steal it away and sprint to the other side of the ice to score, his teammates howling at the maneuver.

Puck deposited in the net, Matthew turned and found a furious Matthias speeding towards him and looking like he was going to take a swing at him. Matthew didn't blame him; what he had just done was beyond disrespectful. Didn't mean he was going to let him land anything without serious consequences.

Morgandorffer shouted out, "Denson, don't—" but Matthias was already there. He swung at suddenly empty air as Matthew moved to the side to avoid his fist, damn near jumping to avoid his body. Matthew gave Matthias a little push to help his momentum along so that the star centre and darling of the team smacked into the glass face first.

Matthew couldn't help the smile on his face as he skated backwards until he was at the midway point. "How much time is left, Coach?" Matthew's voice held nothing but detached curiosity.

"…Minute fifteen."

"Come on, Denson." Matthew called, unable to keep the snarl out of his voice once he said the other's name. "Make me work for it."

What he had done up to that point was either a trick or could be counted on luck. He needed to show his teammates that he wasn't just good in his position but born for it.

"What exactly did he do to piss Williams off?" Morgandorffer asked his teammates.

Nate answered as Matthias gained possession of the puck and Matthew backed up just a little. "Well, he mocked him for his weight, said he was useless, had half of the team laughing at him, and called him a couple of names."

"…that was stupid."

"I think he's getting that," piped up Tino. "We tried to warn him off but he kept pushing him."

Matthew only had eyes for Matthias and the puck. Half of his face was red from the impact against the wall, but he hadn't broken his nose. He seemed serious now and Matthew found that he damn near hungered for the battle. It had been a while since he had done this with Alfred and he found he missed the challenge.

Matthias was good at what he did and Matthew knew that he probably couldn't hold him off for the full minute that was left on the clock, but that was fine. He just needed to make him realize who he was dealing with.

So Matthew shadowed and countered his moves. After several tense moments, Matthias made a clever play and Matthew prevented the goal, having recognized the movements from hours of just him and Alfred going back and forth like this. Matthew didn't bother trying to score another goal. He just redirected the puck to the wall, making it bounce off and glide to the other end of the ice. He was playing for time at this point and making Matthias skate across the ice to fetch the thing was all he needed. Matthew remained in front of his goal, knowing that the only play left for Matthias to make with five seconds left from so far away was a slap shot.

He was right and Matthias' aim was true. Matthew blocked the shot with his hand since it originally had been heading for his face. The hit fucking hurt and he barely kept from slapping himself in the eye, but he got it.

Morgandorffer called time and Matthew straightened to the silence of his team. Puck still in hand, he skated to where Matthias stood, dumbfounded. He stopped inside of his personal space and hissed in his face, "Still think I'm useless?"

"How?" Matthias asked, quiet now and clearly astonished. "How did you do that? It was like you knew what I was going to do before I did."

Matthew stared at him and tried to keep being angry, to hold on to the resentment. But he wasn't that person. The teasing would probably stop and he had driven his point home. So he sighed out his anger and let his mouth twitch into a smile, an olive branch. "I cheated."

Matthew watched the confusion and anger flash over Matthias' face before he read the tease on Matthew's. He laughed a little and shook his head. "I owe you an apology."

"Yeah, you do. Am I going to get it?" Matthew wasn't going to sugar coat that.

Matthias' smile widened. "Yeah. I'm sorry for what I said to you. I'm so sorry that I'm going to let that little trick of yours slide."

Matthew grinned and someone called out, "So are you two going to kiss now or…?"

Matthew jerked away from Matthias, blushing and cursing himself for it.

Matthias rolled his eyes and made a rude gesture towards the entire team as they skated to join them at the box and get the plan for the day from their coach. He said as they moved, "You never answered my question. How did you do that?"

Matthew shrugged. "I may have downplayed how much practice I have with one-on-one games. My opponent was the most aggressive, devious centre I've ever seen. You did what he would do but without knowing that I would adapt to stop you at every point."

Matthias blinked at him and asked as they pulled up, "Who did you play against?"

"My twin. We'll play him about mid-season and you'll see what I mean. I was the only one in our league through high school who could consistently stop him, but we played on the same team."

Matthias winced, probably imagining what it would be like to have them both on one team. "Shit."

"Talking about your brother, Williams?" Morgandorffer asked taking in the tail end of their conversation.

"Yes, sir. He asked how I was trained."

His coach snorted out a laugh before addressing the team. "Gentlemen, I'm sure I don't have to lecture you on bullying. One thing I do want to highlight from this incident was how Williams played that last round. You have to adapt and anticipate..."

Practice proceeded normally after that and Matthew was pleased to note that his teamed seemed to accept him now, a few sheepishly apologizing afterwards. As they walked out of the building to greet the early morning light, Nate sidled up to him and asked quietly, "What happened the last time you got so angry you lost control?"

Matthew looked around to see if anyone else was listening. There were a couple of people close by, but they seemed engrossed in their own conversations. He met Nate's eyes and swallowed before saying, "I damn near killed someone on accident. From one strike."

Nate blinked at him, face a little pale. He asked, "Why?"

"…I never intended for him to be hurt that badly. But I was an enforcer and he had damn near broken my goalie's leg. He had enjoyed it and I was so angry. I punched his temple once, bare fisted, and he went down. He was unconscious before his head cracked open on the ice."

He never should have mentioned the story, remembering now the horrifying sound of that boy's head hitting the ice, realizing that he might have killed someone. He had put every ounce of strength in his body into that one punch and it had taken him a while to react. Alfred had to pull him away gently while the med team picked up the boy and rushed him out. He hadn't even realized that he had been crying until Alfred ushered him off the ice and into their team box. The other team was furious, but it had only been one punch.

The game ended then, with a full period left. No one wanted to play with that much fresh blood recently spilled. He thought that he was going to be arrested or have to deal with grieving parents. But the boy had woken after three days and been mostly okay. Apparently he didn't mind that Matthew had almost killed him, mostly impressed that someone who seemed so small could almost kill him with one punch. He even said that he would have done the same to anyone who went after his goalie like he went after Matthew's.

Hockey is a weird, weird sport.

It had taken a full week before Matthew was able to go to an ice rink, let alone step on the ice. It had taken much, much longer to be okay with violence, to be able to defend himself and those he cared for. It was all about how much control you had and he vowed to never lose his control like that again. He knew that he was serious about kicking Matthias' ass if he didn't stop the teasing, but he would have never hit him with all of his strength.

"Matthew." Nate said simply, hands on both his of his shoulders and head ducked to try and meet Matthew's eyes. "Matthew, it's all right."

Matthew blinked and shook himself. "Sorry." He looked around and realized that several of their teammates were looking at him now with a mix of curiosity and concern.

"…Are you okay?"

"Honestly? No. But there's nothing to be done about that." Matthew forced himself to smile and it felt brittle. "Only good thing to come of that was that, once I was able to play again, absolutely no one ever fucked with my goalies."

Nate's brow furrowed. "Silver linings, I guess. I won't tell anyone, in case you were wondering." He straightened and thankfully changed the subject before Matthew had a chance to respond, though he kept glancing at Matthew out of the corner of his eye. Nate was approaching chatty, sharing more about himself in that half hour commute between the ice rink and campus than he had for the past two weeks.

Matthew almost shook his head. He didn't know how hearing how he almost killed someone made Nate want to be friends with him, but he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He had gotten so few horses in the past that he knew not to push his luck.


 

Lovino blew out a gusty sigh and braced himself. His 11am class just ended and he was in the biology building. It was a gamble but he wasn't a teenager. He was a mature adult, dammit, and he was not going to be weird about this!

Lovino: hey just got out of class in the bio building. u got a sec?

Before he could second guess himself, he hit send. He then got out of his chair, scooped up his backpack, and strode out of the classroom, head held high but insides quivering. Fuck, he shouldn't have sent that! He should have just waited until practice to seek out Antonio! He was going to look clingy and desperate and-

His phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out of his pocket so fast that it almost flew from his hand. That would have been embarrassing.

TB: hey! yeah just give me a minute

TB: almost to campus now. meet me outside?

Lovino took three deep breaths, calming himself. Nothing was a problem! It was all okay!

God, this was a bad idea.

Lovino: ok

He now had a couple of minutes to freak out about how this was going to go. Was Antonio going to be distant? Not likely considering the tone of the texts. Would he touch Lovino in greeting? Did Lovino even want Antonio to touch him?

Well, yes. That was a stupid question to ask himself.

What did he want from this conversation?

First, he wanted to figure out what Antonio wanted from him. That was a question that had kept him awake and would determine how everything else went. Second, he wanted to discuss how this was going to play out at practice.

Third, and this was a low priority, he wanted to tell Antonio what he wanted. He wanted him to know that no one had ever touched him like that, made him feel that cherished for what should have been a one-night stand. Lovino wanted him to know just how much he appreciated that, how he didn't take it for granted and how much it meant to him.

What he didn't want him to know was that Lovino was ready to take just about any arrangement that he could get that would allow them to keep sleeping together. He drew the line at anything humiliating and demeaning but something told him that Antonio wouldn't think to ask for any situation like that. Matthew's words had taken root with the memory of how Antonio had look at him, spoken to him, touched him. It made him hope, made him want to be vulnerable and seek something more than just friendly fucking. Hope was a dangerous thing and he had been burned before.

"Lovi!"

Lovino looked around and saw Antonio approaching him with a wide smile, no sense of malice or disgust. Just…happiness at seeing him.

Lovino was happy to see him, too. "Took you long enough, bastard." He internally flinched at his own words, at how he could never just fucking say what he wanted. But his tone was fond and Antonio didn't seem bothered.

In fact, the man was beaming at him as he approached. "Did you miss me, then?"

Illogically, yes, I did. "No," he grumbled as Antonio finally made it to him and leaned down as if to kiss him. He automatically titled his face up to allow it, body telling the truth that his words would not, but Antonio stopped and pulled himself back.

"Ah! Sorry." Antonio took a step away from him, blushing, and Lovino frowned at him. Did he not want to kiss him in public? Was he ashamed to be seen with him like that?

"Why?" He snapped, self-doubt making his tone sharp and Antonio flinched, leaning further out of his space. That wasn't what Lovino wanted.

"…You probably don't want me to kiss you in public, haha." Antonio looked upset now at the edges of his expression and looked away from him.

"You idiot." Antonio cringed and Lovino felt like shit. He did not deserve this man, didn't deserve what he willing gave. But he was a selfish, wretched creature and wasn't ready to let him go yet. So he stepped into his space and kissed his cheek before quickly stepping back, face flaring in embarrassment, at the risk he just took. Antonio looked back at him with wide, hopeful eyes and Lovino said grumpily, arms crossed in front of him. "Don't let it happen again. The…not public thing, I mean. Like I would care about that."

Antonio's face lit up but he made no further move to touch him, which was…fine. "Okay, Lovi. What did you want to talk about?"

What did he want to talk about, again?

Oh. Right.

"We should walk." Lovino blurted instead of answering, finding he wasn't ready for the conversation. "Don't you have somewhere to be?" Why am I like this?! "I mean, you were already on your way to campus." Nice recovery, dumbass.

Antonio shrugged but started walking down a path towards the front of the campus. "I was coming to do lab work but it's nothing urgent."

"…okay."

A long moment passed as Lovino tried to work up the courage to say what he wanted, when Antonio asked quietly, "Is this about the…last weekend?"

"Yeah." Lovino took a deep breath and said, "We're not kids so I'm trying not to dance around the issue here."

"Issue?" Antonio said carefully, voice strange but Lovino found that he couldn't look him in the eye.

He was trying not to curse, to make sure that Antonio knew he was serious. "You know? The well that happened now what issue. What happened…I see no issue there."

"Neither do I." Antonio's voice was soft and Lovino flicked his eyes over to him only to look away when he found he was being watched. Antonio was always watching him. It made him feel like he was looking for some reason to go and abandon him, but his mind knew that wasn't the case….right?

"Great. Fucking wonderful. So, what do you want?" Could he be blunter?

"What do you mean?" God, he is going to make me spell everything out?!

Lovino took a deep breath and chose his words very carefully. "What do you want from me? Do you want anything to come of…this?" He made an abortive gesture to imply us but stopped because he felt like a fool.

"Lovi, I want you to look at me." Lovino stiffened but tried to do as he asked. They were walking over grass now, headed for a tree that was removed from the busier walkways. Antonio was looking at him with an expression Lovino didn't know how to label, but it seemed gentle. He is so fucking beautiful and wonderful. Oh, God, why did I ever think he would actually want something with me? He's good and light and caring and I'm the most abrasive son of a bitch around. Lovino kept his spine straight but his confidence in the conversation was being eaten away. "What exactly are you asking me?"

Date me. Never stop treating me like I matter. Say you want to keep me close. Make me yours. Claim me as yours and become mine. He swallowed, the words stuck in his throat. "What do you want to happen now? Between us, I mean."


 

Antonio knew he had to tread very carefully here or risk burning a bridge that Lovino had so painstakingly built. Lovino had kissed him, had been upset with him for pulling away rather than trying for affection in public.

He was quiet as he sat at the foot of the tree he had been leading them to. He knew that he shouldn't take long, that Lovino's mind was already working against anything he had to say. More and more light leeched from his eyes, uncertainty closing him off little by little. This was as private as he could get them outside at noon on a nice late summer day. This would work and hopefully make Lovino more comfortable.

The second his companion sat down cross-legged in front of him, Antonio started, "I wanted to kiss you when I first saw you. And I want to kiss you now. I liked making you breakfast. I liked sleeping with you, loved making love to you. I want to make you smile."

There was a sense of stillness coming from Lovino, like he was a frightened prey animal and Antonio was about to eat him. Was he afraid of commitment? Is that it? Does Antonio want commitment, this early in the school year? They were both twenty, but they had just met. They were so young to commit to anything. But what did that matter, really? "…What does that add up to, Tonio?"

Oh, he loved how Lovino said his name like that, like it was something secret and not what the majority of people called him. "I'm not sure," he answered truthfully. "I want to find out, though. What do you want, Lovino?"

Lovino glanced away before seeming for force himself to look at Antonio. He opened his mouth, visibly struggled to say something, before closing it and starting again. "I…don't want things to get weird between us. I like your stupid face and your dumb laugh and…you. I like you. I want—" He seemed to choke on something and cleared his throat. "I feel the same way you do."

His hands itched to touch him, so he did. He reached forward and stilled Lovino's absent, anxious fidgeting. He lightly moved his thumb over the back of one of Lovino's hands and said, thinking it the best course of action, "We don't have to label it, you know." The only way he could tell that tension filled him was by the sudden woodenness of his hands. "If it would make you more comfortable."

He watched as Lovino closed his eyes and something dark seemed to pass in his expression, but he relaxed and looked at Antonio once more. "If that's what you want, then I'm fine with that. But I…I need to know what that means in practice on a few things. Just so there aren't misunderstandings."

Negotiate. He wants them to negotiate like this was a transaction. Antonio couldn't stop the frown but was happy that he hadn't asked him for a date or anything like that. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to date Lovino, to try and see if he could become his boyfriend. "Okay, that makes sense. First thing, I'm a pretty affectionate person and tend to touch people I like. With this…thing, I'm going to probably reach out to touch you a lot." Like now, when he would actually prefer them both to be sitting with their back against the tree and his arm around Lovino so that they were close enough to kiss if they wanted.

Lovino nodded and said, "This won't affect how you treat me as a mentee or in practice, though. The power dynamic there is a bit off and I don't want either of us to get in trouble for it."

"Okay. I want us to actually hang out. I want to know more about you, Lovi. I really do want us to be friends."

"So, you want us to be something like friends with benefits?" Lovino asked, eyes carefully neutral.

Antonio thought they had agreed on no labels but was fine answering this question. "I doubt friends with benefits touch as much as I probably will end up reaching for you. You can tell me no, you know. If I'm being too much for you. You can always tell me no." The last thing he wanted to do was scare Lovino off.

"I know," Lovino said softly and he finally responded to Antonio's touch, fingers tracing nonsense patterns on his skin. "About the sex…"

"How about we just let each other know directly if we want that?" Antonio said, hoping this could be easy for them.

Lovino winced. "That…might happen a lot."

God, I hope so. "I don't see a problem with that."

"Do you want to be exclusive?" Lovino asked, fingers hesitating only for a second.

Was this a trap? It felt like a trap. Exclusivity implied a lot, would be a lot of commitment on Lovino's part. He thought about the possibility of someone else sleeping with Lovino, hearing his moans and cries, leaving their marks on his skin, and seeing his post-coitus smile. He burned at that, a predator he kept sleeping in the back of his mind waking, displeased at the notion. But Lovino was not his, had made that clear. "No, I don't."

It was a lie. The first he had ever told him.

Lovino's hand hesitated again and Antonio thought that the boy in front of him was shaking for a second, before he nodded. He said with a calm, even voice, "Okay. So more than friends with benefits and less than dating. I can work with that."

Lovino looked at his phone and startled. "Shit! I have to go. Fuck, I didn't notice the time. I'm going to be late!" Lovino went to stand but Antonio halted him with a soft hand on his knee.

"Kiss me before you go, hermoso?" He even said it with a little pout, hoping to see more than careful neutrality in Lovino's eyes. Despite his apparent tardiness, they still held very little emotion and he wanted to change that, put some light into them. Lovino's mouth twitched into a slight smile and Antonio got his wish.

"I guess." Lovino leaned into him and nothing about this kiss was begrudging or neutral. No, Lovino kissed him hard, like he needed him more than air and Antonio was thrown completely through a loop. Lovino was hiding something from him, something that would have him use a poker face only to kiss him this desperately.

Before he really had time to react, Lovino pulled away and said, "I hope you're satisfied, bastard, because that's all you're going to get for now." Only Lovino could make a curse sound like an endearment but oh, his eyes weren't neutral anymore. They were angry, so angry.

"Lovi-!" Antonio started but his…person had already started moving away.

"See you at practice!" Lovino said, walking quickly away from him with a wave. Antonio watched as Lovino put his head down and started jogging back towards the residential part of campus.

He wondered what the rush was, what Lovino was really feeling. He thought that their talk went well, though. Antonio really was excited to be able to touch him and sleep with him and spend time with him. Lovino didn't want commitment? That was fine since Antonio wasn't ready for it either. This was for the best.

If he told himself that enough times, maybe he could forget the anger in Lovino's eyes and the frantic need in his kiss.


 

Lovino didn't have anywhere to be but his room. He refused to cry in public, but he was close to his rope's end. His mind was filled with mantra that was like a record of his worst hits on repeat.

Track 1: He doesn't want you.

Track 2: He doesn't need you.

Track 3: You don't deserve him anyway.

Track 4: You would have fucked up anything more.

Track 5: Because you're a fuck-up. And that's why…

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

He should have known better than to hope. He did know better! He knew better than to think that someone like Antonio would want more than a convenient fuck his the pocket with someone like him.

He wasn't going to make it to his room.

Lovino avoided the always-crowded elevator and hit the stars, racing up seven levels and stumbling on exhausted legs to his room.

Matthew was out, probably eating before his class at one, and Lovino was thankful. Best friend or not, they had to be friends for at least a couple of months before he got to bear witness to this…mess.

Lovino slammed the door behind him, tears spilling from his eyes, and collapsed to the floor, legs giving out. He tried not to make a sound as he sobbed, but it was hard. Just something else he failed at.

He was crying over a boy he had known for something like two weeks. Fucking pathetic.

He hated himself for how weak he was. He thought about downing one of the bottles of wine in his closet but resisted. He couldn't show up to practice drunk. No need for Antonio to know just how much this hurt him. It was enough that the other boy had such power over him; he didn't need to know about it.

Once his brain stopped torturing him long enough to actually function, Lovino cleaned himself up, took a couple of pain killers for the headache that had developed, and really thought over the relationship he agreed to have with Antonio.

Did Lovino really like him? Or was Antonio just the first person to make him feel special?

His mind brought up their shared studies, their team, the sex, and how Antonio made him feel as he made him breakfast. He sighed. Nope, just him.

It would have been easier if he could have convinced himself otherwise. At least he knew where he stood with him.

For now, Lovino had to get rid of all signs that he had been crying and get on with his day.


 

Ludwig found Matthew already waiting for him when he arrived at the library later that evening. He appreciated punctuality and had come to rely on it when it came to his new friend. Ludwig hadn't seen him since the activity fair on Friday and he had only known him for a week but something seemed…off. Matthew smiled at him in greeting when he saw him approaching, but there was something subdued and sad in his expression.

"Hello, Matthew," he said quietly, not wanting to disturb people as he sat down. "Forgive me, but is everything all right? You seem…troubled."

Matthew flinched and Ludwig did not find that comforting. "Yes, I'm okay. Just had a rough morning and I'm pretty tired. I only need to sleep it off. How are you?"

"I am well, thank you. How did you find the assignment?" It had taken Ludwig hours to finish it, let alone understand the material.

Matthew cringed and said, "A lot. There were a couple of things I wanted to discuss? Not everything makes sense to me."

They dove into the work, Ludwig finding Matthew's perspectives intriguing. He usually lost his patience with people who failed to understand something he did even after talking it through, but Matthew was quick. Their work did seem to drain him, however, the boy slouching more and more and they went on, rubbing his shoulder with a pained look on his face.

Ludwig knew he was frowning now, genuinely concerned, and was about to ask once again if something was wrong, when someone else beat him to it. "Ve, Mattie? Are you okay?"

The boy who approached them was slight with tousled brown hair and a natural tan. He moved with an ease that hinted at athleticism but didn't advertise it.

Ludwig saw Matthew look up and smile at the newcomer. "Oh. Hey, Feli. Yeah, I'm fine."

"You don't look fine." Ludwig agreed with that much at least. Matthew seemed to curl into himself more and Ludwig couldn't help but think of him once more as a golden retriever puppy. This Feli seemed to have a similar thought, reaching out towards Matthew as if to comfort him. He looked over at Ludwig then and stopped himself, almost freezing on the spot, as if remembering that they weren't alone. He blinked striking gold eyes at him and winced. "Sorry, I know I'm interrupting. But he—" Feli gestured at Matthew as if his expression explained everything and, honestly? Ludwig didn't blame him.

Ludwig nodded and said gently, "Matthew, perhaps we should stop here. We got through most of it and you should rest."

Feli seemed to see where this was going. "Listen to the smart boy, Mattie. Ve, why don't you walk to the dorm with me? I need to change for practice and was going there anyway."

Ludwig watched Matthew straighten his spine and clinch his jaw. "I'm. Fine." He bit out.

Feli shared a look with Ludwig that said clearly that he didn't believe him either. They both stared at him silently until Matthew deflated and muttered, "But I am kinda tired."

Shutting his book, Ludwig nodded as if this decided things. "Then go home, Matthew."

Matthew seemed worse off than when they had started. "Okay. I'm sorry, Ludwig."

"You have no reason to be sorry," Ludwig said, surprised to feel the urge to reach out and touch him. The poor boy seemed like he could use all the reassurance he could get. "I will see you tomorrow."

Matthew packed up and they started to head towards the exit as a group. When Matthew and Feli parted ways with Ludwig at the door, the latter looked over his shoulder at him and mouthed the words, thank you.

Ludwig nodded, arrested by those strange eyes until the other boy turned away. Ludwig shook himself and headed home.


 

"Well?" Matthew asked about two minutes into walking back to the dorms with Feliciano.

Feliciano frowned at him, clearly too worried to catch his meaning. Matthew felt a little bad about that, but he did feel like shit, always felt awful after really remembering what happened that day. He only…exaggerated his exhaustion a bit. He was bone weary and would probably go to sleep very early that night, though he did want to stay up long enough to talk to Lovino after soccer practice.

"Well, what, Mattie?"

"Was Ludwig the guy you saw that first week?"

Feliciano blinked at him then actually scowled. "Ve, you've been faking this entire time!?"

Matthew winced. "No, I do feel pretty bad. I had a really long day. It was only after you got to the table that I decided to play it up a bit."

"Oh. What happened this morning? Are your teammates still picking on you?" Feliciano knew that his team had been a problem, but only Lovino really knew the full extent of it.

"No, I got them to stop. I just…did something I'm not really proud of." He was referring to something that happened years ago, but vague terms seemed about his speed.

"I'm sure you only did what you had to do," Feliciano said before abruptly pulling him into a surprisingly strong hug.

Startled, Matthew's arms hung in the air for a second. "Um…?"

"Hug me back!"

"Okay!" Matthew did so, tentatively. Not many people touched him like this and he wasn't quite comfortable with the contact. But it was…nice.

Feliciano pulled back, looked at his face and smiled. "See! Hug therapy always works a little." Matthew couldn't help smiling back. "And to answer your question, yes. Ludwig is who I was talking about. He's a little intimidating. But…he really was concerned about you, so I know he has a heart somewhere in that huge chest of his."

How sweet!

"…He could also probably break me in half if I asked him to."

Feliciano laughed at Matthew's immediate look of discomfort.


 

Gilbert was surprised to hear the door open so early that evening. Ludwig was supposed to be studying with Matthew for a while yet, ruining the surprise he had going in the slow cooker. What made him concerned was the frown on his brother's face when he walked in. "Sup, West? You're home early. I've got beef stew started." It was one of his brother's favorite meals.

Ludwig paused in his path through the house and Gilbert saw some of the tension leak out of him. "Thank you, Gilbert. It smells great."

"Is everything okay?" Gilbert asked, sitting up and watching his brother carefully. He saw Ludwig consider whether to answer him truthfully or not and mentally sighed. He knew all of his brother's tells and honestly didn't know why he bothered trying to lie to him in the first place.

Ludwig settled on saying, "Something's bothering Matthew."

Gilbert tensed at the information. He didn't tell Ludwig about his run-in with his friend Saturday morning and was betting that Matthew didn't mention it, either. He wasn't sure if Matthew told Ludwig about his team bullying him and didn't want to let it slip if he was keeping that private. Gilbert had caught him off-guard, but he got the feeling the Matthew was a private person. "Did he say what it was?"

A muscle in Ludwig's jaw twitched as he fought his concern and frustration. "No. He only said that he had a rough morning and was tired."

"…does the hockey team practice in the morning?" Gilbert hedged, knowing that they did after Saturday but wanting to give his brother an opening to tell him more.

Ludwig frowned. "Yes, they do. You think it may be a problem with his team?"

Gilbert shrugged. "I'm not sure. I know it's hard to be a student athlete and he's still transitioning to being here. Just a guess."

"Maybe…" Ludwig trailed off and continued out of the room. Gilbert switch topics, asking him about his day. At the same time, he pulled out his phone and went to the Four Horsemen* group chat.

W: hey anyone hear something about hockey practice this morning?

Alistair was plugged into the most vital cyber sources of information around the school, but Francis was the one to go to for gossip. People liked talking to Francis, but found Alistair off-putting for some reason. Antonio was probably at practice, so he was unlikely to answer. Then again, why would he know about it? Lord knows his friend had his hands full with that Lovino kid.

It only took a few minutes for someone to answer.

D: Why do you want to know?

Dammit, Alistair.

W: just curious

D: About a certain blond freshman?

F: *eyes*

W: …yeah. West said he was upset about something

F: *eyes* *eyes*

D: *eyes*

P: *eyes*

He hated his friends.

F: I'll ask around discretely.

D: I'll see what I can do.

P: i would ask Lovi but something tells me he won't be very forthcoming

He loved his friends. But…

W: …what did you do

P: Nothing! We talked earlier and he was cool. We're going to play this by ear

P: though he and Feli yelled at each other in Italian for a while

P: and Feli keeps glaring at me

W: Im no expert but I think you fucked up

F: I'm an expert and you fucked up

P: rude

P: I only did what he wanted

W: aren't you at practice rn

P: yeah l8r

Ridiculous.

Gilbert focused on finishing up dinner and checking in with Ludwig. It was only later when he's going over his schedule for the next day that Alistair got back to them with a link. Gilbert frowned and clicked it, opening a video that started with two people in hockey gear, sticks in hand and leaning over the ice. The picture was a little shaky but the audio was surprisingly good.

"I'll just brace myself for the humiliation, then." The voice was Matthew's, discernable even though it was a tone that Gilbert had never personally heard from him.

He was one of the two people on the ice.

A whistle shrieked through the phone and the two hockey players started moving, Gilbert guessing that the slighter of them was Matthew.

What followed was the most intriguing five minutes and thirty seconds he had ever seen.

Matthew was fast and so fucking capable. The first goal was normal enough, though Gilbert wasn't particularly familiar with the sport. Strangely, the other player seemed surprised that Matthew had managed.

"The clock is still ticking, Denson!" Denson? As in Matthias Denson? Gilbert knew him well enough. He was fun to play drinking games with and Gilbert vaguely remembered him being important on the hockey team.

Why was Matthew facing off with an upperclassman of Denson's caliber?

And why was he winning?

The video continued and Gilbert found that his breath had caught when the two started charging at each other from what seemed like opposite ends of the rink. The person holding the camera caught Matthias' wide smile and figured out where the two would collide. Then Matthew did something incredible with his skates, flung ice into the junior's eyes, and headed back across the rink to score again.

The sound coming from what Gilbert could only assume were there rest of the team was deafening. Someone, perhaps the videographer, said very quietly, "Holy shit."

"Denson, don't—" The voice that Gilbert guessed was the coach called and his heart stuttered as he watched the much larger man speed towards Matthew and swing at him…only to hit empty air. Matthew had dodged so smoothly, with incredible balance considering he was on skates, and seemed to help Matthias along just enough for him to smack into a wall.

Matthew skated gracefully backwards, confident in his movements, as he called out causally, asking for the time. When the older man answered, the camera zoomed in enough to see Matthew's face clearly. He snarled in challenge as he said, eyes intent on Matthias, "Come on, Denson. Make me work for it."

Gilbert couldn't remember the last time he had been so attracted to a person.

He watched in awe as the match continued, the coach asking how Matthew (he learned his last name was Williams) had gotten so angry. When someone answered, he understood Matthew's behavior on Saturday. What followed was the most complicated dance Gilbert had ever seen on ice, their movements violent but purposeful and so fucking powerful.

The match ended with Matthias shooting the puck towards Matthew's face, only for him to catch it. He watched Matthew skate towards Matthias, voice low enough for Gilbert to miss what he hissed in his face, but his expression was full of cold rage. Matthias said something soft and, after a moment, they were smiling at each other, neither having moved away after Matthew's threatening approach. The video ended with someone calling out, "So are you two going to kiss now or—?"

It took Gilbert a minute to process all of that.

He maybe took a minute to walk around. Just to get a glass of water, of course.

He might have watched the video again, pausing at what he thought were the highlights.

Gilbert closed the video and saw that his friends had taken advantage of his prolonged silence.

D: Still want to tell me you're not interested?

P: Woooooow

F: If he was upset, it wasn't about that. A little bird told me that he had a moment with another freshman when they were leaving that left him shaken, but that's it.

F: Wait, his last name is Williams?

P: why does that matter? Gil is probably still picking his jaw off the floor and wiping drool from his chin

P: btw I just want to state again my concern over how attracted you are to controlled violence

P: you might want to talk to a professional about that

D: You don't have the moral ground to kinkshame him.

F: lol

D: Neither do you.

F: oh I know that. You know I'm one to encourage such things.

P: why am I friends with you?

F: you love me :P

Gilbert sighed. Once more into the abyss.

W: there was a lot to process

D: he speaks!

P: I really hope you just watched the video three times in a row

F: lol I hope he did something else with that time

W: Francis you are gross

F: *blows kiss* love you too

D: Well? Still going to let the fact that he's a first year and your brother's friend stop you?

Gilbert hesitated but knew the answer.

W: No

He wouldn't go so far as to call dibs because that wasn't how you treated people but…

W: if something happens then something happens

F: but are you actually going to go after him?

P: no bars hold?

Gilbert paused and remembered Matthew's soft voice and blush and smile. Then he remembered how he fought and skated and snarled.

W: yes

D: FINALLY

He just…wouldn't tell Ludwig. Not yet.


 

Matthew was working in his room when he heard two raised voices spitting Italian at each other. He tried not to wince.

Matthew hadn't seen Lovino all day and they were just coming in from soccer practice. He hoped that Lovino's interactions with Antonio had gone well, but, judging from the noise, he gave up on that.

The door clicked open and Feliciano pushed his way into the room first. Seeing him, he switched to English. "Matthew! A voice of reason!"

Red flags popped up in his head. "Uhh…"

"I am being reasonable," Lovino snapped at his brother and he closed the door behind him. "I'm being realistic."

"No, you're being a coward." Lovino bodily flinched from that jab and Feliciano seemed to regret it instantly. "Ve, I'm sorry, Lovi. Listen, you deserve more than this. I want you to have more than this."

Lovino looked away from his brother. "It's more than I ever expected, Feli. Just let me have this, okay?"

Almost afraid to interject, Matthew asked, "What happened?"

Feliciano stared at his brother until Lovino sighed and said, "Antonio and I have an arrangement."

"An…arrangement." Matthew repeated, not sure where to take that.

"Yes. We hang out, be friends, and fuck each other. On a non-exclusive basis."

These were dangerous waters, but Matthew hedged. "That sounds like dating?"

"Nope." Lovino said, popping the 'p' sound and eyes betraying just how much that hurt. "More than friends with benefits, less than dating. He doesn't want to be tied down."

"Jesus, he actually said that to you? In those words?" Matthew asked, astonished.

"No, but he said enough. That's fine. It's my first year and only the second week of classes. No need to make any decisions about anything now." Lovino said this coldly but his eyes stayed on the carpet.

Feliciano looked imploringly at Matthew, asking him silently to understand that this wasn't acceptable. But Matthew did understand. He understood where Lovino was coming from, that his best friend had fallen hard and fast for someone he didn't think would want him and was willing to take whatever Antonio would give.

In talking over the past couple of weeks, Lovino had let slip the fact that Feliciano was the family favorite, that he was doted on and loved by all. Lovino had just been a going-nowhere ugly duckling (his words) until he managed to claw his way into university. He wasn't used to being loved, knew the value of any kind of affection and wouldn't take it for granted. And Matthew understood that all too well.

This was his choice and, in Lovino's place, Matthew knew that he would make the same decision.

"Feli," Matthew started softly. "Let this go."

Feliciano dropped his jaw and Lovino looked at him in tentative gratitude. "You can't be serious! Mattie, you know that this isn't—"

"Feliciano. Let. It. Go." Feliciano stopped talking, eyes blazing but finally seeing that Matthew and Lovino were serious.

"Unbelievable. I don't understand this."

Lovino sighed and met Matthew's eyes in recognition. Speaking to his brother, he said, "I hope you never do."

Feliciano left and silence decended between them. At length, Matthew stated the obvious. "This will hurt."

Lovino closed his eyes but nodded. "Doesn't everything?"

Matthew had no helpful response and they dropped it. After some time passed Lovino asked if he was okay. "Feli said that something was wrong before he noticed the Antonio thing."

…He felt like he should tell Lovino about the accident. They were in a somber space for sharing things like this and had reached some understanding born of shared pain. But he didn't want Lovino to look at him differently, didn't want his friend to fear his temper or call him a monster. He stayed quiet, almost deciding to tell him when his phone dinged with an incoming urgent email.

Matthew frowned to see it was from his coach. The subject line was "Video from Today."

Matthew paled.

"Oh, my God."

Lovino was instantly on edge. "What? What is it?"

He hastily opened the email and the body of the text was short and to the point.

I don't care which one of you miscreants filmed Williams and Denson or why you did it. Just take the damn thing down.

What video?

"Oh, my God," Matthew repeated, horrified.

"Matthew, what-?"

"There's a video. From this morning."

"…fucking shit."

Matthew turned to his computer and sent back a frantic reply to his coach.

Dear Coach Morgandorffer,

What video?

Respectfully,

Matthew Williams

He hit send.

It took thirty seconds for him to realize he had hit reply all.

He knew because Nate replied directly to him with a link and the comment, I did not know this was being recorded. I'm sorry.

He followed the link and saw the beginning of the video, saw just how much of a difference he and Matthias were in size from a distance before stopping it.

"Lovi-"

"Let it play, Mattie."

He did.

He watched himself move, winced at how reckless and foolish he had been in his anger. Lovino stayed silent and just reached over his shoulder to put the video to full screen and turn up the volume. He heard Lovino's breath catch when the ice sprayed and when Matthias slammed into the wall. Matthew was horrified by the rage on his face and painfully aware that everyone who watched knew the things that Matthias had said to him.

The video ended abruptly and Matthew noted that it really did look like he and Matthias were going to kiss from the outside.

Matthew hit escape as Lovino whistled long and low. There were a couple hundred hits already and it had been uploaded three hours ago to a generic Youtube account. "Ho. Ly. Shit."

Matthew flinched. "I know it was a lot—"

"That was fucking awesome!" Lovino said, stepping back from him. Matthew turned to see his friend grinning. "I didn't know you could do that!"

"You didn't think it was too much?"

"Too much! Oh, hell no! It was perfect! He looked like he was close to falling to his knees and worshiping you after that."

Matthew snorted and rolled his eyes. "Come off it."

"Are you telling me you didn't see that? You're saying there was no sexual tension at the end?"

Matthew frowned. "No? Not from my end at least." Lovino was quiet for a long moment and looking at him like he had started speaking in Latin. "What?"

"You like men, yes?"

"Yes?" Matthew said, not understanding this line of questioning.

"You know that Denson is hot, right?"

Matthew frowned harder. "Sure, he's handsome and capable, but I don't know if I would describe him as hot."

Lovino was staring at him again. Matthew's phone beeped with a text message and he stiffened when he saw who it was.

Gilbert. It was Gilbert.

Gilbert: Happy to see that you weren't bluffing when you said you could handle it

"What is it? You got this weird look on your face."

"Gil texted me."

"What?"

"He saw the video."

"No! You're shitting me!" Lovino was suddenly pressed against his side, staring at his phone as he opened the message. He blinked hard. Nope, it hadn't changed.

"What do I say back?!"

"Something about being able to handle anything." Matthew was confused until he looked over to see Lovino literally wiggling his eyebrows at him. He lightly pushed him away.

"Not that!" he cried, laughing. "I'm serious, Lovi! I don't know how to do this!"

"Give it here." Lovino tried to snatch his phone away but Matthew pulled it away to his chest protectively at the last minute, eyes wary. "Come on. I promise I won't send anything without your express permission beforehand."

Matthew narrowed his eyes but gave him his phone. Lovino tapped something out quickly, looked back at Matthew for a long moment, and deleted everything. Then he tried again and handed it over for approval. Matthew nodded.

Matthew: You saw the video then?

Matthew: Happy not to disappoint. It's not my fault Matthias underestimated me.

The answer was quick in coming.

Gilbert: Yeah, I did. And I'll keep that in mind.

"What does that mean? Lovi, what does this mean?" Matthew said, showing his friend the phone.

Slowly, evilly Lovino smiled at him. "That means, my dear Mattie, that you've officially got him on the hook. Congratu-fuckin'-lations."

Chapter Text

Matthew hadn’t responded to Gilbert’s other text the night before, too nervous and uncertain to let Lovino goad him into it. His mind was still spinning with the thought of Gilbert’s reaction to watching the video as he walked in psychology that afternoon. What did he think of my skating? Of what Matthias had teased him over? What about that video really made him text me? What was the point of the text? Did it only mean what the words had said, or was Lovino right and Gilbert was actually interested in him? Isn’t that a big leap to make? Why would Gilbert like him!? All he had done was embarrass himself in front of him! What would make Gilbert different from everyone else he had ever met?

He cursed himself for being so preoccupied when he met with Ludwig after class. Even before Ludwig said anything, Matthew could read the smallest signs of concern on his friend’s stoic face. He only then realized that he had forgotten to ask himself the most immediate concern when it came to dealing with Gilbert.

What did he tell Ludwig?

His friendship with Ludwig had nothing to do with Gilbert and he didn’t want him to think he was only using him to get closer to his brother. Should he mention it or not?

What had really happened between him and Gilbert? Nothing was the answer. Sure, they had ran into each other and exchanged numbers. He had told Gilbert about his small problem with his team and Gilbert had congratulated him on handling it well. That’s it! Bringing up Gilbert now would just plant seeds of doubt in Ludwig’s mind when there was nothing happening between them in the first place!

All this ran through his head as he smiled at his friend in greeting and said, “Hey, Ludwig.”

“Hello, Matthew. Are you feeling better?” They turned to walk out of the building together.

“Yes, thank you. I’m sorry again for leaving early yesterday. I…” Matthew cleared his throat and Ludwig gave him time to finish his thought. “You wouldn’t have happened to see a video about me yesterday, did you?”

Ludwig gave him a strange look and Matthew realized just how odd that question was. “No, Matthew, I did not. What happened?”

Matthew sighed and looked sheepishly at the taller boy. “I may have neglected to mention that I was kinda being bullied by my team—“

“You what?!” Ludwig stopped in his tracks and turned to him, anger clear on his face and Matthew was pretty sure that it wasn’t directed at him.

Matthew adjusted his glasses and said, “Yeah. Um, they basically thought I was too small to be useful on the team and a waste of space?”

Ludwig stared at him and his face went cold. “Have they hurt you?”

“No! No, it never got that bad. And I handled it yesterday morning! I won a one-on-one game with one of the older players so they respect me now and have even apologized!” Matthew started walking again since he really had to be getting to French Cinema and Ludwig thankfully followed.

“This is why you were tired,” Ludwig stated, though it was more of a question.

Matthew winced. “Partially. It also reminded me of something that happened a long time ago that takes it out of me. Turns out one of my teammates recorded a video and put it on YouTube last night. Hundreds of people saw it before it was taken down and one of my friends on the team was recorded explaining in detail to the coach just why I was angry enough to challenge the other guy.”

Ludwig was quiet for a bit before he said, “I am sorry you had to deal with that, Matthew. And please do not be sorry about yesterday; your health comes first.”

Matthew smiled up at him. “Thank you, Ludwig. How are you?”

“I am well, a bit tired. My brother surprised me with one of my favorite meals last night, but that is the extent of my life’s excitement at the moment.”

If Ludwig was expecting Matthew to ask after Gilbert, he was going to avoid that trap. “You know, we should hang out when we’re not studying or walking between classes. Give you some fun that isn’t food related.”

Ludwig seemed to startle at that but also had the beginnings of a smile on his face. “I would like that. What do you like to do?”

“I like reading, but that’s not particularly social. And—okay! I have three important questions for you.”

Ludwig made is face serious and Matthew had the feeling that he was humoring him. “Of course.”

“One: do you like movies?”

‘Yes.”

“Two: are you one of those people who hates it when people comment on the movie even when you’re with friends?”

Ludwig hesitated and Matthew narrowed his eyes at him. Ludwig sighed and said with a smile edging into his expression again. “Yes, but I can ignore it for the sake of comradery.”

“Three: would you mind meeting a couple of new people?”

“No.”

Matthew grinned. “Great! Movie nights it is! We’ll start small, just you, me, my roommate, Lovino, and Feli. Lovi is Feli’s brother.”

“Feli is the same guy from yesterday, correct?” Ludwig asked and Matthew was pleased to note genuine interest in his eyes.

“Yes. Oh, I’m sorry; forgot to introduce you two properly. That was Feliciano. I met him the first day I moved in since he was with Lovi. He’s quite nice if a little optimistic. Lovi is…” How to describe his ornery best friend without scaring Ludwig off? “…wonderful but takes some getting used to. But he’s my best friend and since I’m thinking of hosting in our room it would be weird if he wasn’t there. You wouldn’t mind, right?”

Matthew made sure to make his eyes wide and hopeful as he said this. Ludwig had a look crossed between befuddlement and bemusement as he said, “Not as all, especially as you both would be hosting.”

Matthew beamed at him and said, “Great. Now, what are your favorite movies?”


Lovino knew he had literally run out of chances to avoid talking to Antonio when his team captain approached him after practice. Feliciano wasn’t talking to him, which was probably the best that he could ask for at the moment, particularly since it means he wasn’t talking to Antonio either. It had been all he could do to get him from confronting the junior the day before in front of the entire team. His silence was much preferred to the constant fear that his brother would broadcast both his feelings for Antonio and the nature of their relationship to everyone.

Well, part of their relationship at least. Matthew had been right on Saturday when he predicted that the entire team would know that he and Antonio had fucked each other after the game. No one had said anything to him, but there had been knowing and expectant glances going between them. Not a few of his teammates frowned at Lovino obviously avoiding him, probably having guessed at least some of what Feliciano had been so worked up about.

But the reason for Lovino staying away from Antonio and his general radio silence for his…lover (God, that sounded weird but they weren’t fuck buddies or boyfriends or partners so what else was there?) had more to do with the need to become desensitized to his presence. A little over five hours after having cried over the guy was not enough time for him to be able to keep his emotions under control if he had talked to him. Not nearly enough time to keep the hurt out of his eyes and Antonio always watched him so closely that it hadn’t been worth the risk.

Now, though, he had had the chance to adjust his mental parameters. As Matthew had said, this would hurt. He thought it was better than the alternative.

So Lovino acted like he hadn’t been viscerally aware of Antonio’s location for the past hour and a half and only turned towards him when he said, “Lovino?”

He did not tense. He did not sigh longingly. He made no outward sign of how much he wanted the boy in front of him. Instead, he frowned at him like the past four days had never happened and said, “What, bastard?” Lovino knew that his voice lacked the usual toxicity, but it was as close as he could get when talking to the person who had so thoroughly wrecked his emotions.

Antonio seemed taken aback by his response and Lovino crossed his arms in response, knowing that they had the attention of their teammates, cooling down from practice around them. Lovino didn’t know why; they had agreed that they would restrain themselves at practice and around the lab. “Could I talk to you for a second?”

Lovino narrowed his eyes at him, trying to read his face. “Yeah, sure,” he said brusquely before turning on his heal and marching away from the rest of their team. Antonio was following him by the sound of his footsteps and Lovino stopped when they were about fifty meters away from everyone else. Their practice field was a pretty open space, so distance was the only way to get even an illusion of privacy. Lovino consciously softened his voice as he asked, “What’s up?”

Antonio blinked at him. “What’s up? That’s what I was going to ask you. Between you avoiding me and what happened yesterday with Feli, I get the feeling that something’s wrong.”

Lovino clinched his jaw and looked away from him. “Look, I didn’t know how to treat you like nothing had changed while here. I’m still on shaky ground. And it’s not avoiding you; I had no reason to talk to you.”

“No reason--!” Antonio looked upset about that, but Lovino pushed on.

“—And about Feli, we yell at each other a lot. We’re Italian; it’s how we communicate sometimes. Don’t worry about it.”

Antonio frowned a little and leaned a little closer to him. Lovino held his ground, but it was an effort. “I get that on some level, but that doesn’t explain why he keeps glaring at me, Lovi. And what if I don’t want you to act like nothing’s changed? When we talked yesterday, I thought we were agreeing to no touching here, no special treatment, not a complete lack of interaction.”

Lovino glanced back at where everyone else was and found that a lot of eyes were on them, including those of their curious-looking coach. Shit. He looked back at Antonio and said, “Can this wait? Like just fifteen minutes? Coach is looking at us and I don’t want to get you in trouble.” When Antonio just stared at him, eyes searching his face, he pulled out the big guns. “Tonio, please.”

At those two words, Antonio seemed to relax a little, brow smoothing and body moving back. “Okay. Fifteen minutes.”

They walked back to the group without another word and Lovino broke away from him to go to where Feliciano was stretching. Lovino sat next to his brother and hissed at him in Italian, “Stop glaring at him.”

“Ve, why should I?” Feliciano answered, not bothering to look at him.

“Because you’re giving him the idea that something is wrong and I don’t know how to explain it to him.”

“Maybe you should figure that out, Lovi. Being with him hurts you. Did you think I would be okay with that?”

Lovino was starting to lose his temper. “It’s not for you to be okay with, Feliciano. It’s my life and my choice. You don’t get a say in who I’m with.”

Feliciano snorted. “If you were actually with him I wouldn’t be having a problem.”

Lovino flinched at that, at the reminder that he wasn’t worth having a relationship with. Just who was Feliciano to decide that he couldn’t have this? Who the fuck did he think he was to try and deny him this? After everything? Hurt and angry now, Lovino stood and snarled out, “Fuck you.”

“You know I’m right. And I’m going to keep glaring at him because he should know that being with him hurts you.”

In rapid, furious Italian he asked, “Has it never fucking occurred to you that not being with him would hurt me more? Did it enter your mind for one goddamn second that he might actually make me feel good? That I’m with him for a fucking reason?”

“Beyond self-loathing, you mean?” And that was like a knife to the gut, rending his insides until he was shredded and burning. Feliciano suddenly looked up at him, as if alarmed by what he just said. “Lovi, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean—“

“Vargas!”

Lovino stiffened and looked to where their coach stood, watching them with hands on his hips and expression torn between exasperation and bemusement. “Yes, sir?”

My wife is Italian,” he started and Lovino paled. They hadn’t fought in front of him yesterday, but this…oh, God. He had to know about him and Antonio. “This isn’t the place to discuss your love life.”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry; it won’t happen again.”

He snorted. “Yeah, tell that to your boyfriend.” Lovino had to look as close to fainting as he felt because the coach sighed and said in English. “Listen up everyone because I’m only going to say this once. I couldn’t care less who you sleep with as long as it doesn’t negatively affect how you play. In that case, I won’t do anything besides tell you to fix it. Dismissed.”

There was a stunned silence that lingered as Lovino felt his face heat so quickly that he was dizzy. Is there a way to sink into the earth and never return again? Just like…disappear and make everyone forget this ever happened? Especially him?

Since he couldn’t expect the earth to do him any favors, he turned, grabbed his things, and immediately headed off the field. Or at least, that was his plan.

Feliciano stopped him before he made it two steps with his belongings, eyes frantic and face apologetic. “Lovi, please—“

“Get out of my face.” His voice was cold and hard and knew his eyes matched. He rarely got so angry that he reached this point, voice low and hissing rather than the near yell that was more natural. He almost never used this tone with anyone. But what Feliciano had said… “I owe you nothing right now and need to not be around you. Move.”

Lovino felt another presence at his side, too close to be anyone but Antonio. Feliciano’s eyes flicked to him but Lovino was beyond patience. “Now.”

Feliciano moved and Lovino walked past him like he wasn’t there. Antonio didn’t say anything as he walked with him towards the largest part of campus, just stayed close to his side. Lovino didn’t know what he was thinking and could barely think himself. His feet lead him towards his dorm and no objections were made by Antonio.

It was only when they were in front of Lovino’s building did Antonio take his hand, not to halt him but just to hold it. Lovino looked at him, intertwined their fingers, and kept moving.

As they waited for the elevator, Lovino said, “He’s overprotective. I didn’t mention it before because he thinks I deserve better than you. Like that fucking matters.”

Antonio’s only response was to squeeze his hand lightly and stand a little closer to him. There were other people waiting now and they all crowded into the elevator. He and Antonio occupied the far corner, no longer touching but definitely in each other’s personal space. Lovino waited for his floor a tad impatiently, curving his back as he leaned against the wall and tapping his fingers lightly on the paneling behind him. The damn thing stopped at nearly every floor and Lovino almost ran into the slow opening door as they exited. Antonio went back to holding his hand and Lovino lead them to his dorm room, using his card and code to get into the room.

“Hey, Lovi! I was thinking about having a movie…” Matthew turned from his computer to greet him with a smile only to trail off as he saw Lovino’s expression and the fact that he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t sure what was on his face at the moment, but Matthew, the most wonderful human being that he was, closed his computer and readied his backpack as he said, “I’m suddenly starving. And need to head to the library. See you later! Hi, Antonio.”

“Hey, Mattie,” Antonio dutifully greeted.

Matthew shot him a significant look as he moved past and Lovino mustered the wherewithal to say quietly, “Thank you.”

“Oh, no. I’m just hungry. Also,” Matthew paused as he moved out of the room and looked Antonio directly in the eye. “If you fucking hurt him, I will make you wish you were dead. Bye!”

Bless you, Mattie, Lovino thought as the door shut behind his friend. He looked at Antonio who dropped his duffle back to the floor and stepped closer to him. He gently removed Lovino’s small bag from where it hung from a shoulder and cupped his face. “What does matter?” he asked, picking up the conversation where Lovino had left it.

Lovino knew that his eyes were too honest, too intent as he answered, “This is my choice. And I choose this…and you.”

“I don’t want you to ignore me, Lovi. Wherever we are,” Antonio said and Lovino rested his hands against the other boy’s hips.

He couldn’t help the soft laugh or shake of his head. “You honestly think I wasn’t aware of you the entire time? I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide this. And now it doesn’t really matter at practice since fucking everyone knows.”

Antonio’s eyes lit up with humor before he asked, “What do you need?”

“You should go,” Lovino answered quietly knowing that this would dig his hole deeper, but his hands involuntarily pulled him closer and his eyes flicked down to his mouth.

Antonio’s voice slipped into a lower register when he said, “That’s not what I asked.”

They were a little muddy and definitely sweaty from practice, but that didn’t matter now. He would change his sheets after.

“Kiss me,” he whispered, meaning make me forget.

Antonio obliged him.


Matthew blew out a gusty breath as he walked into the food commons, not hungry but not wanting the quiet of the library and his room was very occupied. He had yet to discover his own little study spot on campus and was feeling uninspired when thinking of alternative locations. When in doubt, go where the food is. He was concerned by the lost look on Lovino’s face (and the outright worried one on Antonio’s) when he had first walked into the room, but the best thing he thought to do was give him privacy. He wasn’t sure what could have pulled Lovino back to their room when Antonio had a bedroom of his own, but Matthew wasn’t going to question it. …Well, he would, just not right now.

Feeling like this would be a long night, Matthew got himself a coffee first thing, fixing it with a lot of cream and sugar, before scoping out a table. He was surprised to meet curious green eyes and a wave of welcome from a couple of tables away from the coffee station.

Matthew smiled in greeting and headed over. “Hey, Alistair. What are you doing here?”

They shrugged and gestured to their open laptop and near-by mug of black coffee. Matthew sat as they answered, “I’m usually here this late on weeknights, workin’ on stuff while drinkin’ endless coffee. There’s not much food, but I already ate. How about ye?”

Matthew winced. “My roommate has a guest. I made myself scarce.”

Alistair nodded. “Fair. Ye’re roommin’ with Lovino Vargas, yeah?” At Matthew’s wide eyes and nod, they continued with, “Antonio’s one of me best mates. I’m assumin’…”

“Yeah, he’s with Antonio. How did you know we were roommates?” Matthew asked, genuinely curious.

“Tonio’s not one ta keep details ta himself. How’d ye think Gilly knew where ta find Ludwig on Friday?” They sipped at their coffee and Matthew frowned (They knew about that?) before shaking his head with a wry smile.

“Small world. Or rather, small campus.” It wasn’t. Campus was huge and there were literally thousands of people who lived here. Then he remembered that Alistair had been long settled before he arrived. Cheeks heating, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m probably disturbing you.”

Red eyebrows raised slowly as Alistair regarded him. “Mattie, ye don't know me but I’m a wee bit blunt. If ye were botherin’ me, I would’ve said so.”

Matthew blinked at them before breaking into a smile with a small laugh. “That’s refreshing! I don’t like having to guess if I’m actually welcome somewhere. And I hate imposing on people.” Alistair was looking at him strangely, head tilted a little to the side. “What?”

“Yer strange. I like ye.”

“…Thank you?”

They started to smile at him. “Yer not goin’ ta say ye like me back?”

Matthew briefly considered all he knew about this person and said with a sheepish shrug and smile, “I don’t know if I do yet.”

Alistair laughed out loud, smile lines forming at the corners of their eyes, and Matthew liked them then. “Ye’ll do. Noo, do ye actually have work ta do or were ye just escapin’ yer room?”

“Mostly escape. You?”

“Nah, I’m here fer tha coffee at this point. So,” they seemed to study Matthew’s face for a moment. “Yer a first year. How’s tha’ goin’?”

“Better than expected, actually. I got lucky and managed to make some friends. Classes aren’t too hard at the moment, just hockey practice makes it a lot of work. What about you? You’re a junior?”

Alistair nodded. “Aye, workin’ on finishin’ up. This is tha year I do most of tha heavy liftin’ since senior year is fer tyin’ up loose ends. I could graduate early, but I’m on a full ride an’ see no reason ta leave.”

Matthew was surprised and impressed; full rides to this school were extremely difficult to get. “What are you studying?”

“Comp sci mostly. You?”

“History and French, but I’m pre-law.” Alistair made a face that all but screamed their opinion on lawyers. “What?”

“No offense, but this country’s legal system is fecked up. It protects tha powerful and oppresses damn near everyone else.”

Matthew didn’t know much about the law yet but, considering the times and history, he believed them. He considered their words carefully before answering. “That seems plausible but how can we expect to dismantle a system without understanding how it works first?”

“But in being part of it, are ye not legitimizin’ tha very thing ye want ta change?”

Matthew wanted to frown but this was the most intellectually stimulating conversation since he’d gotten to school and it was coming from someone he had spoken to for less than ten minutes in total. So he started to smile, and continued, “But can’t those who want to reform the system help more people by being in the room where decisions are made? Can’t they help break the system from within it?”

Alistair closed their computer and gave Matthew all their attention. “I stand by tha idea tha’ they are upholding a corrupt system in tha first place.”

“It may be the lesser evil.”

“Ah! But tha problem with choosin’ tha lesser evil is tha’ eventually ye forget it is evil.”

“So what would be your solution, then?” Matthew asked, genuinely curious. “Scrap the whole thing?”

“Why not?”

Matthew paused, thinking for a moment before saying, “Well, who would build what came after? Wouldn’t the power disparities reinforced by the current system be reflected in who would create the new system? How do you know that the result wouldn’t be worse than what exists now?”

“Tha’s tha thing: ye can't just throw out tha legal system without addressin’ an’ correctin’ social inequality.”

“How?”

Their discussion continued, going back and forth for a long time, Matthew curious and Alistair challenging.

Eventually Matthew said with a shrug, “I don’t see why we both can’t be right. Just make sure women of color are leading the revolution; white men have fucked up enough.” Alistair just looked at him for a long moment before shaking their head, barely keeping themself from laughing. “What?”

“Ye’ll do. An’ I’m laughin’ because Gilly has no clue about ye yet. Not really.”

Matthew tensed, mentally caught flat-footed. “What about Gilbert?” His voice had been too high and reedy in tone and Alistair grinned at him. It took two seconds for Matthew to realize what his reaction would mean to them. He couldn’t help the blush and groaned as he put his face in his hands. “Was I that obvious on Saturday?”

“Yes,” they said simply. “Don't fret; he was worse.”

Matthew froze and lifted his head slowly from his hands to look at them. “What did you say?”

They frowned at him. “Did ye not know? He was all but leerin’ at ye.”

“I was a mess.” Matthew said automatically.

“He didn't see it tha’ way.”

Matthew stared incomprehensively at them for a long moment before sipping from his mug of coffee and grimacing at the cold sludge it had become. Alistair just watch his reactions. He tried again, tiring of the uncertainty, “What does he want from me, Alistair?”

They shrugged but their eyes narrowed as they assessed him. “He’s not sure yet, but me best guess is everythin’.”

Matthew leaned back in his chair, stunned. “Why?”

“Why not?” Matthew lowered his eyes as his cheeks heated again but said nothing. At length, they asked, “Has no one ever wanted ye?”

Matthew flinched and Alistair cursed. “I’m sorry. Tha’ was a shite thing ta ask.”

He managed to smile and it felt bittersweet. “It was; but it’s also true outside of hockey.”

Seconds passed and Matthew considered making excuses and leaving but Alistair said, “On Saturday, Gilly told ye ta remember something. What was it?”

Matthew finally looked up to meet their eyes and found their expression serious. He said, “He had given me his number and said to text him if I needed a sparring partner or wanted to talk.”

Alistair seemed to roll this information around in their head. “Text him tomorrow. It doesn't need ta be anythin’ special, but just start talkin’.  If ye think ye still like him after a couple of days, ask him about tha sparring partner thing.”

He was back to being stunned. “Why are you telling me this?”

Alistair smiled wryly. “Because I think ye would be good fer him. And I like ye.” They paused for a second then grinned. “An’ I can hold it over him forever if this works out.”

Matthew tentatively smiled back. ‘I like you, too.”

“Because I’m helping ye wit him?”

“No. I decided I liked you the first time you laughed.”

They stared at him like he was the strangest thing they had ever seen before shaking their head and laughing once more. “He has no idea. Noo! We should go. Looks like their closin’ down tha commons.”

Matthew startled and looked around to see workers putting up chairs on the other side of the room. Only he, Alistair, and one girl who seemed engrossed in writing something with headphones in place were the only students left. He’d been here for close to two hours. “I didn’t realize that much time had passed.”

“Thank ye.” Matthew looked quizzically at them and Alistair shrugged. “Means ye had good company.”

Matthew stood and gathered his things while Alistair did the same. “You are also strange.”

They nodded sagely, “Part of me charm.”

They walked together over to the dish collection area and then out together. Matthew checked his phone and saw that Lovino had texted him about 15 minutes prior.

Lovi: he’s gone thanks for that

“Looks like it’s safe to go home.”

Alistair shot him a pitying look. “Good luck wit tha’. I’m headin’ this way.” They nodded in the opposite direction of where Matthew was going. There was only one dorm in that direction, and it was the one taken up by upper-year honors students who applied to live there.

“Okay. I’ll see you around?”

Alistair smiled a little and shook their head. “Yeah, ye will. If ye find ye need to get away again, I’m usually at that table in tha evenings. I’m not always good company, but tha’ seat is open ta ye."

Matthew couldn’t help grinning at (who he hoped was) his new friend. “I’ll keep that in mind. Good night!”

“Night, Mattie.” Matthew turned towards his dorm, head spinning with their conversation and skin buzzing at the knowledge that Gilbert was actually interested in him. He didn’t know the boy, but he couldn’t help but want to, not after every time they interacted left Matthew tongue-tied and dizzy with an unfamiliar pull in his gut.

His thoughts shifted to Lovino as he rode the elevator and walked down the corridor to his room. He opened the door with trepidation, finding Lovino running a towel over wet hair. The room was cool, the window open, and smelled of air freshener. Matthew quite consciously ignored those observations to ask, “You want to talk?”

Lovino looked at him, eyes tired but somehow at peace, before shrugging. “Not much to say. Feli crossed a line, our coach doesn’t care if we’re fucking, and Antonio still…is Antonio.”

Matthew looked over him and noticed two things: there was yet another obvious love bite on his neck and that his friend was fragile around the edges of his expression. Thinking that Lovino would tell him something if he needed to, Matthew only asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

“No, but…thanks. Really.” Lovino said quietly, face lightly reddening as he looked away. “Maybe distract me?”

“Hmm,” Matthew hummed as he put his stuff down and sat in his desk chair. He wanted to bring up movie night, but wasn’t sure how Lovino would feel about it now that something had happened between him and Felicino. Gilbert had proved a welcome distraction on Saturday; maybe he and Alistair would work again. “I think I made a new friend.”


Gilbert frowned at the messages he just received from Alistair, not understanding the meaning and a little disconcerted by them. The first was a familiar gif of an older woman saying, “Honey, you’ve got a big storm coming.” The next was just the words you’re welcome.

Gilbert: You want to explain that?

Scottie: Lol no

Scottie: You’ll thank me later.

Gilbert: I hate you

Scottie: lol

So fucking contrary.

Gilbert: can I get a hint?

Scottie: Blue-eyed devil.

Gilbert: Francis?

Scottie: I’m telling him you said that.

Gilbert: he would be honored

Gilbert: c’mon Scottie don’t leave me hanging!

Scottie: I can’t decide if he’s a baby animal that needs protecting or a menace to society.

Francis was definitely a menace so… Gilbert froze, eyes wide.

Gilbert: Mattie?

Alistair didn’t answer for five minutes and Gilbert lost his patience.

Gilbert: what happened? What did he do to make you say that?

Scottie: made me like him

Gilbert: what

Scottie: ;)

Gilbert: I thought you only liked women

Gilbert: honestly wtf

Gilbert: Alistair!

Scottie: lol

Insufferable.

Gilbert: you’re not my best friend anymore Francis is

Scottie: oh ffs

Scottie: I got him to text you tomorrow

Scottie: because he LIKES you, you ungrateful child

Gilbert: I take back everything I said you’re the best and I love you

Scottie: ugh

Gilbert: thank you!

Scottie: Don’t fuck it up.

Gilbert: wait, how do you know?

Scottie: *rolls eyes*

Gilbert: did he tell you?

Scottie: Goodnight, Gilbert.

Damn. Looks like he had to wait until tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Mattie: Hey

Gilbert hadn’t been anxiously checking his phone all day for this one text. No, he had just been…very conscious of the time today. And there certainly weren’t butterflies in his stomach. He was the epitome of cool.

Gilbert: hey

Shit. Too cool. He had to know he was interested!

Gilbert: how are you?

That was good. Inviting without being over-eager.

Matthew took a few minutes to write a response, but Gilbert saw that he had been typing on and off for most of that time. Looks like he wasn’t the only one agonizing over what to say; it was comforting.

Mattie: I’m okay, just getting out of my lit class. You?

Gilbert: ngl dying a little. I’m drafting a project in the architecture building and I’ve been staring at it so long the lines are starting to blur.

Mattie: I have a suggestion and it’s a little out there but…

Mattie: take a break?

Gilbert: I really want to but the proposal is due Friday and I have to work tomorrow afternoon so *shrug*

Mattie: Fair but how much can you get done if you can’t see the lines anymore

Gilbert smiled. Then an idea occurred. Oh, why not?

Gilbert: you’re not wrong

Gilbert: maybe a coffee break…

Gilbert: want to take it with me?

Mattie: for real?

Mattie: I mean yes

Mattie: where should I meet you?

Gilbert was imagining the blush on his face and his smile widened.

Gilbert: are you close to the engineering building?

Mattie: …which one is that?

Gilbert: the dull grey building about midway through campus

Mattie: um

Gilbert: in front there are usually a bunch of students who look like zombies and are holding coffee cups like it’s their lifeline

Mattie: oh that one

Mattie: on my way

Mattie: I’ll be amidst the zombie horde out front

Gilbert was grinning now as he started packing up his things. He was going to come back and work on the assignment probably within an hour, but it was common curtesy to leave a workstation clear when you were going to be gone for that long. Well, it was curtesy any time outside of finals; at that point it was everyone for themself.

He got a few side-eyes on his way out from some of the older students, people Gilbert had seen around enough to nod in greeting but they never had spoken, but he paid them no mind as he put on the sunglasses he had to wear to protect his sensitive eyes (even on with the cloudy weather) and walked out of the work space. He was only a two-minute walk away from the engineering building, but it felt longer for the nervous excitement he felt in meeting Matthew for something as simple as coffee. Maybe he should have waited? But Matthew had said yes, even seemed happy to meet him.

Matthew was waiting to the side of the sidewalk outside of the engineering building, rocking backwards on his heals a little and fidgeting with his phone. He was dressed as Gilbert usually saw him, in loose jeans and a t-shirt, hoodie held in the hand that didn’t have his phone, and hair swept up to be out of his face in a messy but effective bun. He was an unassuming figure and people seemed to look over him. In the handful of seconds Gilbert had to observe him as he approached, Matthew moved easily out of the way of two people moving past him. That was odd, considering all it had taken was one glance at the boy for Gilbert to be arrested by his looks.

In fact, Gilbert was struck once again with the thought holy shit, he’s gorgeous when Matthew’s eyes found him and he grinned in greeting, cheeks coloring a little. He didn’t fight the automatic response of smiling back. “Hey, Mattie.”

“Hi, Gil.” Neither said anything for a beat, just looking at each other, before Matthew ducked his head adorably. “Um, where are we getting coffee?”

“In here,” Gilbert said, moving towards the building’s entrance. “There’s a coffee shop inside. I call it the engineering building, but it’s actually shared with the physics and comp sci departments. It was definitely some kind of evil genius who decided to put a continuous source of caffeine in the building with all of us working here constantly.”

Matthew walked with him as they made their way through the building, looking around a little. “You’re an engineering major?”

“Unfortunately.” When Matthew looked at him quizzically, he winced. “It was a big lift my first couple of years. I spent more time than was pretty sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated in this place. What about you? West mentioned a few things in passing about what you study.”

“History and French. I’m technically pre-law but they don’t let you do anything with that first semester.”

“Why law?” Gilbert asked as they got in line to order. There were a small number of tables in the café proper, but there were enough places in the surrounding area that weren’t for quiet study where they could sit.

“It seems right, I guess. It has a little to do with my brother, too.”

“Older or younger?”

Matthew shook his head. “We’re twins. He’s going into business and is one of the most ruthless, unethical people I know. I thought it would be great to be in a job that could hold people like him accountable for their actions.” Gilbert gave him look. “What?”

“Just interesting. It’s just most people that I’ve met say it’s for the money or because their parents went into it.”

He watched Matthew frown and think about what he would say next. He didn’t rush to answer and seemed to choose his words carefully as he said, “I don’t see the point in picking a profession just because your parents did it and there are things more important to me than money. As long as I have enough to pay my bills and eat, I think I’ll be okay.”

So he didn’t grow up with money. It wasn’t that Gilbert thought that all rich kids were consumed with greed but there was a certain…standard of living those he’d met on campus seemed accustomed to that struck him as ridiculous at times. “I understand that. I much rather enjoy what I do than pick the most lucrative job.”

“What about you? Ludwig mentioned something about blowing things up…” The tease in his voice and expression were obvious and Gilbert let out a short laugh.

“If only it were that simple. Yes, I want to go into demolitions but there’s both an art and a science to controlled chaos. And I’ve always enjoyed destruction; there’s something cathartic about it.” Matthew was looking at him with a question in his eyes and Gilbert realized that they were standing pretty close together… and that it was their turn to order. “Do you know what you want, Mattie?”

“Pretty sure,” he answered simply, absentmindedly. Gilbert raised his eyebrows at him to prompt his order and Matthew blinked, looked at the bored cashier, and blushed. “Um, sorry. A small…maple latte, please?”

Gilbert immediately grimaced, but he ordered without missing a beat, “Double shot for me, thanks.” He saw Matthew wrinkle his nose as he started taking his backpack off, presumably to get his money. Gilbert easily reached into his back pocket and pulled out a ten from his wallet.

“Gil, you don’t—“

“I want to.”

“Oh. Okay.” Matthew stepped to the side to wait for their drinks. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” He stepped to the side after getting his change and noticed someone getting up from one of the tables in the crowded area. He nodded over and said to Matthew. “Can you snag that table for us? It’s hard to find seating here.”

“Sure.” Matthew went to secure the table and Gilbert stood by for the drinks. The situation gave Gilbert a couple of minutes to try to not question his decision to ask Matthew to coffee already and he found himself fidgeting anxiously with the sunglasses. Sure, he had firmly taken the route of pursuing him, but, now that he wasn’t consumed with anticipation, doubt started to creep in. He didn’t want to come off as predatory, not in a bad way. Gilbert didn’t have a subtle bone in his body and he generally had problems articulating non-technical thoughts. The only one of his close friends less diplomatic than him was Alistair, but that was a really low bar. There was a reason they were given the names War and Death, after all. And—

The drinks were announced and Gilbert had run out of time to overthink this. He grabbed them and started weaving through the tables to get to Matthew. The freshman looked up from his phone at Gilbert’s approach and smiled at him, the expression genuine and lighting up his whole face.

His breath did not catch, thank you very much.

“Thanks.” Matthew said as Gilbert sat across from him. Gilbert reached out to give him the syrup that he called coffee and Matthew met him, their fingers brushing. He was an adult, goddammit. He shouldn’t be so aware of such a small amount of contact.

“No problem. I’ve got to ask though; you really can drink that? I mean, isn’t it too sweet?”

Matthew shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never had it before but I generally like maple flavored things. Why? Do you not like sweet things, Gil?”

Genuine curiosity was in eyes and Gilbert was distracted by the color of them, not really thinking about his answer. “It depends. A lot of American desserts are too much for me, so I’ve learned to avoid almost anything labeled sweet here.”

“Right, Ludwig did mention that you moved here when you were kids. You didn’t like the sweets even then?”

He didn’t miss casual mention of the fact that he was friends with Gilbert’s brother, but there wasn’t any weight to that statement. If it didn’t seem weird to Matthew that he was getting coffee with him while still being friends with Ludwig, Gilbert certainly wasn’t going to make a fuss of it. “Well, sure, but I was a kid then and a…mischievous one at that. I did grow out of it, though.”

Matthew raised his eyebrows and curled his lips a little. “That’s an interesting way to describe yourself…”

Gilbert smirked. “I guess you could say I got into a bit of trouble now and again.”

Matthew laughed and it was soft, understated thing. “All my illusions of you, shattered,” he teased before taking a sip of his coffee and wincing a little. At Gilbert’s expectant expression, he continued, “Okay, it’s a little much, even for me. Still, no way I would ever just order espresso shots.”

Gilbert shrugged and, thinking that the shots would no longer scald him, knocked them back easily. The espresso in the engineering building was not worth savoring. He looked at Matthew when he was done and saw poorly concealed horror on his face. Gilbert answered it with a smile. “I don’t even really taste them anymore. That, and I’ve built up a tolerance to caffeine that isn’t quite to Alistair’s level of dependence but is mildly worrying.”

Matthew shook his head at him. “I take it you have long days?”

“Yeah, but I think I’m in the majority on that. I have class, work, and club stuff, so it’s enough to keep me running around, especially if I want to actually see my friends or family without a textbook between us.”

Matthew hummed a little in acknowledgement, leaning forward. “I get it. Where do you work?”

“Local community center. I teach self-defense sometimes, but mostly I help with teaching the martial arts classes a couple times a week.”

Matthew blinked at the information but then grinned at him. “Oh. That’s great, Gil! Do you have a favorite class to teach? Is it only MMA?”

Gilbert was surprised then immediately confused over his own reaction. He managed to answer, “It’s not just MMA, since I’m mostly assisting with other classes and I’m still pretty young to have a whole class to myself all the time. And…I think the one for kids. They're always willing to try new things, and a lot of them haven’t experienced enough fear in their life to be cautious or self-conscious. It’s hard to teach those classes, since they require a lot of supervision if we don’t want them to overdo it, but it’s probably still my favorite.”

Gilbert smiled absently at that, remembering the class he had helped with the week before. The kids were elementary aged, the parents either hanging about close to the classroom or elsewhere for the duration. None of them hesitated to hold back in their exclamations when they punched or kicked, just having fun. Gilbert had joked with them about being quiet “ninjas” when the center director poked her head in to silently signal that they needed to quiet down (which happened every other week), which resulted in a bunch of children giggling as they practiced “sneaking” around.

“You sound like you really enjoy it,” Matthew said, still smiling and focused on him in a way that was wonderful if inexplicably unbalancing. Then it hit him.

Matthew was listening to him. Not just waiting to jump in or just filing information or half looking at his phone. No, he was genuinely interested in and cared about hearing Gilbert’s answer.

When Alistair had sounded surprised that Matthew meant that he truly was happy to meet them a few days ago, Gilbert didn’t understand. Now, he did.

It was…really nice, actually. Being listened to.

“Um, yeah.” Gilbert said, in response, at a loss what to do with this new information. Well, that was a lie. He knew what to do—return the favor. Gilbert cleared his throat and had to look away from Matthew for a moment, feeling the slightest flush crawl up his neck. “What about you, Mattie? What do your days look like?”


Gilbert was pretty when he blushed.

That was a startling observation for Matthew to make and he dwelled on it in the back of his mind as they continued talking. He didn’t usually notice that detail with people, let alone feel any desire to watch it happen again. He also never feels the urge to try to hold the hand of whomever he’s getting coffee with.

Then again, he’s never been on a date before.

Not that this is a date, of course. It was just coffee between two people getting to know each other.

Right?

Anyway.

The topic changed as it is wont to do in good conversations and Matthew noticed that Gilbert really did seem interested in him. Alistair had told him as much, but there was a difference between hearing the impossible and having it actually happen. He had gotten so used to having people look past him off the ice that this kind of sustained and engaged attention was new…well, new to university. Lovino, Alistair, and now Gilbert had all made him feel…here?

That was the wrong word, but how else could he describe how important being seen was to someone who had never been before?

And it felt like he had never he had been seen quite like this, not by someone he was romantically interested in. It’s not that the interactions with friends weren’t important, but this moment with Gilbert was something different. He never found himself having to concentrate on not letting his eyes wander to the muscles in Lovino’s arms as he gestured or making sure he never stared too long at Alistair’s mouth. It’s not like Gilbert anything but a man, yet Matthew found himself entranced in a way he wasn’t sure he liked yet.

Of all the things that Matthew worked to keep out of his head as they talked, the most distracting was how a little increased blood flow could make Matthew look at Gilbert (who was strikingly handsome and so masculine that Matthew had never been more aware just how gay he was—I mean goddamn) and immediately think pretty. It was like Michelangelo’s David had suddenly flushed at scholar’s commentary—

Okay, he needed to calm down. No need to get poetic over something Matthew did more often than he would like.

And yet.

Matthew worked hard at making sure his internal struggles stayed invisible as they spoke. He was relatively sure of his success until Gilbert suddenly scowled at him. Since Matthew had been half preoccupied with memorizing the exact curve of his lower lip (why why why why!), it had taken him aback and, for a wild second, made him fear that Gilbert had somehow sensed his thoughts. He stopped midway into relaying why the fourth season of Supernatural was the best one to ask, “Uh, is something wrong?”

Gilbert blinked and softened his expression. It was only as he focused back on Matthew that he realized that Gilbert had frowning at something behind him rather than at Matthew himself. “Sorry. It’s just…have you noticed other people staring at you?”

Matthew couldn’t help a small, surprised laugh at that ridiculous question. “Gil, I haven’t noticed anything beyond—“ you was how that sentence ended, but Matthew caught himself before he verbalized that way-too-true statement. Gilbert raised his eyebrows at that and had a knowing glint to his expression that said he knew exactly where he was going with that. It was only confirmed as he smirked a little at Matthew’s instant blush. He cleared his throat desperately and pushed on, looking away from Gilbert now. “Um, I mean, no. And no one ever looks at me.”

Shit, I shouldn’t have said that.

“I do.” Matthew swore his heart stuttered in his chest as the rest of his body tensed. When nothing followed that statement for two seconds, Matthew tentatively lifted his gaze to see nothing but sincerity on Gilbert’s face, all hints of arrogant teasing gone.

Matthew reflexively licked his lips, suddenly nervous, and started, “I—“

“Excuse me,” a polite voice interrupted, startling Matthew out of the bubble his mind had created around him and Gilbert. He straightened from the slight slouch over the table he had naturally assumed while talking comfortably and look towards the person who had spoken.

A blond young woman was standing all but next to the table, dressed in a way that stood out as polished in the mass of sweatshirt-clad bodies and staring, surprisingly, at Matthew. He would have expected people in this building to address Gilbert, not him. He tried to keep his brow from furrowing rudely as he answered, “Yes?”

She smiled kindly and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Gilbert,” she glanced at him in acknowledgement but then immediately turned back to Matthew, “but there was something I wanted to ask you. Do you play ice hockey, by chance?”

Matthew didn’t try to stop the confused frown now. “Yes…?”

“Patricia,” Gilbert said warily, like he wasn’t sure if he liked where this was going. “What’s this about?”

She blinked large brown eyes at him before saying, “The video, of course.” A lead ball formed in Matthew’s stomach as she continued to him now. “I wanted to confirm that it was you in the video that was posted on Monday, since the undergrads,” she gestured behind her and Matthew noticed a small group of people watching them with great interest, “were too nervous to come over and ask directly.”

Matthew felt pale. “You…recognize me? From that?” he asked, voice getting softer with each word. Matthew hated that the one-on-one match had been recorded, detested the fact that hundreds of people saw him close to his most childish, and loathed the idea of them knowing why he was angry. And, while he knew that he had been running out of options to get Matthias and the team to respect him, he was still ashamed of his behavior.

“Yes, of course! I noticed your voice first, but it was easy enough.” Matthew didn’t make a distressed sound, but it was an effort. He felt himself slouching as she kept speaking. “I’m the TA for the sports physics course and one of the students shared the video with the rest of the class. Thanks to you, we actually had an engaging discussion about—“

“Patricia.” Gilbert said, his tone hard now and commanding in a way that had both Patricia and Matthew looking at him without thought. He was looking at Matthew, assessing, as he continued, “You were interrupting us.”

She frowned a little in confusion, then looked between them once more before understanding bloomed on her face. “Oh! I didn’t realize this was—anyway! Just wanted to say that we all thought you were quite impressive and to thank you for belatedly making my class planning easier. Take care!”

“Thanks,” he replied weakly as she turned towards the other students. Patricia seemed nice enough, but her words left Matthew feeling like he was being constantly watched.

“Mattie,” Gilbert said gently and Matthew looked back to find his expression…tentative? “Do you want to leave?”

Matthew winced. “Yeah. Um, sorry.”

“Then let’s go.” Gilbert stood and Matthew hurried to follow him, keeping his head down and very carefully not looking at anyone. He didn’t want to see if anyone was looking back.

Matthew felt awful, realizing that it was his fault their…meeting had turned sour. He thought it was going so well! Now, what did Gilbert think? The video hadn’t come up in however long they had been talking…shit, he needed to check the time.

It would be shitty to be late meeting Ludwig because he had been with his brother…kind of behind his back. This wasn’t a date, so Matthew didn’t feel the need to tell Ludwig. If Gilbert ever asks me out, then I’ll talk to Ludwig. Until then, I’ve got nothing to go on, really.

“Hey.” Matthew looked over to Gilbert and saw concern on his face. Rather, he thought he did considering his sunglasses. “You okay?”

“…I’m sorry about that,” Matthew replied softly, unwilling to answer his actual question honestly. “I didn’t know that video was being taken and I’m not exactly proud of how I acted.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Gilbert said to him as they walked outside and were faced with an awkward moment of do we split up now or keep talking? “You have a minute?”

Matthew checked the time on his phone and saw that he still had a half hour until he had to meet Ludwig. “Yeah. About fifteen until I have to head to a meeting.” With Ludwig. Gilbert probably knew this, but he didn’t comment on it.

“Walk with me?” Matthew was surprised and confused at why Gilbert still wanted to be around him, but wasn’t stupid enough to question it out loud. He nodded and Gilbert grinned at him, stunning Matthew for a split second. He turned down one of the concrete pathways and Matthew was helpless to do anything but follow.

Gilbert continued. “I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, but I’m sorry. I didn’t know that was taken without your permission.”

“Thanks. I haven’t really talked about it with anyone. The video, I mean. I talked to my partner about the match beforehand to warn him, but haven’t said much about the video.”

There was an odd stiffness to Gilbert’s posture then. “…Your partner?”

“Yes, Nate. He was the one on the video who explained why I was angry. That’s part of the reason why I…” Matthew trailed off as his mind worked through why that would be a question. Then he felt really stupid and frantically tried to fix it. “Oh! You meant—no! Not like that! Nate’s just who I pair up the most with on my team. I’m not dating anyone.”

“Oh. That’s good.” There was a beat surprised silence of them looking at each other after that. Then they both looked away and Matthew could see another blush grace Gilbert’s cheeks. Yep, still distracting. Gilbert cleared his throat and said, “You were saying something? About why you…?”

Matthew walked the conversation back thirty seconds in his head to remember where they were. “Right. It’s kinda embarrassing, having hundreds of people I don’t know aware of just how my teammates saw me as inadequate. I’m…not sure how to be okay with that.”

“Shit. I can see how you would feel that way.” Gilbert cringed out of the corner of his eye. “And you don’t have to be okay with it, Mattie. That really fucking sucks; you don’t have to act like it doesn’t.”

He gets it. Gilbert’s reaction made Matthew comfortable enough to continue. “I…I’m also not proud of how I behaved. I was so angry that I was foolish and reckless in a way that’s difficult to watch. I had my reasons, but knowing that a bunch of people saw me like that…”

Gilbert was quiet for a moment and Matthew didn’t try to fill the silence, caught up in his own feelings. Eventually, he said, “I’m really sorry that you have to deal with that, Matthew. I can’t understand completely, but I get why you’re upset. If it helps, I could tell you how I and likely other people saw that moment?” When Matthew didn’t say anything, Gilbert hedged with, “I could also say nothing at all and change the subject. Or I can just listen if you want to say more on it. It’s your choice. I want to help, if I can.”

Matthew turned to stare at Gilbert, startled over the offer. My choice. No one had ever given him a choice like that before. He met Matthew’s gaze, and it felt steady and searching, utterly empathetic and oh god, who is this guy? How is he like this? “Thank you,” he managed before deciding what he wanted to hear. “W-what did you see?”

“Someone who was highly capable, dealing with senseless cruelty effectively and efficiently,” he answered automatically, like he had been waiting to say this and had thought through his words. “Hearing what your teammates had said about you and done to you only made me angry on your behalf and increase my respect for you for dealing with it the way you did. And, if I’m being really honest,” Gilbert smirked here, “I saw someone who was incredibly attractive.”

It was the last thing Matthew expected to hear. He was already thrown by how Gilbert described his reactions, so far from what Matthew had imagined people thought of him after watching the video. But hearing Gilbert, the most attractive person Matthew had ever seen, say that…

Matthew’s brain couldn’t process it. It…broke for a second.

He stopped walking, eyes wide and lips parted. Gilbert paused immediately, coming to stand in front of him with sudden anxiety on his face. God, but he wished he could see Gilbert's eyes! They were lucky it was between normal class times; otherwise the walkway would have been flooded with students who would have witnessed Matthew Williams being utterly astounded at having Gilbert Beilschmidt call him attractive at any point in his life.

Gilbert seemed to hold Matthew’s gaze, voice a subtle mix of anxiety and confusion. “Mattie…was that not—“

“You. You thought that I was…?” Matthew stuttered out, slightly incoherent. “But you are and I’m just—What?”

Understanding appeared on Gilbert’s face, though the confusion never quite cleared. He stepped a little closer to Matthew and the part of his brain that had been rebooting crashed again. He said slowly, in a low tone that triggered some instinct that was close to but so different from a fight or flight response, “You are remarkably attractive, Matthew.”

He couldn’t think. He couldn’t reason through anything for an eternal second as he continued staring at Gilbert, a paradigm shifting in his head.

Unfortunately, he could talk, and his brain, so overwhelmed with the firsthand knowledge that Gilbert was attracted to him, wanted time to process this conversation alone. “I have to go,” he blurted, stepping back from the junior. He may have been shaking, but he couldn’t think of anything beyond Gilbert’s words, Gilbert’s sincere expression, Gilbert himself. “Meet Ludwig. We’re studying in the library soon.”

Gilbert tensed and drew himself back as his expression became visibly guarded. “Of course.”

That was enough to get some part of Matthew up and running, the part that made sure Gilbert wanted to see him again. “But!” Matthew started, not really knowing what he was going to say and taking a half step towards the other boy. “Thank you, for the coffee. And I-I liked this. A lot.”

Something in Gilbert softened and Matthew counted that as a win. “Me, too. I’m happy we did this.”

“Yeah.” Matthew smiled wide at him as his brain shouted, compliment him! “You’re also really pretty.”

Not like that! Gilbert was apparently speechless at that and this seemed like a good time to run. “Okay, bye!”

Matthew didn’t literally run from him, but he did walk at a rather fast clip away from Gilbert and back towards the library. Gilbert didn’t shout anything to him as he beat a hasty retreat. The adrenaline had him maintaining the pace all the way to the library, not even pausing to take out his phone to listen to music. The angsting in his head over what just happened was more than enough to occupy him.

He managed to pull himself together enough to get through the study session with Ludwig, having set their movie night for a week from now, to account for everyone’s schedules and making sure they all had completed enough work ahead of time to really enjoy it. If anything about him was off, Ludwig didn’t comment on it.

When they parted for the evening after taking the time to hang out in the student center after finishing their work a bit earlier than expected, Matthew finally allowed himself to look at his phone where he knew at least one text message awaited him.

Gilbert: Am not.

Matthew, for all that he was a little mortified for having said it in the moment, smiled to himself.

Matthew: Are too

Matthew: Especially when you blush


Scottie: what did you do

Gilbert: ???

Scottie: Mattie wouldn’t say anything about texting you

Scottie: he just said that he talked to you before looking away and turning red

Gilbert: wait, you’re with him now?

Scottie: focus, Gilbert

Scottie: I’m invested. Give me what I want.

Gilbert: fuckin hell

Gilbert: we had coffee

Scottie: you weren’t kidding about going after him

Scottie: and???

Gilbert: it was good. really good

Gilbert: so you’re with him now?

Scottie: g2g it’s rude to text when I talking to someone

Gilbert: I fucking hate you

Scottie: ly2 *wink*

Scottie: don’t act like you haven’t been texting him this entire time

Gilbert: *exasperation* *rolls eyes* *flips tables*

Scottie: seems like an over reaction

Gilbert: can I never get a straight answer out of you?

Scottie: lol

Scottie: I told you I like him. We’re friends

Gilbert: well at least I know he has good taste

Scottie: flatterer *swoon*


It was after practice on Thursday night that Lovino had decided enough was enough and went to settle things with Feliciano. He could give everyone the cold shoulder indefinitely if he was pissed at them...with the notable and irritating exception of his little brother. It just didn't feel right and, with their away game happening tomorrow, Lovino wanted this dealt with before they were trapped in a bus with their entire team.

Antonio came up to him as their team started to disperse and Lovino said immediately to preempt him, “I have to talk to Feli. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

If Antonio was surprised, he didn’t show it. “Sure, Lovi. Rest well.” Then, because now that the team knew they were sleeping together and there was no real need for secrecy, Antonio kissed his temple and turned away, jogging to catch up with his housemates who were already halfway across the field. That little sign of affection was unbalancing and Lovino couldn’t help the small curve of his lips at the action. His smile, if one could call it that, faded as his eyes sought Feliciano, who was already heading towards their dorm.

Lovino took a fortifying breath, picked up his belongings, and started after him, increasing his pace so that he caught up to him in about a minute. Feliciano had given up on trying to talk to Lovino yesterday when he had thrown him a truly vile glare at the attempt, so he was listening to music when Lovino reached him.

He must have seen him out of his peripheral vision, because Feliciano startled and looked at Lovino, surprised. When he took out his headphones, Lovino started with a disgruntled. “Hey.”

“Lovi…” Feliciano hedged, remorse on his face and Lovino sighed.

“I don’t want to drag this out. What you said was fucked up—“

“Ve, I know and I didn’t---“

“Stop and let me finish, dammit.” Lovino glared at him a little and, for once, his brother did. He saw that a few of their teammates were in earshot, so he switched to Italian. “It was a shitty thing to say when you know this is already going to be difficult. It’s my choice and you need to respect that, not sabotage something I actually worked really fucking hard to get in the first place.

“That being said…I know you mean well and are really just concerned.” Feliciano nodded quickly in response, but stayed quiet. “As long as you don’t make things harder and stop glaring at him, then I guess I forgive you.”

Feliciano damn near tackled him as he seized Lovino in a hug. “Ve, I promise! I’m sorry, Lovi. I know you like him and I really only want the best for you, but I shouldn’t have done that. I’ll make it up to you!”

Lovino sighed again and said, “Yes, yes, now get off me. You’re sweaty and gross.”

He pulled away and smiled wide at Lovino. “You’re not any better!”

“Doesn’t make it okay, Feli.” Lovino rolled his eyes. “Anyway, since Mattie didn’t have a chance to see you and has been preoccupied with a certain junior—“

“Really!” Feliciano all but shouted in English.

Lovino shushed him. “Keep your voice down, dammit. As I was saying—“

“Mattie’s dating Gilbert?”

“Not quite. They’re talking and apparently pretty open about the fact they like each other—“

“Get. It. Mattie!” Feliciano said, snapping at each word before giggling.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, pull yourself together. Anyway, Matthew managed to get a certain study partner of his—“

“Ludwig!” Feliciano exclaimed before looking around.

“Do you have no sense of discretion? Yes, Ludwig agreed to come by our room next week for a movie night which we assume you’re coming to.”

“Of course!”

“Well, it’s happening Wednesday night.” Feliciano pouted. “What is it now?’

“That’s so far away.” Lovino rolled his eyes as they moved into the building.

“Take it up with Matthew. He wants us to be responsible and be ahead on our work or some shit before having anyone over.”

Feliciano scrunched up his nose in a show of disgust and exasperation as they got into the elevator, full of other people as usual. “Mattie needs to loosen up. No, actually; he needs to get laid.”

Lovino wasn’t so sure since he was half convinced the kid was ace, but agreed with the overall sentiment. Several people looked askance at them but Lovino tried to ignore them. “He does need to relax. Maybe having the hockey thing settled and being social will help.”


Gilbert: so…

Gilbert: have you thought anymore about finding a sparring partner?

Matthew: a little…

Matthew: I don’t know if I should get one honestly

Matthew: I can’t go work out immediately after practice every Saturday I would die

Gilbert: we do reserve the room two more times a week you know

Gilbert: Tuesday and Thursday evenings

Matthew: I could probably make it on Thursday

Matthew: but I’m really not sure about scheduling more workouts

Matthew: and I’ll have games a couple of Thursday nights once the season starts

Gilbert: maybe swing by this Thursday, no strings attached?

Gilbert: then if you think it would be too much I won’t mention it again

Matthew: okay, that sounds good

Matthew: I just really don’t want to leave someone in the lurch

Matthew: regular workout clothes okay?

Gilbert: yeah, most people wear sweatpants and a t-shirt

Gilbert: when does your season start, btw

Matthew: two weeks from now

Matthew: I’m trying to get ahead on my work so I won’t drown once it starts

Gilbert: home or away?

Matthew: home but the rink we use is off campus

Matthew: if you can, would you come?

Matthew: only if you want to, I mean

Matthew: it’s okay if you don’t!

Matthew: I mean I probably won’t play much anyway so there’s really no need

Gilbert: Mattie calm down I wasn’t ignoring you

Gilbert: I had to deal with someone being stupid

Gilbert: yes, I’ll go to your game. I don’t work Friday nights

Matthew: okay. That’s cool

Matthew: thanks

Gilbert: don’t worry about it

Gilbert: what are you doing tonight?

Gilbert: on one of you last weekend nights before the season

Matthew: studying

Gilbert: what

Gilbert: Mattie it’s Friday

Matthew: I’m aware of that, Gil

Matthew: I told you I want to get ahead

Matthew: I’m going to stop answering now

Gilbert: *sad*

Matthew: don’t do that

Matthew: you know you’re distracting

Gilbert: am I now ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Matthew: *distracting ME

Gilbert: sure. Whatever you say *wink*

Matthew: goodnight Gilbert

Gilbert: night Mattie


Lovino could admit that Feliciano was trying to make it up to him. He had done as he said and stopped glaring at their team captain whenever they were in the same vicinity. Considering that they had an away game last night, it couldn’t have happened a moment too soon.

Traveling for the game was…interesting. Sure, Coach didn’t care that they were fucking, but did Antonio really have to touch him constantly? It wasn’t like he had tried for anything sexual in front of people (which was good because Lovino would have lost his shit), but he was absently affectionate. It was almost like he didn’t notice that he was reaching for Lovino’s hand or putting an arm around him in the middle of conversations with other team members while they were on the bus.

Then there was that one time he literally pulled Lovino into his lap while waiting for the game to start in the locker room. They had both been completely dressed but come on!

That had been the only time Lovino had literally jumped away from him or put up any form of protest. Antonio seemed a little more aware of himself after that and refrained from touching him too much on the sidelines and during the game, but that was it. Lovino wasn’t exactly complaining about the affection but it was sending the wrong message to everyone, namely that they were together. He and Antonio were not an item, did not have any formal relationship, but it was hard to remember that when the boy would put an unthinking hand on his lower back when he wanted to get his attention or would run his fingers over Lovino’s palm when talking excitedly about a show he watched to his housemates.

And when Lovino did remember that Antonio didn’t want him for any long-term thing, that Lovino wasn’t special to him, and that Antonio was probably touching him the same way he would unconsciously reach out to pet a dog… It hurt. It really fucking hurt.

Most of the time? He let himself forget. He couldn’t ignore the truth forever and the pain of it hit him at odd moments, but he just…acted like they were together to keep from flinching at Antonio’s touch. He convinced himself of the lie for long moments to keep from being overly caustic by his standards to everyone else. He may even have managed to start the beginnings of friendship with some of Antonio’s housemates, Luciano in particular. It felt easy and good to believe what he wanted, but God the let-downs hurt. The mercurial nature of it wore on him and it was a relief to head back to his dorm room alone in the early hours of Saturday morning after the game.

Thank God their opponents had been only a few hours ride away; he wasn’t sure what state he would be in if he had to go through this for an overnight trip. He would have to eventually, but at least then he would know what to expect and maybe even be immune to it. Yeah, right.

Feliciano had noticed that something was wrong and could probably tell that it was Antonio but didn’t say anything about him. Instead, he was trying to cheer Lovino up by goading him into partying on Saturday night. Lovino didn’t particularly want to go out; he was tired and weary and didn’t want to be around people (Matthew didn’t count as people to him). But his brother was trying and he hated it when things were tense between them, so Lovino reluctantly agreed to go.

Which is why he now found himself essentially alone in a crowded fraternity house. Feliciano had supposedly gone off to get them drinks, but that had been ten minutes ago. He probably ran into someone he knew and started talking to them, forgetting that Lovino was waiting for him. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened with Feliciano and Lovino knew it wouldn’t be the last.

He settled further into his holding-up-the-wall duties, scrolling aimlessly through his phone. He could have been looking for company for the night but he wasn’t quite ready to do that yet. Lovino knew that he just would have been thinking about Antonio if he managed to pick up someone and he tried to avoid doing that. He had been the physical stand-in for someone his partners actually desired too often before to be able to do it in good conscience.

“—ino?” Lovino looked up and saw a girl who looked vaguely familiar speaking to him, brow furrowed. Once he looked up and faced her fully, the green-eyed girl smiled at him and came closer. She was dressed in a flowy blue tank top that he guessed would be called a blouse and black shorts. “It’s Lovino, right? I’m Bella; we met at the activity—“

“—fair. Yeah.” Lovino straightened from his slouch and smiled back at her. She was one of the upper years who helped run the Community Gardening Club, was actually president of the organization. The first meeting was coming up that week and it had given Lovino something to look forward to that had nothing to do with class, soccer, or (lack of) romance. “I’m surprised you remember me.”

Her expression turned wry. “Not many people want to dig in the dirt anymore or had worked with plants long enough to hold an actual discussion with me about regional soil composition.”

Lovino shrugged but blushed a little. “I wanted to know what we would be working with. It’s still going to be mostly edibles, right?”

Bella nodded. “We have get ready to harvest some of what’s left before fully transitioning to the greenhouse. Winter comes fast here. But we’ll talk about all this on Tuesday, you know.”

“Yeah. I was looking forward to it. It would be nice to meet a few new people.” Not that Matthew wasn’t amazing, but he was just as busy as Lovino and he needed non-familial connections that were not Antonio.

“Freshman year not all it was made out to be?” At his wince, she laughed and it was a sound that turned heads their way. “Don’t worry, we’re a nice bunch. We’re mostly made up of a few hobbyists and like half of the botany department.”

Lovino hesitated, suddenly wary. “…the botany department?”

“Of course. Who else, the comp sci majors? But enough about that; why are you over here when you could be partying with the rest of us?”

“…I don’t actually want to be here? My brother dragged me here and has since vanished.” He threw a glare towards the stairway down which Feliciano had disappeared.

Bella grinned at him and started to say, “Doesn’t mean you can’t—“

She stopped when the music cut out in a way that was a little too familiar, sending a ripple of awareness through the room. No! Just one night of peace, dammnit. One fucking night!

An deep, throbbing beat and crooning vocals signaled that at least one of Antonio’s friends were here, the redhead that Matthew had become friends with. And if Death was here…

Bella pulled him from his thoughts by physically taking his hand and pulling him towards the stairs leading to the basement, where the drinks and main dance area was. “Come on!”

Lovino realized two things he probably should have been aware of before now: Bella was an extremely attractive woman and she was hitting on him.

Huh. She was definitely not Antonio, could never be mistaken for him.

He followed her willingly, both because he was interested in seeing where this was going and because he suddenly wanted to be off the ground floor of the house. He squeezed her hand gently, just to let her know he had finally caught on. Bella looked over her shoulder and smiled at him before her gaze shifted to the right and behind him and she stopped moving. In a happy tone, she greeted, “Hey, Tonio.”

Lovino froze as a not-quite-friendly voice replied, “Hey, Bella. I see you’ve met Lovi.”

Bella dropped his hand as Antonio placed one on his lower back in a way that felt possessive and came to stand at his side. Lovino looked at him finally, taking in the long lines of him and his darkly amused expression. Bella said, barely audible, “Wait, he’s Lovi?”

Lovino greeted, “Bastard.”

Antonio answered with a grin, “Hermoso.”

Bella sighed and Lovino blinked, looking back at her. She was smiling, glancing between them, and shaking her head. “Gay or taken.”

Lovino’s automatic response was, “I’m bi.” Then he realized what that implied and tacked on hastily, “And not taken.”

She raised her eyebrows at him as Antonio moved his hand to lightly grip his waist and pull him closer. “I think my vice president would have something different to say. I’ll see you both on Tuesday.”

Lovino opened his mouth to say something but Bella slipped away, laughing to herself. So he closed it, looked at a smug Antonio and said, “You’re VP of Community Gardening, too?”

“Didn’t you know? I’m a man of many talents.”

“Yeah, sure,” Lovino said, rolling his eyes and unsuccessfully fighting a smile. He didn’t resist Antonio leaning down to kiss him, hand cupping his jaw carefully. When Antonio pulled away, Lovino’s heart was pounding and he was trying his damnest not to think. While they were still close, he couldn’t help saying softly, “Hey, Tonio.”

When he smiled, it lit up his face, his green eyes dazzling Lovino a bit. “Lovi,” he said, just as gently, and oh, God, this hurt.

Forget, He told himself. Forget! Pretend. Hide. LIE!

It got worse when Antonio pulled away and took his hand. “Come on! I wanna introduce you to my friends!”

“What?” Lovino asked when he really meant, Why? Why do you want to introduce me to them when I’m nothing to you?

Antonio didn’t seem to hear him as they wove their way through college students at various levels of intoxication. They managed to get to the corner of what probably was a living room during non-party hours and, because of the crowd, he didn’t really get a good look at anything before Antonio pulled him free of the crush of people and to his side. “Hey, look who I found,” Antonio said and Lovino found three people staring at him. They were all some level of cruelly beautiful, Antonio fitting in but by far the most approachable out of them on looks alone.

At a loss for what to do and with Antonio still holding his hand, Lovino lifted a palm and waved awkwardly. “Sup. I’m Lovino Vargas.”

They all smirked at him in unison and why was he here again, good lord. “Oh,” said the blond. “We know who you are.”

If anything can give him his mental footing, it’s feeling like he’s being made fun of. Lovino scowled and said, “Care to return the favor?”

Someone snickered but exactly who was lost to the sounds of the party. “Of course, silly me. I’m Francis, he/him. I’m Tonio’s best friend and would offer to shake your hand but…” He looked down pointedly at where his and Antonio’s fingers are now intertwined and Lovino couldn’t help the blush.

“Pity,” Lovino said dryly before looking at the other two. “I know who you both are, thanks to Mattie.”

“Should we be flattered?” Alistair asked, amusement on their face. “Gilly, I think we should be flattered.”

“Hmm, I don’t know about that, Scottie.” Piercing crimson eyes focused on him and Jesus, but this was what Matthew was attracted to? No wonder he hadn’t felt much of anything for Denson (besides that whole bullying thing). “Depends on what he said…”

Lovino’s response was to smile slowly at the boy until Gilbert blinked and seemed to blush himself. His friends didn’t let this pass, Antonio wolf whistling at him and Francis saying, “Is that a flush on your face, Gil? My word, I never thought I would see the day.”

“Och, ye don’t know tha half of it from his end,” Alistair said, tease evident on their face. “Those two…I get it comin’ and goin’.”

Everyone (even Lovino) laughed but Gilbert, and the noise of the party seemed to rise in response. Someone bumped into Lovino from behind, making him stagger, but Antonio steadied him before pulling him, as easy as breathing, into his arms. Lovino forced himself to stay relaxed, to stay unaffected as Antonio hugged him from behind but it took more than was pretty. You are together, he lied to himself. It’s natural for partners to touch each other in front of their friends. There’s nothing to fear in this.

Lovino leaned back a little into the embrace and Antonio said in his ear, “You okay, mi tesoro?”

“Yeah, just startled,” Lovino mumbled looking at the floor.

Antonio hummed and moved so that his breath was no longer in Lovino’s ear. “What?”

“Oh, nothing!” Francis said and Lovino looked up to see all three of Antonio’s friends looking at the pair of them, assessing. These were people who knew Antonio, who probably had watched countless others in Lovino’s situation and knew all the signs of someone wanting more from their friend than he was willing to give. He was such a fool.

But that fact didn’t stop the low thrum of pleasure and warmth from these displays of affection that Lovino always felt with him. It didn’t make the highs he felt with Antonio any less perfect. All of this was temporary; he had to enjoy what he could, when he could.

If it meant he could keep feeling this cherished and loved, even though it was a lie, then he would happily remain the fool.

Lovino met Alistair’s eyes then, on accident, and watched the redhead frown a bit. I should leave, he thought, the voice of reason soft in his head, damn near silenced at Antonio’s touch.

But first… Lovino fixed a glare on Gilbert and tried to not fuck up the one relationship he thought he was getting right in his life. “You. I don’t give a fuck who you are. You hurt Matthew, you die.” There was a moment of stunned silence in the group at his declaration. Antonio’s hold loosened on him a bit and Lovino straightened but kept his eyes on Gilbert. “Got it?”

Antonio hugged him again tighter and was speaking rapidly in Spanish, but his tone was cooing. “What the fuck are you saying?”Lovino demanded.

“He’s essentially calling you cute,” Francis said, bemused at Antonio’s display.

Lovino scowled and tried to push the taller boy off of him a little. “What the fuck? I just threatened your friend and you call me cute?”

Antonio pouted at being pushed away but went. “Lovi, you know he’s called War, right? There’s no way you could beat him.”

Lovino raised his eyebrows and met Gilbert’s eyes again, seeing that the albino boy at least knew that he was serious. “I never said I would do it.”

Antonio froze at that and Alistair started laughing uproariously. “Oh, God, he’s serious! Yer alright, Lovino. I respect a man who’s willin’ ta threaten someone in front of their friends fer someone else.”

Lovino shrugged, still watching Gilbert to make sure that he understood. “It’s Mattie.”

They nodded. “Fair.”

Gilbert finally nodded to him a little as Francis said, “I have got to meet this person.”

Alistair grinned and said, “He’s a menace. Ye would love him.”

Lovino rolled his eyes. “He’s too innocent to be a menace.”

“He’s too likable. Yer threatening War over him. I bet Ludwig would disown him if he upset Matthew—“

“Hey! Leave him out of this,” Gilbert said.

“Hell, I like him. Oh, and Gilbert’s attracted ta him and he only likes human disasters. A feckin’ menace.”

“I resent that and you,” Gilbert groused but he was begrudgingly smiling at them.

“Ye say tha sweetest things. Makes me head spin.”

Lovino was begrudgingly amused by all of this and found he…liked Antonio’s friends. Or, at least, he didn’t find them immediately insufferable. Huh. He looked at the boy who had reduced his contact to merely holding his hand again and asked, “They always like this?”

Antonio was looking at him steadily, like he had been staring at him this entire time, and grinned. “We all are. Hey, are you drinking anything? I was going to grab us all drinks if you wanted something.” Lovino shook his head. While a drink would have been a helpful relaxant with just him and Feliciano in this space, he had to keep as much as his wits about him with Antonio around. Antonio didn’t push him on it, looking at his friends instead and asking, “The usual?”

Gilbert and Francis both answered in the affirmative without further comment but Alistair said, “Let me help ye carry those back up.” They straightened from their artful slouch against the wall. “Party feels like it will be one of tha fast burnin’ ones.”

Antonio nodded and, with one final squeeze of his hand, left with them towards the stairway. Lovino caught himself staring after him and quickly looked back to the two juniors he was left with. Gilbert was looking at his phone, texting, but Francis was looking at Lovino like he saw far too much. Lovino, trying to avoid a conversation over whatever he was thinking, asked, “What did they mean by ‘fast burning’?”

Gilbert looked up and nodded generally towards the room. “You notice anything different?”

Lovino crossed his arms instinctually at the testing question, but looked back towards the party. Outside of the little circle of space around their group, individual details were actually difficult to see, simply because of the number of people filling up the room. This…was not how it was even five minutes ago. “Where the fuck did all of these people come from?”

“Around,” Francis said with a shrug. “People tend to find us pretty quickly.”

“They can’t resist our awesome presences,” Gilbert snickers.

“Parties usually aren’t shut down because of fights or anything like that,” Francis continued with barely an eye roll in response to Gilbert. “Someone in the neighborhood complains about the noise or reports the honest fire hazard that the houses become. Other times, it’s alcohol poisoning. It’s rare that we have to shut down a party anymore.”

Lovino frowned. “Both why and how would you four shut down a party?”

Gilbert and Francis exchanged glances. “You haven’t been told about the Rules, have you?” Francis asked.

“What rules?”

Gilbert raised his eyebrows at him. “There’s a set of simple rules we enforce in whatever party we’re at. It basically boils down to basic human decency, with the highlight of don’t sexually assault anyone. We all took…issue with how things had gone down at a couple of parties the last couple of years and earned a small—“

“Big,” Francis interjected.

“—reputation of shutting down fucked up shit, with violence if necessary. Why, out of everything, do you think campus collectively settled on calling us the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? It’s because we end everything if we have to.”

“Thanks to that reputation, women feel safer being where we are than most other places on campus and guys follow them. And the good thing about having a reputation is that we don’t have to do a lot to back it up anymore. We may have gotten in a bit of trouble last semester—“

“We damn near got suspended, Francis. We would have been if Scottie hadn’t outright threatened the administration.” They did what now!?

“—but what’s done is done. What Alistair meant about this party being fast burning is that there are too many people here, too fast to avoid trouble for long.”

“Here we go!” Antonio said, breaking back into the shrinking circle of their space through the crowd, a drink in each hand and Alistair right behind him. He handed a cup to Francis while Alistair went back to their place at Gilbert’s side.

“ETA?” Gilbert asked, taking a cup from Alistair’s hand.

“30, tops.” Alistair said before taking an indelicate drink from their cup.

“Lovi,” Antonio started, putting an easy hand on Lovino’s back again. Once he saw he had Lovino’s attention, he leaned in and asked, “Do you want to stay over tonight and spend tomorrow with me?”

When Lovino automatically tensed, he hastened to continue. “We haven’t had a chance to just hang out together and I wanted to change that.”

Lovino looked down and cleared his throat, knowing he was going to say yes but trying to put it off a little longer. “I-I have to do homework tomorrow. And, if I stay over, I should at least stop at my dorm to get some clothes and stuff.”

“Makes sense,” he said, leaning just a bit further into Lovino’s personal space, making it hard for him to think beyond the fact they were very likely going to be bare against each other soon. “I need to do some work, too. We can stop by your dorm before heading back to my place?”

Lovino looked up to meet Antonio’s eyes, wanting to say yes, knowing that he would do so but so fucking confused as to why Antonio would ask this of him. Them hanging out was one thing; Lovino packing a bag so that they spend the day together after fucking was…

He couldn’t voice any of this. All he said was, “Okay.”

Antonio grinned at him and Lovino looked away again, heat filling his cheeks. His eyes found Francis who was looking at him with far too much understanding in his eyes. Lovino quickly focused on Antonio again and said, hoping to escape this situation, “Want to dance?”

Antonio seemed surprised but took Lovino’s hand and said to his friends, “I’ll see you all later.”

They all said some form of derisive farewell (directed at Antonio) and Lovino didn’t look at any of them as he said over his shoulder, “See you around.”

The deeper they went into the party, the harder Lovino fought to stop thinking, to just live in the moment.

He won that battle, all the while so fucking sure he was going to lose the war.


It wasn’t like Antonio was completely oblivious to the fact that what he asked of Lovino was unconventional for two people not in an actual relationship. He saw the flashes of surprise and wariness from Lovino when he suggested something or touched him casually. He kept waiting for Lovino to pull away, or tell him no, or make any sign whatsoever that what Antonio initiated was unwelcome. But he never did. In fact, he seemed to take to Antonio’s suggestions immediately, if not eagerly.

And that was very confusing.

It was obvious that Lovino had taken the non-exclusivity thing to heart, considering how Antonio had found him last night with Bella. It had only proven him right, that Lovino didn’t want to commit to anything right now, no matter why Alistair felt the need to ask him if he was sure about Lovino’s relationship-aversion while they were getting drinks.

That being said, Antonio’s feelings on the matter hadn’t changed. In fact, they had gotten worse, the monster in the back of his head snarling at the sight of Bella leading Lovino somewhere and shooting him a flirty grin. He may have…lost some control of himself in that moment, putting a proprietary hand on Lovino’s back to claim him as his. Lovino seemed to not know a word of Spanish, but Bella sure as hell did and she had clearly been amused at him answering Lovino’s curse by calling him Beautiful.

But why hadn’t Lovino said anything about it? For all that he was apparently afraid of commitment, why did he lean into Antonio’s possessive touch and smile at him so softly after they had kissed in greeting?

Maybe it was wrong of him to want to monopolize Lovino’s time so that he wouldn’t have energy to seek out someone else. But, heaven help him, he truly didn’t care. Antonio would be as public about them as he could get away with, scaring off any of Lovino’s potential bedmates, if it meant that he would be the only one to see Lovino like this. And, Antonio discovered throughout Sunday, this meant a lot of things.

This meant brokenly begging him for more as they made love, tears streaming from his eyes in pleasure.

This meant how vulnerable and young he seemed as Antonio took care of him after he had made him moan and cry and come.

He didn’t want anyone else waking up and seeing Lovino’s face peaceful in sleep, curled against him and wearing careful marks from their mouth.

He hoarded watching the full process of Lovino waking up; seeing him as he frowned at his work, papers spread in front of him in Antonio’s bed, as he threw flirty barbs Antonio’s way; knowing that a sudden expression of elation flashed over his face when he figured out something that had been challenging him.

This meant telling a funny story to him and making him truly laugh, only to find it to be one of the most entrancing sounds Antonio had ever heard.

Antonio had a particular thought at multiple times a day. He told himself this lie, tried to make himself believe it down to the marrow of his bones, when they woke up from a shared nap, when they made out but didn’t feel the need to have sex, when Antonio caught Lovino smiling at him for no reason at all.

This is enough.


Sunday evening, Matthew looked up from his homework as the door opened from his peripheral vision. He started to smile in greeting at his friend, but Lovino looked…tired. Worn down.

He removed his earphones and asked tentatively as Lovino walked into the room, “Lovi…?”

Lovino kept his eyes down as his said in a low voice, “Hey, Mattie.”

Well, fuck. Matthew shouldn’t ask are you okay since the answer was clearly no. He shouldn’t ask if Antonio hurt him because obviously, though probably not in a way that Matthew could deck him over. At a loss, he settled for, “Did…did you have a good time? With him?”

“Mostly,” Lovino mumbled and Matthew was concerned but felt helpless. “He was great. I’m the problem here.”

Matthew wanted to jump in and say no, you’re not! But he knew that wouldn’t help, not really. Picking his words very carefully, he remembered the choice Gilbert had given him last week and how it had reassured him.  Lovino had his back to him, bag on the ground and hands braced on his desk. Still, Matthew watched him carefully as he tried to help. “I doubt it. What do you need, Lovino? If talking about it is something you don’t want to do, I won’t force you. I could distract you with something? If you want to talk, I’ll listen. If you need me to respond with outrage or sympathy or absolutely nothing at all, I’ll do that, too. Just…let me help you. Please. And I’ll try to be what you need me to be.”

Lovino slouched a little, the action similar to curling in on himself, before he shuddered. Voice thick, he said, “If I lose control now, I don’t know when I’ll be able to regain it. I…don’t want you to see me like that.”

“…If you want me to leave, I will. It’s your choice. But, no matter what you tell me, no matter how you act, I won’t judge you.”

“How could you not?” Lovino asked and, mercy, he sounded awful, voice choked from strain and watery from contained tears.

Matthew swallowed and went for the truth, “Because I think that I would feel similarly in your situation. Because I would want someone there to keep me from drowning in what I was feeling and thinking. Because I’ve been through shit and had no one I really trusted to be on my side. And I don’t want you to think that you have to deal with this alone.”

“…I’m going to cry. A lot.”

“Okay. Do you want me to hug you through it?”

“…Please.”

He sobbed then and Matthew reached out to make sure that the tissue box and trash can were close by. Then he scooted his desk chair around so that he was bodily facing the rest of the room and said, “Please come over here. If you don’t want to sit in my lap I get it but—“

Lovino was already turned around, hand over his mouth but eyes showing how distraught he was, and headed towards him. Matthew smiled sadly at him and reached for his friend.

He didn’t track time as Lovino sobbed alternatively into Matthew’s shirt and a fresh tissue. He just was there for him, praying that it was enough. At some point, a while after Lovino had given in to his need to be comforted, he began explaining brokenly how awful it was to be treated like he was Antonio’s partner by everyone, including Antonio himself, while knowing he was far from it. It would have been easier if he treated Lovino as a convenient fuck so he could at least detach emotionally from the situation. But Antonio was apparently so wonderful to him that he found it impossible to be distant. And it was killing him. Unfortunately, the thought of not having that slice of false happiness was something Lovino feared more than his current pain. He was hoping to become desensitized to the situation. He had never had someone treat him as well as Antonio and was hoping this honeymoon stage of infatuation with the boy would wear off.

Matthew wasn’t so sure that would happen, but didn’t voice this thought. He stayed quiet through Lovino’s crying and talking, thinking that his friend just needed someone who would listen rather than try to tell him what to do. They had both known that Lovino’s choice would hurt him when he agreed to the arrangement with Antonio. This was the price Lovino was willing to pay.

This was the price that Matthew would not let stand for much longer. He resolved then and there that if he could do anything to get Antonio to take his head out of his ass long enough to see that they already were in an exclusive relationship (they spent so much time together, when the hell did they have time for anyone else?), he would. Well, as long as the likely outcome would not put Lovino in more pain than he already was in.

When Lovino was done, he awkwardly got up and said, “Thank you, Matthew. Really.”

“Hey.” Lovino cautiously met Matthew’s eyes and he smiled kindly at him. “It’s what friends do. I’m here if you need me.”

“I know. Doesn’t mean I can’t say I appreciate it.”

“Fair. Now, I am going to get ready for bed. If you want, there are water bottles in the fridge and my secret chocolate stash in the top drawer of my desk.”

Bless. You.

Chapter Text

Lovino looked at his brother, torn between amusement and distaste at his obvious excitement as they waited for Matthew to return to the dorm room with Ludwig in tow. Considering his situation with Antonio—who he had slept with again after practice yesterday, following the awkward Gardening club meeting where everyone had looked at him with surprised interest when Antonio greeted him with a kiss and effectively killed his confidence in attempting to mingle—Lovino had absolutely no room to judge him.

Didn’t stop him from doing it anyway.

“Fuckin’ hell, Feli, calm down. You don’t even know the guy.”

“I know enough to suck his dick, thank you.” Feliciano said flippantly and Lovino choked on air, utterly scandalized. Feliciano saw this and rolled his eyes. “Ve, don’t look at me like that, Lovi. You and Tonio are like rabbits,” Lovino blushed furiously at that, “and Mattie is dating Gilbert. I deserve my shot at a happy ending, dammit!”

Lovino would accept that as fair from anyone who wasn’t his little brother. Siblings have different rules, after all. With little ground to stand on, Lovino grumbled, “We don’t fuck that much.”

“I call B.S.” Feliciano said, drawing out the initials. Lovino winced, not denying it further since they did manage to fuck at least three times a week. “Anyway, I need to talk to him to figure out just how queer he is. It would be a shame if he was hetero with thighs and a face like that.”

He was at a loss for how to deal with his brother, horrified that he would say such things while also proud that he had been such an influence on him. Fuck, but he was a bad role model, wasn’t he? Lovino cut his losses and said, “Little obvious there, Feli.”

There was the sound of voices in the hall outside of his room and Feliciano grinned at him. “Ve, no worries. I’ll be cool.”

A key sounded in the lock as Lovino started, “I really wasn’t worried about—“

“—and this is my room.” Matthew said as he opened the door, smiling at the blond behind him. He turned and faced the two of them. “You’ve met Feliciano but I forgot to introduce you two. And that’s, Lovino, my roommate. Feli, Lovi, this is Ludwig, my friend from psych.”

Lovino eyed Ludwig critically, remembering that Matthew had asked him specifically to be nice after he had complained a little too long about Feliciano’s vocal anticipation for this evening at the lunch table. And Lovino definitely owed his roommate.

Matthew had been surprisingly wonderful since his minor breakdown on Sunday, though perhaps he should stop being blindsided by the other boy’s kindness at this point. He had done enough in the hours and days since to let Lovino know that he cared and was concerned without making him feel coddled, a line that very few people could walk with him, yet Matthew did so instinctively. And that was after knowing him for all of three weeks. Lovino knew that Matthew wouldn’t see what he did as anything special to be paid back, but that just made Lovino making his life easier all the more important.

But there was something about Ludwig that irritated Lovino. He found his eye twitching a little against his will as Felicino beamed at the boy, eyes wide and intent. Feliciano stood from where he had been sitting in Lovino’s desk chair and quickly offered his hand with a wide smile. “Ve, nice to officially meet you.”

Ludwig blinked and Lovino saw his posture, already military straight, become positively rigid as he looked at Feliciano. Then he took Feliciano’s hand and said, “You as well.” It was polite, but lacking the same warmth that Matthew’s niceties always had. In fact, all the Lovino was getting from him was a distancing cold that Matthew seemed immune to and Feliciano (rather distressingly) seemed intrigued by.

For fuck’s sake.

“’Sup,” Lovino said, the word barely more than a grunt. He waved in one abrupt flick of his wrist, not offering a handshake. He was comfortable sitting cross-legged on his bed and was not inclined to move.

Ludwig released Feliciano’s hand and met Lovino’s eyes. He almost flinched from the neutral look alone and his reaction only tried his already fraying patience. Ludwig said, “Hello, Lovino. Thank you for hosting.”

“Yeah, well…” Matthew cleared his throat pointedly and Lovino didn’t have to look at him to understand what that meant. “It’s no problem. Mattie asked.” Lovino shrugged, hoping that explained enough.

Ludwig frowned a little while Matthew grinned at him. Then Matthew began to move, pulling out his computer and saying, “Thanks, Lovi. Now, after speaking to each of you and to avoid a possibly time consuming debate, my suggestion is that we watch The Two Towers. Any objections?”

Lovino narrowed his eyes at him. “It’s the fucking extended edition, isn’t it?”

Matthew’s smile turned wry. “Well, it is the version I own. Don’t worry; us adding our own commentary will make go by faster. It’s not like we don’t know the plot, after all.”

“Sounds good, Mattie,” Feliciano said. “I’ve got popcorn.”

“I agree. I have also brought a few boxes of movie candy, though I was not sure what people liked,” Ludwig said, tone a little hesitant as he awkwardly hefted a his backpack hanging from one shoulder.

“I’m sure we’ll like it, Ludwig,” Feliciano said, looking up at him on the edge of the boy’s personal space.

Oh, God. He was going to spend four hours in a room having to listen to his brother flirting with Matthew’s friend.

Desperate times, desperate measures. Besides, he didn’t want to be the only person not contributing to this disaster waiting to happen.

“I have wine,” Lovino said casually. When everyone looked at him, he shrugged and said, “Not that anyone should drink if they don’t want to, but there are drinking games associated with the movie that might make it more fun.”

To his surprise, it was Ludwig who said, “If it is the most popular one for the movie I know of, then we will likely get alcohol poisoning without modifying the rules.”

Both Lovino and Matthew stared at him, nonplused, but Feliciano turned towards Lovino’s tiny closet where they had put the wine when he had first moved in. “So we’ll adjust the rules. Ve, are there still cups in here?”

“Yeah, same place as usual.”

“Um…” Matthew started. “I want to but I have practice in the morning.” Matthew chewed on his lip a little, clearly torn and it made Lovino wonder if that was all he was thinking about. Alcohol was banned in freshmen dorms and there were signs in all the common areas decrying drinking games through various Captain Picard memes, but Lovino knew that wasn’t the problem here. For all that Matthew was big on responsibility, but kind of skirted the rules.

He had practice in the morning, too, but he also had “sparring” in the evening with a certain junior. Matthew was acting like it was no big deal, but Lovino had caught him trying on combinations of work-out clothes when he had to run back to the room for his computer halfway through the day. He had insisted it was nothing, but his face was incredibly flushed at the lie. He also threw something at Lovino as he rushed out the room and quipped that nothing also texted him at all hours of the day.

(That off-hand comment made him realize that Matthew and Gilbert texted each other a hell of a lot more than he and Antonio. Sure, they saw each other at practice and they hung out in person a little, but the only time Antonio texted him was if he was horny and wanted to know if Lovino would be free after practice. It was further proof that Antonio wasn’t interested in Lovino so much as Lovino’s body. He had known this, of course, but fuck, why did the reminder have to hit so hard every time? Lovino’s response had been to text Antonio to see if he was free after the club meeting and practice. The sex didn’t exactly help, but it sure as hell didn’t hurt.)

“Then don’t, Matthew,” Lovino said, tone more kind than he had used with either Ludwig or Feliciano. Matthew probably wanted to be in top shape tomorrow and Lovino understood that. “Would you be uncomfortable if we played?” He noticed Ludwig looking between them out of the corner of his eye but thought little of it.

“No, it’s just…fuck it. I’m in.” Matthew nodded to himself determinedly and saw to setting up the movie.

“Are you sure?” Ludwig asked.

Matthew looked at him and Lovino recognized his stubborn expression. “Yes. Now I’m going to sit on the bed with Lovino.” News to him, but sure. “Would you and Feli be okay with sitting in the desk chairs in front of us?”


Perhaps he shouldn’t have done this.

The drinking game didn’t get as messy as it would have if they hadn’t been drinking wine, but it still proved to an inexperienced Matthew something crucial.

For all that he was tall and strong, he was a lightweight.

After a half-full solo cup of wine, he couldn’t stop smiling and felt pleasantly warm…and like he had lost his sense of balance a long time ago. Luckily, Lovino didn’t seem to mind him first leaning against him then curling himself to rest his head on his shoulder. Lovino seemed his usual self as he told him to get off of him at first while scooching just a tad closer.

He kept looking back worriedly at Ludwig to make sure he was having fun and was pleased to have him join in on their running commentary about a quarter of the way through the movie.

(He was also pleased that he and Feliciano seemed to get on well. As for Lovino, he was just happy that the disparaging comments about the blatant flirting—from Feliciano—were at a minimum.)

About a halfway through the film, Lovino said, “Mattie, fuck marry kill: Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas.”

“Hmm, by marry do you mean steady sex or no sex?”

“No sex. We’re going by the StraightTM definition of marriage. Or, at least, a long life with a friend with romantic attachment but no sex because fuck that resentment bullshit. And ‘fuck’ just means sex with no emotional attachment, but no limit on how many times.”

Matthew frowned. “What’s the point of sex if you don’t feel something for that person?” There was a long moment of quiet, only filled in by the rising score as Aragorn was found by his horse. He looked up and saw everyone, even Ludwig, looking at him like he had lost his mind. “What?”

Lovino shook his head at him. “Had to make it a philosophical discussion. Fine. ‘Fuck’ means emotionally fulfilling sex but no relationship.”

“Then how is it emotionally—“

“Landscape,” Feliciano said and everyone dutifully took a drink.

“Oh, nevermind! Forget I asked.”

Matthew frowned, sad that he had ruined Lovino’s attempt at fun and might have risen bad thoughts to his friend’s mind. He laid his head back against his shoulder and said, “Fuck Aragorn, of course. Marry Gimli and kill Legolas.”

Lovino burst out laughing, his shaking almost dislodging him. “What the hell, Mattie?”

“I stand by my choices! Dwarves are very devoted partners, you know! And Aragorn is just…” Matthew gestured to the computer screen like it explained everything.

Ludwig chuckled and Matthew couldn’t help grinning at the sound. “That is fair.”

“See! He gets it!”

“Honestly, for people attracted to men, who wouldn’t fuck Aragorn?” Feliciano said and that was a good point.

“Hmm,” Matthew said, seeing the appeal of the game and how Feliciano was trying to sess out Ludwig’s sexual preferences. “Well, what about the other Men? Faramir, Boromir, and…Karl Urban’s character?”

“Éomer,” Ludwig supplied.

“Yes, him.”

“Faramir’s a bit soft for me,” Feliciano said contemplatively, earning a (encouragingly pointed?) look from Ludwig. “So that leaves me with marrying Boromir and fucking Éomer.”

“Gross. This was a mistake.” Lovino said lowly, so only Matthew could hear.

He couldn’t help but giggle. “You started it, Lovi. Just act like he’s not your brother,” he replied in a whisper.

“What about you two?” asked Ludwig.

“Drink!” Feliciano interjected before either he or Lovino could answer.

The game continued like this for some time, interrupted by the odd commentary here and there and periodic directives to take another drink. And they didn’t just stay within the realm of Middle Earth.

“The hobbits.” (Lovino: That’s four people. Feliciano: Like Merry and Pippin aren’t a package deal.)

“The three Elvan leaders.” (Matthew: Really ?...You know they were all played by people in marvel movies, yeah?)

“Hela, Ronan and Red Skull.” (Matthew (laughing): That wasn’t an invitation Ludwig!)

“Hemsworth, Pratt, Evans.” (Ludwig: Ah, yes. The many Chrises. Lovino (wryly): Is the Chris Pine solution on the table?)

“Falcon, Winter Soldier, Captain America.” (Matthew (glaring): I mention that to you ONCE—Lovino: Own your truth, Mattie. And Feli will have the most trouble here, not you.)

“Valkyrie, Black Widow (Iron Man 2), Gamora.” (Feliciano: I was getting testosterone poisoning.)

“Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harley Quinn.” (Ludwig (shrugging): Needed a universe change.)

Matthew lost track at some point, barely aware of what he was saying, just knowing that he was happy and warm and felt so fucking carefree. They were approaching the climax of the Battle of Helm’s Deep and had traveled in picking trios between fictional characters and real people, both contemporary and historical. It was then that Feliciano said, “Okay, TV Merlin, Arthur, and Gwaine.”

“Foul! I call foul!” Matthew said, laughing while still managing to be affronted. He had migrated to rest his head in Lovino’s lap at some point when the Ents were talking and he felt no shame in admitting that he loved the fact that his hair was being played with. He almost never touched anyone casually, but after Sunday he didn’t even question the impulse with Lovino. There was a chance he was touch starved. Huh. “I refuse entertain killing any one of my darlings. Pick other people to choose between. People we all know.”

Were his words slurring? He didn’t think they were. His fingers were tingling but it was fine. Everything was fine. Everything was fantastic.

“Oh, fine. Antonio, Alistair, and Gilbert.” Lovino said to him, immediately tensing after he said it. “Wait, don’t an—“

Matthew was too far gone to stop himself from answering.

“Kill, marry, fuck. I’m pissed at Antonio, I’ve spent the most time with Alistair, and Gil’s the only person I’m attracted to and would consider fucking in real life. Feli?”

“Er—“

“What did you just say?” Ludwig asked turning around with a frown.

Matthew blinked at him and said slowly, “I would kill Antonio, marry Alistair, and fuck…oh.” Fuck, oh fuck, abort mission! “Oh, no! Forget I said that!”

“Matthew, you just said that the only person you are attracted to is my brother. That is not something you forget,” Ludwig stood and Matthew could read the hurt on his face. “Are you only friends with me because—“

“No! No, of course not!” Matthew said, straightening and sitting on his knees. “You’re my friend because of who you are, not who your brother is! You’re smart, a good listener, and really nice, Ludwig. Hell, out of the three people in this room, I would choose to marry you!”

“Hey!” both Lovino and Feliciano said at this but Matthew wasn’t worried about that now.

He pushed on, leaning forward on his hands as he pled Ludwig to understand. “I hadn’t even met Gil until after we were friends! Whatever I feel about him has absolutely nothing to do with you. Please believe that.” He felt his eyes sting with tears at the panic of almost losing this friend and because he couldn’t quite control himself.

Ludwig relaxed, but seemed troubled as he looked at Matthew’s face. “I believe you, Matthew. Please do not cry. It is…unnerving.”

Matthew nodded as he wiped at his eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to tell you because I felt weird about it. Will you…will you finish the movie with us?” He looked at him hopefully and Ludwig only seemed more disconcerted by it.

“Yes, of course.” Matthew grinned at him and Ludwig sat back down and…pat Matthew on the head.

Matthew settled back against Lovino’s side and tuned back into the movie. Or at least, he would have if Lovino hadn’t asked, “Why wouldn’t you marry me, Mattie?”

“Because Ludwig is calmer and has less drama.” Matthew straightened to see him frowning. He kissed him on the cheek just because he could and laid his head back on his shoulder. “I would fuck you though. No offense, Feli.”

“Ve, none taken, but I think you’re cut off, Mattie. No more wine for you.”

Matthew pouted at him. “Why not?”

“Because I think you gave my brother a stroke. Let me get you some water, too.”

“Yes, that seems wise,” Ludwig said, looking skeptically at Matthew.

Matthew was more concerned about Lovino. He rested his chin on Lovino’s shoulder and blinked at his friend, concerned. “Did I give you a stroke, Lovi? Did I hurt you?”

Lovino pinched the bridge of his nose and laughed a little. “No, you precious bastard, I’m fine. But you are not allowed to drink anymore.”


Early the next morning, Ludwig started getting text messages.

Matthew: I am so sorry.

Matthew: I remember everything. I didn’t know I would be like that.

Matthew: We’re still friends, right? I really want us to be friends.

Ludwig sighed but knew what his answer would be. Matthew was a good person, a good friend, and he couldn’t help who he was attracted to. Plus, he had seen very few things as disturbing as Matthew on the verge of tears because of him. It had been like a kick to the stomach, every single protective instinct he had rising at once.

Besides, someone needed to watch his back when it came to Gilbert.

Ludwig: Yes, Matthew, we are still friends. Are you well?

Matthew: Thank goodness! : )

Matthew: And yeah. Practice was hard but I no longer feel like death warmed over.

Matthew: I’ll see you in class?

Ludwig: As always.

Matthew: : )

There was no mention of Gilbert, which was interesting. Matthew really must have meant the separation thing.

At that moment, his brother entered the kitchen, shuffling towards the coffee machine. “Hey, West.”

“Good morning, Gilbert,” he said, looking over his brother carefully. He seemed tired, which was fair considering how much work he did, but Ludwig still found himself looking for evidence of Matthew’s attraction to him.

“How was hanging out with Mattie?” he asked, voice still rough of sleep, and Ludwig realized that he had said Mattie. Not Matthew, as Ludwig always referred to him as, but Mattie.

Just like Matthew had called his brother Gil.

Goddammit. Ludwig finds one (1) friend and not three weeks in, his brother is in a relationship with him. That both of them failed to mention!

To test his theory, Ludwig shrugged and said, “It was fun. Matthew drank a bit too much and was more…affectionate than usual.” Ludwig watched carefully as his brother froze where he stood, hand about halfway towards the carafe. “More talkative, too.”

“That’s interesting,” Gilbert said, voice only a tad strained as he resumed moving like he had never stopped. “What did you watch?”

The Two Towers. We were playing a modified drinking game for it. Lovino is…abrasive but was kind to Matthew. Matthew actually used him for a pillow most of the time.” Gilbert paused again, as if he had a feeling of where this was going but wasn’t sure. “As you can imagine, he was quite put out when, during a game of fuck marry kill, Matthew said he would rather marry me than him.”

“Ludwig—“

“But because Matthew’s such a nice and good person, he gave Lovino a kiss on the cheek before saying he would fuck him if he had to choose. Guess what he said when your name came up.”

Gilbert turned around and looked at him, face arrogant and smirking. Ludwig knew that was his blank face, the one he used when he would rather not broadcast what he felt. “Depends on who else was in the bracket.”

Ludwig shot his brother a disbelieving look before asking, “How long?”

Gilbert winced and sighed, leaning back against the counter. “A week. Nothing official or anything and it’s mostly just potential but…I like him, West. I really like him.”

Ludwig could see that on his face and from his reactions to Ludwig’s words. Gilbert rarely liked anyone enough to be jealous over them. The last time that had happened was… But Gilbert was serious and Ludwig realized that he couldn’t stop this. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to, but one thing had to be made clear.

“I will not stand in your way, East, but do not hurt him. Do you understand me?”

Gilbert started to laugh. “You’re giving me the shovel talk?” When he saw that Ludwig as serious, he said, “I’m your brother!”

“That is how I know you need to hear it.”

Gilbert’s smile turned wry and said, “Fair enough, but I don’t want to hurt him. Hurting Matthew seems like…a crime against nature.”

Ludwig couldn’t help but smile a little as he gave his blessing, “He does remind me of a puppy at times.”

Gilbert laughed again and turned to finish making his coffee. “And you love dogs. But he’s no innocent puppy, West. That boy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that sometimes forgets he has sharp teeth. He can more than handle himself.”

Ludwig raised his eyebrows at him. “How would you know that?”

“The first time I saw him after meeting him, he was beating the shit out of a heavy bag.”

“He what? Matthew can do that?”

“…You haven’t seen the video have you? Here; I saved it on my phone before it was taken down and forgot to delete it.”

“Why would you—“

“Because I knew it would be taken down and that moment needed to be memorialized. But because Mattie didn’t know it was being filmed and is a little uncomfortable with it, I meant to delete it. Since he’s already mentioned it to you, I don’t think he’ll mind you seeing it too much. Watch and you’ll understand what I mean.”

Six minutes later, with his whole worldview turned upside down, Ludwig said, “What the fuck?”

“I know. The duality of that man. Isn’t he great?” Gilbert grinned at him over the mug of his coffee, leaning against the counter where he had been watching Ludwig’s reactions. “Now, are you going to tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“What Mattie said during the FMK game.”

Ludwig wasn’t exactly angry with Matthew that he hadn’t told him the he and Gilbert had already starting to see each other but… “Ask him yourself.”


Gilbert fully intended to ask Matthew about the FMK game, but found he wanted to ask him in person. The timing only made it natural to ask him that evening when Matthew attended the MMA sparring session. He could guess from Ludwig’s reaction that Matthew either chose to fuck or marry him, but there had to be something else, right? Because most FMK responses were meaningless without someone justifying their choices to their friends.

Ludwig was also not someone to beat around the bush, so whatever it was had to have made him know that Matthew felt something for Gilbert, but without giving away that it was reciprocated.

The question of what Matthew had said about him was distracting throughout the day, to the point that he had to actively push it away. There was no use dwelling on it since he could tell him that evening, but the mental image of a tipsy, overly-affectionate, and probably overly-honest Matthew had staying power.

And, honestly, his attachment to that image was a marker of his own sanity as far as Gilbert was concerned. He could barely handle Matthew’s wide smile while he was sober and in control of himself. But his smile, open, lazy, and completely unreserved after a few drinks would probably short-circuit his brain. They hadn’t physically touched much and the last time he had seen Matthew in person was when they had gotten coffee the week before when they had both been cautiously determining what this was—or could be—between them. But now that they knew each other more, the thought of caution stripped away to the point that they could be honest with each other, with Matthew not concerned about boundaries…they could hold hands or even hug. They could—dare he think it—cuddle.

All the cuddles.

He physically face-palmed at the thought in the middle of the day despite being in public. He ran the hand through his hair to make it less obvious in case anyone was watching. Smooth recovery there.

Gilbert had it so bad that he was giddy at the thought of just holding Matthew close in a completely non-sexual way. It wasn’t his fault that Matthew was so adorable! But…yeah, he should just ask him out at this point. This was ridiculous.

Decision made, Gilbert realized that it probably didn’t matter what Matthew had said the night before about him. Oh, Gilbert still wanted to know, but it wasn’t likely to discourage him from asking Matthew on a proper date. He wasn’t going to ask for any kind of commitment, not wanting to tempt fate or scare Matthew off, but he wanted to get their relationship to the point that it was unquestionably romantic.

Gilbert settled on asking after the session that evening and mentally fortified himself to do so.

Alistair was the first to arrive, as was customary for them. Gilbert had refrained from mentioning that he was going to ask Matthew out that night, but the knowing smirk on his friend’s face gave him the distinct feeling of being late to the party on that one.

“What’s that look for, Scottie?” Gilbert asked, wary and coming out of a stretch. Alistair had been silent on the teasing front about Matthew the entire week, which, now that he thought about it, was downright suspicious.

“Well, hello, nice ta see ye, too. Don’t ye trust me, Gilly?”

“With my life? Yes. With not embarrassing me in front of Mattie? Not really.”

They blinked at him in a way that was probably supposed to convey innocence, but there was a glint in those green eyes that did nothing to reassure him. “I’m hurt. Ye know I want ye two together. I’m the captain of tha’ ship.”

“Uh huh.”

“…I’m savin’ tha embarrassing stuff until after yer together.” Of course they were. “By tha way, when are ye gonna pin him down, hmm? Mattie’s kinda oblivious with stuff like this and remains unconvinced that ye like him as much as he likes ye, which is ridiculous since I’m pretty sure yer a lost cause. Ye gotta spell these things out fer him.” For all of their teasing, Alistair was serious. The slight smirk hadn’t left their face, but their eyes were earnest and that kept Gilbert from getting defensive.

“Yeah, I figured. I had to literally tell him point blank that I was attracted to him to get him to believe it.”

“Ye had ta…unbelievable. I told him and ye don’t know what subtle means—“

“Pot. Kettle” The door opened and a couple of regulars walked in. Gilbert lifted a hand in greeting, but Alistair didn’t turn around, still intent on him.

“—and ye haven’t answered my question. When exactly are ye gonna just feckin’ ask—“

“Tonight, okay? Afterwards, if a get a chance.”

“Good. Noo, who are ye gonna pair him up with?” Gilbert looked at them. “Ye can’t just throw him ta tha proverbial wolves, Gilly. When was tha last time he actually sparred with someone?”

They might have a point, though it really depended on what his background skill level was. Even so, it was a call back to Gilbert’s conversation with Ludwig in the morning and he smirked. “And I’m the big bad wolf in this situation?”

“Ye wish ye could blow—“

“Hey, everyone!” Gilbert said to the people who kept trickling in, loud enough to cut off Alistair. I walked right into that one. “Warm up for now and we’ll start in about ten minutes.”

Matthew came in on his last word and oh, good Lord, he was fucked. He was wearing loose sweatpants and a too-large blue t-shirt that made his blue eyes stand out, especially since he had to be wearing contacts for how quickly he focused on and smiled at Gilbert. His hair was tied back into a low ponytail and a small gym bag that looked familiar over his shoulder. Absolutely nothing about how he was dressed should have left Gilbert speechless. They hadn’t seen each other in only a little over a week and had texted each other at least every day yet…there was something about seeing him in person that really drove home that not only did Gilbert like Matthew, but that he never really had a chance.

He heard Alistair’s snort of amusement and realized that Alistair had started standing next to him at some point. Gilbert had been completely unaware of what he was doing and only hoped that he hadn’t done anything obvious to people who weren’t his best friend. Alistair waved at Matthew, who was already walking towards them, and greeted, “Hey, Mattie. I see ye finally made it to one of these.”

Matthew shrugged and his smile turned wry. “Yeah. I’m still not sold on the partner thing, but we’ll see. How are you both?”

“Tha usual.” Alistair replied.

“You mean begrudgingly amused by everything and suffering from the idiocy of others?” The tone was a familiar tease and it was solid proof that they did see each other more that Gilbert probably realized.

“Tha’s tha one.” They smiled at him before their eyes shifted to something behind Matthew, “Speakin’ of which, excuse me.”

They left and Matthew turned to Gilbert with an expression of slight puzzlement before clearing. “How are you, Gil? Did your professor get back to you about your architecture proposal yet?”

Of course he remembered that. A low heat came to Gilbert’s face as he answered, “I’m alright. And yeah, actually. Had a few suggestions but had generally positive feedback. What about you? I heard a bit about last night…”

Matthew visibly tensed, face paling. “You did?”

“Yeah…” Gilbert frowned a little, wondering if he was that embarrassed about whatever he said. If his reaction had anything to do with the FMK game, that is. “You watched Lord of the Rings? West said he had fun.”

“Oh.” Matthew all but sighed out, smile now full of relief. “Yeah, it was great. I was happy to introduce him to my friends. So, um, what’s the procedure here?”

Gilbert blinked at him for a second at the unsubtle topic change and decided to let the FMK thing go. His burning curiosity was cooled by Matthew’s obvious distress. Teasing him was fine, something he looked forward to doing more of, but actively embarrassing him in a way that would really upset him? It wasn’t worth it. “People are just warming up before I go over the rules and try to set up the first pairs for the night. We usually like to switch people around at least once during the evening, but depends on who is here and relative skill level. When you last took classes, what was your belt color?”

“Purple. For Jujitsu. I got to brown before I stopped taekwondo.”

Gilbert nodded, impressed and thinking through just who Matthew could fight. It wasn’t a long list out of their total membership and maybe three people out of who was here already. “You would definitely be with the more experienced members, then, though the different styles will be interesting. Would you be okay being paired with me at the start?”

You?” Matthew blurted, causing Gilbert to raise his eyebrows. He then blushed and then rushed to say, “Well, I mean, you’re the club president and actually teach MMA…”

Gilbert shrugged and tried to come up with logical reasons why he was a great…sparring partner…for Matthew. “I have either sparred or watched a match with every member, so I’m a decent judge of who to pair people up with. But you can say, no, Matthew. I don’t want you to feel like you have to do something you’re not comfortable with, ever. Alistair makes good pairs, too, or we could just guess and see—“

“No, I’m fine! Being with you, I mean.” Their eyes met and held for a long tense moment. Matthew looked away and cleared his throat before saying, “I should put my stuff down and start warming up then.”

“Yeah.”

Matthew left to do just that and a very smug Alistair caught his eye. Gilbert discretely gave them the finger (making them laugh, to Matthew’s visible confusion) before turning his attention very firmly towards doing his job.

He checked in with the regulars and made sure to greet the newest members. He was naturally shit at remembering names, so he worked hard at it and happily only had to ask one person to reintroduce themself. He did it in a self-depreciating manner, the only kind of interaction he had cared enough to develop some modicum of diplomacy around.

Since the only “meetings” were on Saturdays, all Gilbert had to do was briefly rattle off the rules (which boiled down to don’t fight dirty and please don’t actually hurt each other) and decide the pairings.

When Gilbert ended by saying that he would be with Matthew, returning students who knew him suddenly became very interested in who exactly that was. As a rule, Gilbert only paired up with people upon request or if he needed to prove a point, with Alistair as his default partner. For the unassuming Matthew to fight him on first appearance in the club space, a lot of people apparently had questions.

Pairs broke off and claimed spaces around the room as their practice area. Matthew followed him easily to the far end of the room and Gilbert stomped a sudden wave of anxiety down. Yes, Gilbert, physically fighting the boy you definitely want to date is the best idea and not at all weird. That was a perfectly healthy impulse.

God, why was he like this?

“Do you think you’re warmed up enough, Mattie?”

“Um, probably not,” he admitted with a wince.

“We don’t have to start right away. We won’t be the only ones waiting.” That was certainly true. In the room-length mirror, it was easy to see other pairs doing moving stretches and chatting before actually squaring up.

“Okay, cool.” Matthew immediately started doing leg rotations. Gilbert stretched his shoulders—which tended to get sore after doing a bunch of desk work—and Matthew said in a low voice, “Um, is it just me or are a lot of people watching us?”

Gilbert turned and caught a lot of people moving their eyes away at his glance. He narrowed his eyes at them all before blanking his face and shrugging to Matthew. “They are probably just curious about you as the only new person. They’re a nice bunch and it’s nothing to worry about. Their matches will distract them in a few minutes anyway.”

“Oh, alright.” Matthew lowered his gaze and continued stretching.

A somewhat awkward silence, punctuated by the normal sounds of effort in a fight, fell between them that Gilbert was confused by. After a long moment, they both started saying something at the same time.

“Were you able to—“

“About last night—“

They stopped and looked at each other before Matthew rushed to say, “Go ahead? What were you saying?”

Gilbert was far more interested in where Matthew had been planning on taking the conversation. “I was just going to ask if you’ve gotten far enough ahead on work to let yourself have some fun this week. But I want to know what you were going to say.”

“I…yeah. I’m about four days ahead and I want to stay that way.” So he’s likely free this weekend. Good. “And, um. Last night.” Matthew hesitated and his face flushed a little. “I kinda mentioned to Ludwig that I—that we know each other. He was pretty surprised.”

Gilbert said carefully, “Yeah, he mentioned that this morning.” Matthew tensed again suddenly and, since he was stretching his quad at the time, lost his balance. Gilbert swiftly stepped forward to steady him with a hand on his arm. “Careful, Mattie.”

“Thanks,” Matthew said quietly, Gilbert close enough now to not have to strain over the ambient noise. Matthew cleared his throat and Gilbert let him go. He started to take a step back but Matthew reached out and gripped his shoulder while he stretched his other leg. “What did he say?”

Asking Matthew to spar with him was either his best or worst idea ever. Being so close but unable to do any of the things that immediately came to mind... “That he’s cool with it.” With us being together.

“That’s good.” Matthew let him go and backed away. “I think I’m okay to start. You?”

“Yeah.” At the word, the soft bashfulness in Matthew’s expression hardened to something assessing and he could meet Gilbert’s eyes without trouble now. It was thrilling to see the change in him in real time and Gilbert couldn’t help a small smile. “Do you want me to go easy on you?”

“No.” With no further elaboration, he went into a natural fighting stance that Gilbert studied for a second before going into one of his own.

The first fight with someone is usually the hardest to win, if only because you don’t know how they approach things yet. He would see if he could draw this match out, if only to get a feel for Matthew’s default fighting style.

Gilbert started with a lower guard than usually advisable, but it was a position that worked well enough for him in adaptability. Matthew watched him, eyes neutral now, and neither of them moved for a beat. Gilbert took the first step and it was to the side. Matthew adjusted his position minutely but didn’t actually move until the next step.

Cautious. He was very cautious.

Gilbert knew how fast Matthew could move if he put his mind to it. He would try to make sure that Matthew didn’t have enough room to use his speed.

Gilbert advanced and, rather than waiting for Gilbert to come to him (and build momentum), Matthew met him about halfway. He surprised him more by striking first, hands moving fast enough that all Gilbert could do was block him.

When Matthew gathered himself again, Gilbert pushed back with hand strikes of his own, until Matthew was far enough away to make a roundhouse feasible. Matthew dodged the kick with a fast spin that brought him into Gilbert’s guard, elbow first and at chest level.

Gilbert took it with a short sound, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much as it should have; Matthew must have pulled it. Still, it was enough to put him off balance. Matthew tripped him, but didn’t move fast enough to keep Gilbert from pulling him to the floor, too.

Matthew landed harder than he did, taken by surprise, but wasn’t more than a half second behind Gilbert in fighting for control as they grappled.

What followed was a confused half minute of furious motion and near-misses. Gilbert kept the advantage, but Matthew was smart and made him fight for the win. It was a very long thirty seconds.

In the end, Gilbert was straddling Matthew’s torso, sitting a little too high for him to feel like it was a secure hold, but he really needed to keep Matthew’s arms on the mat. That and the fact that they were sparring didn’t change how precarious the situation might become if he was straddling the tops of his thighs and using his body weight to hold him down. He might forget where he was and what he was supposed to be doing.

Matthew was breathing heavily and still straining against him, trying to free his hands and throw Gilbert off of him. He settled more of his weight on him, straightening his legs a little to ground himself. Gilbert looked down the mere inches between their faces and met Matthew’s fighting-neutral expression with one of his own.

His voice was little more than a grumble as he said, “Yield, Matthew.”

Matthew blinked, surprise flashing across his face, before he huffed a brief laugh and titled his chin up in blatant challenge.

“I’ll yield, Gil,” Matthew said, voice low and with mischievous glint in his eyes that put Gilbert on edge, made him forget himself just a little. “But you have to earn it first.”

Matthew suddenly pushed hooked his foot around one of Gilbert’s legs and straightened it to unsteady Gilbert as he pushed with far more strength than expected with the other—putting Gilbert suddenly on his back. As he flipped them, Matthew had freed his hands and grabbed Gilbert’s writs. Before he could react past his shock, Matthew had the edge of his forearm pressed against his neck, the rest of his body settled heavily over Gilbert’s with wrists held down by the press of Matthew’s other forearm. Matthew apparently didn’t have the same hesitation over using his entire body to keep Gilbert down, even if he was clearly a little overstretched. Gilbert could have gotten out of it, but only if he hurt him and that was something he was unwilling to do, never mind that it was against the rules.

Matthew was staring down at him from a very short distance, panting from the sudden effort and adrenaline and there was a silence in the room that Gilbert barely noticed. Neither of them moved for an infinite moment, Gilbert personally unable to think past the rush of blood in his ears and the near blinding lust in his head.

Good intentions who?

Someone, probably Alistair, cleared their throat pointedly, shaking them both out of the stillness they had settled in to. Gilbert stared into arresting blue eyes and said quietly, “I yield.”


Matthew rolled to the side of Gilbert immediately, laying on his back and trying to catch his breath. Good Lord, but that had been difficult. Thank fuck he had managed to take a restorative nap between his miserable, hungover practice and now. Still, the only reason he had managed at all was because Gilbert had been taken off guard for some reason. 

He was grinning, but not consciously. Gilbert sat up, seeming to have recovered already and looked down at Matthew with an unreadable expression. Something about it made Matthew sober and ask calmly, “What?”

Gilbert’s mouth quirked and he stood as he said, “I underestimated you. More accurately, I didn’t expect your legs to be that strong.”

Gilbert reached a hand down to help Matthew up and he took it gladly. He stood, noting the strength in Gilbert’s hand as he pulled, and tentatively teased, “I thought that after Matthias you wouldn’t make that mistake.”

His expression sharpened to something predatory and he said smoothly, “Let me rectify that.”

Matthew frowned at him. “Right now?” He was damn near winded and Gilbert wanted to go again?

“Why not?”

“Well, you’re used to this kind of work out, I’m not. I need a minute to recover. But after that, sure.”

Gilbert smiled but there was an intensity to his eyes that made him feel a bit hunted. Gilbert stepped back and Matthew only noticed then how close they had been standing together. He blinked, shook his head to himself, and turned to find his water bottle.

There was a hush to the room that seemed odd to Matthew, so he looked around and caught a lot of people staring at him before turning away quickly and resuming whatever they were doing. Alistair came over to Matthew, abandoning their partner momentarily and looking positively gleeful (which was unsettling). Matthew eyed them warily as dug through his bag and he picked up his water bottle. “Why do you have that look on your face?”

“Just happy ta see tha two of ye gettin’ along. Let me know if ye want ta switch partners; Gilly has a way of wearin’ people out.”

Yeah, no shit. Matthew hummed as he swallowed a mouthful then set the bottle down. “I think I’m good for now but thanks.” He pulled up the collar of his shirt so he could wipe the sweat off his face, not mindful of the fact that the motion made the loose-fitting t-shirt come up enough to display his hips and stomach.

“Holy shit,” someone whispered in the still-quiet room and Matthew looked around to try to see who had spoken, frowning in confusion.

Alistair snorted a laugh and Matthew turned his frown on them. “What?”

“Yer an enigma, Mattie. Have fun!” Leaving Matthew more confused than before, Alistair returned to their sparring partner. Cutting his losses and having fully caught his breath, Matthew turned back towards Gilbert.

He was waiting for him, arms crossed (my, what strong arms you have) and gaze considering. Gilbert relaxed as Matthew came closer, but the glint in his eyes hadn’t left. “Ready?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” Matthew steeled himself and settled into his go-to fighting stance.

Gilbert rushed him. It was startling but Matthew kept his head and prepared to take his weight on and force them to the floor again. But Gilbert didn’t try to tackle him. Instead, he dropped and tried to sweep Matthew’s legs from under him.

Matthew jumped on instinct, beyond thought in that moment. But being forced to take both feet off the ground was not a good thing. Gilbert popped up remarkably fast as Matthew landed, got a hold on him, and put him on the ground in a classic hip throw before he could get his bearings.

Matthew didn’t hurt himself when he landed, but he hit the ground hard and it was disorienting. Still, he tried to recover, turning to put his back to the floor to face Gilbert. But Gilbert was already there, pulling one of his arms behind his back despite the resistance Matthew put up. He twisted Matthew’s arm behind him so that his hand was wrenched and against his back. Matthew tried to turn so that it wouldn’t hurt and he would be able to stop this, but Gilbert was already behind him, resting against his body as his arm snaked and locked around Matthew’s throat.

Matthew froze and Gilbert didn’t apply pressure anywhere enough to hurt him, but he had definitely won. “Well?” Gilbert asked, voice low and very close to Matthew’s ear. “Did I earn it?”

“Yes,” Matthew whispered immediately, not quite sure what he was agreeing to but knowing that was the only answer he wanted to give.

Gilbert released him and moved far enough from him that Matthew couldn’t feel his body heat anymore. He found himself needing more air that usual, despite the fact that he hadn’t managed to do anything to stop him. He turned around and looked up to see Gilbert standing again and offering a hand.

There was no triumph or gloating to his expression. No, that intention hadn’t left Gilbert’s eyes and Matthew found himself staring at him as he stood.

With Gilbert’s hand still in his, Matthew said, “Again.”

Gilbert smirked a little, clearly pleased at Matthew’s demand, and nodded.

Gilbert pinned him four more times in relatively quick succession, changing his approach and fighting style every time. Matthew worked to keep up and adapt, but Gilbert was a force of nature. Within a minute of them starting, Matthew found them repeating a familiar exchange.

“Do you yield?” Gilbert would ask in Matthew’s ear, securely pinning him but never hurting him.

“Yes,” Matthew would answer quietly, relaxing against Gilbert for a second before they parted, stood, and started again.

It was around the second time that Matthew cottoned on to the fact that this wasn’t just sparring, but an intense, careful kind of flirting.

It was during the last time that Matthew realized he was enjoying it far too much.

They were grappling again, both of them breathing hard now, Matthew genuinely straining to keep Gilbert from using his body weight to pin him down. He had his thighs on either side of Gilbert’s waist and had a thought. To use what leverage he had before Gilbert could stop him, Matthew lifted his hips and locked his legs around the lower part of Gilbert’s ribcage. Then he started squeezing, not enough to hurt him but enough to make Gilbert short of breath and hesitate.

When Gilbert did just that, a sound from deep in his chest escaped as Matthew threw all of his weight into a turn that had Gilbert on his back and Matthew straddling him.

And that was when Matthew realized he was half hard behind his athletic cup and that the situation was worsening every second.

Their eyes met for a beat of shared surprise for very different reasons. Gilbert quickly pushed to take the advantage again and Matthew was honestly too preoccupied with not getting an erection to stop him.

This time, when Gilbert asked his question, Matthew’s breath caught and he involuntarily shuddered as he gave his answer.

It might have been his imagination, but it seemed like Gilbert waited just a second longer than usual to get off of him. Matthew knew that he was blushing, not just flushed from the exercise. He took Gilbert’s hand up, but this time he couldn’t meet his eyes as he stood. He mumbled out something about water and all but ran from him.

Matthew made sure to not look at anyone, using fixing hair as he walked as a legitimate reason to be staring intently at the floor.

“Gilly,” Alistair called from across the room. Matthew looked towards them and found their eyes going back and forth between him and Gilbert, their partner bent over and catching their breath across from them. “Yumi and Rhea need someone ta ref their match and keep score.” Gilbert must have looked at Matthew because Alistair rolled their eyes and said, “Och, let him rest. It’s been how many rounds? Four? Five?”

“Six,” Gilbert answered, but there was an undertone of…satisfaction? Matthew looked back towards him to say he was okay with them taking a break. Gilbert was now flushed with exertion and sweat rolled down his skin. His hair was an absolute mess but it somehow worked as a Look and he…was really hot. Matthew suddenly had the image of himself licking the sweat from Gilbert’s neck (Why is that appealing?! Oh, God, I’m losing my mind!), Gilbert’s hands on him and not for sparring, his voice asking something other than do you yield and…he no longer trusted himself not to say anything embarrassing. He simply nodded to him, eyes averted now, and Gilbert went.

He breathed a sigh of relief at the reprieve, before reaching to drink some water and just fucking sitting for a minute. He sat with his back to the wall and rested his head against it, eyes closed as he tried to gather himself and push his unwieldy and unwelcome arousal back into its box.

“Hey,” said an unfamiliar voice after a long moment, presumably to Matthew. He opened his eyes to find the person that Alistair had been sparring with speaking with him, looking worse for wear than Matthew felt. He had curly, ink black hair, pale grey eyes, and light brown skin, and was built like a runner.

“Hi,” Matthew replied, at a loss for what else to say.

“You mind if I…?” He gestured to the space next to Matthew and Matthew shook his head. The guy sat next to him, far enough away that it wasn’t uncomfortable but clearly still by him. “I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new to the club or just a new student in general?”

“Oh! I’m not actually a…Gilbert just mentioned that he could find a sparring partner for me, but I’m not a member.”

He smiled crookedly at Matthew as he crossed his legs. “Maybe you should be. I’ve never seen anyone go more than three rounds in a day with Gilbert except for Alistair. You shouldn’t feel bad that you lost, by the way. Gilbert’s a meticulous organizer, but he’s president for other reasons.”

Matthew frowned a little at him. “I’m not upset about losing. I just…” needed to get my hormones under control so I didn’t make a fool of myself “…needed a bit of a break. I might not even spar anymore tonight. I should probably just cool down before heading home, now that I think about it.” He had practice in the morning and would really rather not be more sore than necessary tomorrow.

“That’s a shame,” said the boy and Matthew must have looked as confused as he was. “It’s always good to have new people come in to mix up the pairings a bit. And you said Gilbert would find you a partner…” He trailed off and Matthew took his words at face value.

“Oh, that. I’m don’t think I should have a regular partner. I try not to do heavy workouts regularly outside of practice and my plate is pretty full already. I wouldn’t want to be paired with someone only to never be available.”

The boy was looking at him like Matthew was a puzzle that he couldn’t make sense of yet. “That’s pretty consid—“

“Mattie.” Matthew looked up to see Alistair approaching them and he smiled at them in greeting. “Ye done fer tha night?”

“Yeah, I probably should be with practice and all.”

“Then go stretch before ye cramp up.” Alistair reached a hand down to pull Matthew up and he took it, rolling his eyes a little. They then looked at the boy Matthew had been talking to and said, “Ready fer tha next round, Mitchel?”

That sounded more like a challenge than a request. Mitchel blinked at them and Matthew noticed that he had really long eyelashes. He answered, tone wary, “Sure.”

Mitchel stood and Alistair was looking at him blandly. “If ye want ta wait a bit more and since Mattie’s done fer that night, I’m sure Gilbert would be happy ta—“

“No, I’m good to go now!” Mitchel nodded at Matthew briefly before going to where he and Alistair had been practicing. Matthew found this all suspicious and looked over at Gilbert to see him carefully watching a match between two young women who seemed particularly skilled.

Matthew then narrowed his eyes at Alistair and saw them watching him steadily and with raised eyebrows. “What? I’m just tryin’ ta be helpful.” They pulled a don’t look at me, I’m innocent look and Matthew scowled at them. Alistair then laughed and turned away to go back to sparring.

Still not sure what to make of that, Matthew started stretching. He always did like the cool down period after a workout and fell into his own little world as he did his best to make sure he could move freely in the morning.

After some time, Gilbert got his attention with a soft, “Mattie.” Matthew opened his eyes and straightened from a split leg stretch that had him reaching forward and facing the floor. He looked up expectantly and saw Gilbert looking at him. “You’re stopping?”

“Yeah. I have practice in the morning and don’t want to overdo it.” Figuring that he had done enough to be able to move tomorrow, Matthew came out of the stretch and stood. “Are you all done?”

Gilbert shook his head. “We have about another twenty minutes in here and I always stay to the end.”

“Oh. Okay,” Matthew said, feeling a little awkward, especially as he remembered why he had really called it quits. He felt his cheeks heat and tried to ignore it. “T-then I’m going to head out now.”

“Alright,” Gilbert said, eyes searching Matthew’s face. “Did you have fun at least?”

“Yeah, though I don’t think we managed to do the one thing I came here for.” When Gilbert raised his eyebrows at that, Matthew continued with, “Finding me a partner, remember?”

That predatory intent came back into Gilbert’s expression and Matthew’s breath froze in his lungs as he said, “Well, I don’t know about that, Mattie. You didn’t like being partnered with me?”

I liked it way too much. “That’s not the problem.” Gilbert looked a little self-satisfied at that and Matthew tried to regain his composure. “Besides, you kicked my ass, Gil. If I were to regularly spar with someone, wouldn’t it make sense for them to be closer to my level?”

“You managed to pin me once. That’s not nothing and few manage to do that.” Gilbert seemed to come closer to him and Matthew found it was difficult not to look at his mouth. He failed and his eyes flicked down before he could stop himself. Matthew met Gilbert’s eyes again and knew he had seen that little slip.

Matthew caught movement out of the corner of his eye and looked to the side, forcibly reminded that they were not actually alone, that everyone could see them thanks to the room-length mirror and now would not be a good time for them to jump each other.

Matthew bit his lip as he thought about what to say. Gilbert didn’t push him verbally, only reached out a hand to brush some hair that had fallen into Matthew’s face behind his ear. The touch was careful and had Matthew looking back at him and saying, “Tomorrow. I…I’m being dragged to the after-game party for the soccer team at Antonio’s place. Will you be there?”

Gilbert dropped his hand and said, “Yeah. I had a few things to take care of before that, but I’ll make it eventually.”

“Then I’ll see you there,” Matthew said in a rush, exhilarated to know when they could see each other again.

“Yeah, you will.” Tension stretched between them and Matthew needed to leave right now or he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from doing what his body wanted. So he nodded and moved away.

Matthew scooped up his water bottle, slipped on his shoes, and booked it out of there with a half-hearted farewell to Alistair.


 “Ye need some water, Gilly? Because yer lookin’ pretty damn thirsty ta me.”

 “I hate you.”

“I don’t know why ye keep sayin’ tha’; no one ever believes ye.”


 “Sooo?”

 “It was an excuse to roll around and get sweaty with me on the floor.”

“Fuckin’ told you so!”

Chapter Text

Matthew had yet to decide if he was the good kind of anxious for attending his first college party. Yes, he really wanted to see Gilbert and maybe pick up where they had left off the night before but…he really hated parties.

Lovino saw the look of trepidation on his face as they approached the team house. “Calm down. It’s just a party. You don’t have to talk to anyone but me if you don’t want to.”

“Lovi, I shouldn’t drink, I’m super awkward, you and Feli are the only people here I actually know, and I don’t know how to dance!”

Lovino looked over him, considering. Matthew was wearing what Lovino had suggested: a simple, fitted blue button up and a clean pair of jeans. He had napped during the day so the fact that he had a…hard time sleeping peacefully wasn’t obvious anymore. Nate had looked at him askance at his lethargy that morning and said that he looked stressed, but the nap had helped one problem at least.

As for the other...It was best not to dwell on it. That path led to guilt and shame and never being able to look Gilbert in the face again. He was very pretty and that would really suck. 

Lovino said, “How about this: you drink very little to loosen you up, you stay close to my awkward ass, you meet some new people until Gilbert shows up, and I teach you how to dance?”

Matthew blinked at him. “That sounds reasonable. You would really teach me how to dance?”

He nodded solemnly. “I consider it a civic duty as your queer best friend to at the very least make sure you know how dance with a guy you’re attracted to, which at the moment is a very short list.”

“You. Y-you think he would want to dance with me?” Matthew asked, nervous. Dancing already seemed complicated to him, but to dance with and maybe be judged as a hot mess by Gilbert…

“As a start,” Lovino said cryptically as he knocked forcefully on the door to the large home. It was loud, but Matthew could hear the dance mix to one of the summer’s popular songs from outside and figured it was out of necessity.

The door opened and a tan boy that was a little taller than Lovino with slightly curling black hair and laughing ochre eyes opened the door wide for them. He wore a hunter green t-shirt, an open dark blue button-up, and stone washed jeans and looked familiar as he grinned at them.

The music was as about as loud as he expected without the barrier of the door.

“Elder Vargas! We were starting to think you weren’t coming.” Must be one of his teammates, then.

Lovino raised his eyebrows at him. “Who’s we?” Before he could answer, Lovino rushed to say, “I was a bit delayed making sure my roommate was ready. Martín, this Matthew. Matthew, Martín. He shares the house with Antonio.”

“And five other guys,” Martín said good-naturedly and waved them in. “Nice to meet you. Lovino will show you around.”

“Thanks,” Matthew said, surprised at the welcome. He went in first and saw Leo looking him up and down obviously.

“My pleasure,” Martín said wryly before looking at Lovino with a smirk on his face. “I’m sure Tonio just loves him.”

Matthew blinked, processing, but Lovino rolled his eyes and replied, “Him and everyone else. Come on.” Lovino pushed him further into the house, steering him away from what seemed like a living room towards the back of the house. As he was being pushed, Matthew caught Feliciano’s eye in the next room but was only able to smile in greeting before Lovino had moved them out of sight.

Once they cleared the staircase, Lovino stopped marching him forward and came around the side of him to lead. Loud enough to be heard over the music, Lovino said, “Ignore him. Martín teases the most, but a lot of people are pretty chill on the team.”

“Alright,” Matthew said but he was ruminating on what Martín had meant…Was Antonio the jealous type? And publically possessive of Lovino? Because that didn’t jive with what Lovino had been telling him, though Matthew believed Lovino had told him his interpretation of events. Touching casually was very different from being possessive enough for someone to comment. Hell, even touching enough to make people think you were in a relationship didn’t equal being outright territorial. At least, Matthew thought so.

Interesting.

The house wasn’t crowded enough to impede movement, but there were a good number of people talking in small groups or pairs along the walls or lingering in the larger spaces, nearly everyone holding a red cup in their hand. Lovino moved comfortably through the space, like he was more than a little familiar with it. Then again, with how much he was here, Lovino could probably walk around this place blindfolded…or at least the route to Antonio’s room.

The thought made Matthew shake his in silent amusement, though it faded when he recalled just what Lovino was going through because of his frequent trips to this house. He sighed.

“What?” Lovino asked and Matthew looked at him, surprised that he heard him.

“Nothing,” Matthew said quickly.

Lovino looked at him askance. They walked through a large kitchen and a game room with a few guys playing pool—it looked like to impress a pair of girls who, at first glance, seemed a lot more impressed with each other. In the corner was a bar with someone who had to be another one of Lovino’s teammates. “You want to try that again? Because you are the worst fucking liar when you’re not at telling some part of the truth.”

Matthew felt himself turn red and then told part of the truth and turned it into a slight tease to keep away from the sadder thought. “I just noticed that you seem to know your way around this place pretty well.”

“…oh.” Lovino blushed at that and stopped asking questions. For a moment at least. As they joined the short line to get drinks, he added, “You trust me?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, cool.” Lovino approached the counter with a small smile and said, “Hey, Lu.”

“Hey, Lovi! What’s your poison, tonight?” Lu smiled and saw Matthew hovering. “Who’s this?”

“Anti-social roommate. And a half cup of the punch, thanks.”

Matthew rolled his eyes but smiled at Lu. “I’m not actually anti-social. I just don’t know his friends. I’m Matthew, by the way.”

He grinned back. “Luciano. What are you having?”

“He’s covered,” Lovino said, stepping away from the bar to let the girl behind them come up with a now empty cup, before frowning a little. “Are you always stuck behind the bar?”

“Nah, we have a schedule in the house and I wanted the first two parties. The same?” He asked the girl before fixing her drink.

Lovino handed him the cup and said very clearly, “Take three sips and give it back to me. We need you relaxed, not climbing into people’s laps.”

Matthew blushed but took the cup. “I wasn’t in anyone’s lap the other night.”

“Wait,” Luciano interjected. “That was for him?”

“Kinda. See you, Lu.” Lovino said before steering Matthew towards the kitchen. “Mattie, you were halfway in mine and more handsy than I had ever seen you. And I see you a hell of a lot. That was wine. This shit—“ Lovino nodded at the cup “—is a different beast. If you drink that entire thing and are anything like me, you would probably start making out with the first person who was reasonably nice to you. And if that person was Mr. Of-Course-I-Would-Fuck-Him—“

“Point taken,” Matthew said quickly, wanting to stop his friend before he finished that sentence.  He tentatively tasted the nearly florescent red liquid and winced at the burning sweetness on his tongue. “God-damn, what is this?”

Lovino patted him on the shoulder, “That, my friend, is the punch. If you realize you stop disliking the taste, that means you’ve had too much.”

Matthew sipped at it again, taking a bit more than he did the first time. “Are you going to get one?”

“Nope. I’m drinking whatever’s left in that. Me, liquor, and clothes don’t mix well.” Matthew raised his eyebrows. “Don’t fucking look at me like that. I know my limits and am not planning on advertising what a slut I am.”

Matthew choked on his own breath, laughing even as he was caught off guard. “That’s fair. Only need one particular person to—“ Lovino elbowed him lightly in the side and Matthew smiled wider before taking his last mouthful. He handed what remained back to his friend and asked, “Now what?”

Lovino tipped the cup back as he drained it quickly enough for Matthew to be equal parts impressed and concerned. He wiped at his mouth and walked over to the sink. When the cup was half full, Lovino took a sip and gave it back to him. “Drink that, if only to get the fake sugar taste out of your mouth. Now, we go party.” Matthew followed along dutifully towards what seemed like a large (crowded) living room when the background music cut out and was changed. “Oh, Death’s here.”

Matthew frowned at him, something deep in his bones thrumming with the music. “Who?”

“One of Antonio’s friends; you know, the one you hang out with that you don’t actively want to jump.”

Matthew lit up. “You mean Alistair?”

Lovino cut his eyes to him slyly and smiled. “Yep; the M to Gilbert’s F.”

It took Matthew a moment to process that, but he blushed as he remembered the game from Wednesday. “Yeah. Please don’t mention that to them. I’m pretty sure they would think it was hilarious, but I know they would tease me about it endlessly.”

“Alright; let’s go.” Matthew looked around as they got to the living room and spotted the distinctive color of Alistair’s hair. They were standing with Antonio off to the side, familiar look of bemusement on their face from whatever the soccer player was saying. Matthew touched Lovino’s shoulder to let him know to follow him, before heading off to greet his friend with a smile.

Alistair saw him coming and straighten from their slight slouch against the wall before smiling back. “Hey, Mattie. I didn’t expect ta see ye here.”

Matthew shrugged and said, “I promised Lovi I would come weeks ago. He and his brother were a bit concerned that I was being a shut-in.”

“Well, you were, you contrary bastard.” Lovino said from his side. Antonio reached out for him and his friend moved closer to him, rolling his eyes and smiling a little as his…person took his hand. “You’ve been spending weekend nights studying alone in our room. What else was I supposed to do?”

Matthew wanted to complain about Lovino mentioning that detail, but realized that he had failed to explain why he had wanted Matthew to come to this party in particular. So Matthew shook his head and said, “I managed to meet people without going to any parties. Alistair’s my friend. Right?”

He looked at the redhead with hopeful, expectant eyes and watched the amusement grow on their face. “Aye, we’re friends. Though I will say yer by far me strangest mate.”

Antonio whistled lowly, continuing to pull Lovino closer to him. “That’s quite a title, Mattie.”

Matthew looked at Alistair curiously, “Why would you say that?”

“Because I don’t understand how ye can look and be innocent when I watched ye pin Gilbert ta tha mat last night.” Antonio startled in surprise at the corner of his eye but Lovino’s laugh caught his attention.

“Kinky. Didn’t think you would move that fast.”

Matthew felt the blush and crossed his arms, glaring at his friend. “It wasn’t like that, Lovi, and you know it. And it only happened once.”

“’Only happened once,’ he says,” Alistair intoned, tease in their voice.

“You’re serious,” Antonio said, eyes wide before he started laughing. He said to Alistair, “And Gilbert’s reaction?”

“What ye’d expect,” they said, leaning against the wall with a smirk on their face and hands in the front pockets of their jeans. Antonio laughed louder and Matthew got the impression he was missing something.

He moved over to Lovino who was watching the two juniors with a confused frown. He leaned against him a little and asked, “What do you think?”

His roommate looked at Antonio and Alistair with narrowed eyes before he smirked in return. He asked them, “I take it he doesn’t get bested often?”

Antonio scoffed, “More like never. Alistair’s the only person who can regularly beat him and even that win ratio is very skewed in favor of Gil. He’s not called War for nothing.”

Matthew frowned at them both. “War? I guess that makes sense, but why are you all referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the first place? Lovi mentioned it passing but…isn’t that a little on the nose?”

Alistair gestured to him. “Ye see? Someone else who thinks it’s ridiculous.”

Antonio rolled his eyes at them all. “We didn’t pick it. No one really knows who started it either. But sometime around the middle of last year, people started greeting us by those names when we walked into a party together. We maybe could have stopped it, but it’s also super badass for people to call us that. Plus, its names people recognize, so we can get into damn near any party on campus if we want.”

“Huh.” Made sense. “By the way, congrats on your win.”

Antonio grinned. “Thanks. Three in a row! We really lucked out in terms of team dynamics this year.”

“Is tha’ what we’re callin’ it noo?” Alistair asked, quiet enough that only Matthew could hear them over the music.

Matthew started coughing to cover his laugh. “Sorry. Yeah, you all moved like a machine out there.” He drained the little water left in the cup and looked around. “Where’s the trash? Oh, wait, nevermind.”

In the thirty seconds it took Matthew to throw away the cup and return, Alistair was five feet farther from Antonio and Lovino. The two soccer players were kissing off to the side and Matthew decided to stay with Alistair. “You’re awful.”

“No, I’m fun,” they answered with a smirk.

“That, too. How are you, actually? We didn’t exactly get a chance to talk a lot last night.”

Alistair raised their eyebrows. “You checkin’ in on me?”

“I’m checking in with you and I do that with all my friends.” They stared at him, nonplused, and Matthew realized they had avoided simply answering the question last night, too. Edging towards concerned, Matthew softly prompted, “Alistair?”

They made an abrupt, sighing sound of amusement and smiled wryly. They said, “I’m alright, Mattie. Work load is a wee bit heavier than I thought it would be this early in the semester, but nothing to worry about. Yer turn.”

Matthew pursed his lips a little. “I didn’t ask you just so that—“

“I know tha’. Yer probably one of tha most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met. Doesn’t mean I don’t want ta know.”

“Oh.” Matthew settled against wall and said, “I’m okay. A little tired, a bit anxious and…frustrated.” Matthew’s eyes cut briefly to Antonio and Lovino who were just talking now but clearly oblivious to anyone else in the room despite the rising din of the party.

“Say more words,” they said and Matthew looked back at them. An idea formed and took root.

He remembered what Martín had said at the door.

“You know I care about my friends, right?”

“Obviously.”

Matthew leaned in to ask Alistair as quietly as possible, “Can I trust you with something and you’ll keep it to yourself?”

They raised their eyebrows at him and moved further into Matthew’s space, intrigued. “Generally. No guarantees if I think it will hurt someone I care about fer no good reason.”

God, but their honesty was refreshing. “Is Antonio the jealous sort?”

Alistair regarded the couple, considering. “Not normally but with him? Yeah.”

“I’m going to trust that you won’t spread around the fact that I’m not the only person dissatisfied with their…arraignment. The other night I proved to be a rather touchy drunk, in an affectionate way. If Antonio got jealous enough, do you think he would actually think about this stupid no-relationship thing?”

Alistair frowned at him. “Have ye been drinkin’ tonight?”

He shrugged. “Only a little. Enough to make this seem like a good idea and get me past my usual caution to actually go through with it. But Lovi’s my best friend and I’m sick of the shit he’s going through because of this thing. So…” Matthew met their eyes to ask, “If I make him jealous, will this hurt or help?”

Alistair sighed and looked a little resigned as they leaned against the wall next to Matthew. “I knew this would be a problem. He’s stubborn and convinced this wouldn’t be. He’ll either get with tha program or take tha route of denial and double down.”

“I think I’m the only person that can do this without being a real threat to him. He knows about…Gil, right?”

Alistair grinned at him. “What about Gilly?”

“That I’m…” Matthew gestured, blood rushing to his cheeks for the first time in this conversation and hands flailing as he sought an accurate word. “…Preoccupied.”

They chortled at that. “’Preoccupied.’ Mattie, yer hilarious. And, ta answer yer question, I’m not sure if he knows how ye feel, but he is very aware of Gilly’s…preoccupation with ye. Since he doesn’t know ye like I do, he may not know yer an empty threat, as it were.”

Gilbert’s preoccupied with me? Matthew blew out a breath and told himself to focus. “Do you think this is a good idea?”

“Yeah, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s because it will get Tonio ta get his head out of his arse or because I want ta watch this fer tha entertainment value.”

Matthew rolled his eyes but couldn’t keep the smile from his lips. “Thanks for that.”

“Yer welcome,” they said, shit eating grin still on their face. Then Alistair elbowed him lightly in the side. “I’ll try ta help his thought process along. Tonio…I’ve never seen him look at anyone tha way he looks at Lovino. I like gettin’ me mates out of their own way.”

Matthew smirked at his friend and said, “Me, too.” Then he proceeded to amble over to his roommate, balance barely unsteady, Alistair following. I have to make him jealous, he thought. So he tried his best to be smooth and not the awkward mess he usually was.

“Lovi!” Matthew said, smiling widely and playing up his cheer just a little as he hugged him from behind.

Lovino leaned back against him and said, tone sour, “What, bastard? Why are you touching me?”

Matthew pouted. “You didn’t mind the other night.” Both Lovino and Antonio stiffened at that and Alistair started coughing loudly behind him. He leaned down and put his chin on Lovino’s shoulder. “Besides, you said you were going to teach me how to dance.”

Lovino sputtered, “Well yeah, but—“

Matthew whispered in his ear, tone serious to let him know that he wasn’t as far gone as he was acting, “Trust me.” Matthew had been steadily watching the other party attendees as they danced with their partners, so he tried squeezing Lovino’s waist lightly as he said it. Then he looked directly at a frozen Antonio as he said, barely audible to other people and with what he hoped was a wicked smile on his face, “Tonio won’t mind.”

His friend shivered and Matthew was reassured that what he had learned from observing was going to be of some use. Lovino let go of Antonio’s hand to turn around in Matthew’s arms. “Yeah, alright. I guess I did say that.”

Matthew grinned and released his friend to walk towards the mass of writhing bodies with some trepidation. He kept his anxiety off of his face as he looked over to Antonio’s stricken expression and said as he deliberately took Lovino’s hand, “Don’t worry; I’ll probably give him back.”

Matthew pulled them away before Antonio could respond, but he did catch the look of near pain on Alistair’s face from trying to keep themself from laughing.

Lovino followed him willingly, not pulling his hand from his, as they made it through the room. Matthew spied Feliciano on the other side of the room, mouth open in shock but eyes darting from them to where Antonio was still standing. Understanding bloomed on his face before Matthew muscled and apologized his way into the crush of people. When they were far enough in that Antonio wouldn’t be able to see them easily, he pulled his friend closer to him.

Lovino had a wry look on his face and leaned in close enough to ask, “Seriously? You know he won’t get jealous, right?”

“Buddy, he already is. Now, we can stand here, or you can actually teach me how to dance to this.”

The song playing was unrecognizable to Matthew, but it had a slow, grinding rhythm. “…Alright. Put your hands on my hips, stay on beat, keep your movements minimal and contained, and take note of what I do. And, for the love of God, try not to blush.”


Gilbert was chatting with Francis as they walked together to Antonio’s house. He had been anxious to see Matthew since the day before and extremely curious what he would be like in a party setting. He was still planning on asking him out but after last night…

Fuck just dating. He wanted to call Matthew his. So he would see if he wanted a boyfriend and was really hoping he said yes.

His phone buzzed a few times in his pocket as Francis’ dinged. His friend was just updating him on the trials of his girlfriend’s work-life, but he stopped mid-sentence as he pulled out the phone and started laughing uproariously.  “What?” Gilbert asked, assuming it we the group message.

“See for yourself. It’s for you anyway.” Gilbert frowned as he pulled out his phone and unlocked it, heading straight for the group chat even though he saw that he had a couple of new texts.

He opened it to see a picture that was a little hard to make out. It was too dark and full of too many people to really get the details. He did notice a tall guy with blond hair and…Matthew? Matthew was in the middle of the dance floor?

P: GET. HIM.

W: what am I looking at here?

D: Comedic gold.

P: It’s not fucking funny.

Gilbert raised his eyebrows. Antonio rarely cursed, even around his friends.

W: Still lost

D: Mattie asked Lovino to teach him to dance.

D: He’s had a bit to drink.

D: P’s taking issue with it.

W: …eta 3 mins

“Unbelievable,” he said aloud to Francis. He was going to check his other messages and saw Francis nod out of the corner of his eye.

“Agreed. We tried to tell him he fucked up but did he listen? If he has a problem with your Matthew dancing with him, how exactly did he think he would be okay with someone else sleeping with him?”

“He probably didn’t think he would ever see it. And he’s not mine yet.” He had a couple of messages from Alistair.

“What do you mean, yet? Are you planning something, Gilbert?”

Gilbert hummed then scowled as he read the messages.

Scottie: You are damn lucky he wants to jump you.

Scottie: Tonio’s face! I wish I’d recorded that.

Gilbert: wtf

Gilbert: is he drunk? I heard about the other night…

“I may be planning on asking him out,” Gilbert said at Francis’ gesturing for him to continue talking.

Scottie: Nah. He wanted to see if Tonio got jealous.

Scottie: But he’s making it look real.

Scottie: Damn.

Gilbert: Are you trying to make me jealous?

Scottie: lol who’s trying?

“Why do you have that look on your face?” Francis asked warily.

“Alistair’s such a fucking troll.”

“Yes; I thought we knew this.”

Alistair was a troll, but they were not a liar.

Gilbert walked through Antonio’s front door, Francis following behind him, and felt the party almost take a breath. This always happened when all four of them were gathered at one party. It was like a countdown started and everyone knew they had to rush to get in as much fun as possible. It wasn’t their fault the cops kept being called; it was just a coincidence.

Usually.

They headed into the living room, where the dance area was usually found and the picture suggested Antonio and Alistair would be. Antonio was glowering at everything and nothing, Alistair looking about as delighted as they ever were. They saw him and Francis approaching and grinned in a way that put Gilbert on edge. “Gilly! Francis! Welcome ta tha party!”

At Gilbert’s name, Antonio’s eyes snapped to him. “Gilbert, I don’t ask for much, but I need you to get him off of Lovino.”

“Well, hello to you too, Tonio. Nice to see you,” Gilbert said even as he started scanning for Matthew and Lovino in the crowd.

“Yes, hello, Antonio and Alistair,” Francis said, coming around to Antonio’s other side. “Looks like you’ve got yourself in a bit of a situation, my friend.”

Alistair nodded, trying but failing to rid their face of amusement. “Aye. It’s not like ye can be offended and neither can Gilly. They’re both unattached, after all.”

“Unattached!” Antonio said, glaring at them.

“For now,” Gilbert said, eyes still searching for the boy that had managed to drive him crazy within three weeks of knowing him.

“Well, what exactly do you think non-exclusive means? It’s not even an open relationship.” Francis chimed in.

He’s the one who didn’t want anything serious.” Antonio said lowly.

“Did he say those exact words, Tonio?” Francis pushed, having seen like everyone else how Lovino looked at Antonio when he forgot know people were watching. “Did you ask him if he wanted to be exclusive point blank and have him turn you down?”

Antonio froze and Gilbert stopped his search to see him pale a little. “No. He asked me. He…never actually said he didn’t want that.”

All three of them stared at Antonio, realizing exactly what that meant. “So you’re the reason this is happening?” Gilbert asked, turning to look for Matthew again. The mass of people shift a little and Gilbert saw why it had been so difficult to spot the tall blond.

Matthew was leaning over Lovino, with Lovino’s back pressed against his front and with his head bent close to his neck. Lovino’s arm was reaching up and behind him to hold the back of Matthew’s neck and Lovino’s face was…smug?

“I thought he was teaching him how to dance,” Gilbert said and he realized that his voice was closer to a growl than expected.

“…Maybe Lovino thought ta expand tha lesson a wee bit,” Alistair drawled. Both Antonio and Gilbert turned to glare at them, but Alistair just rolled their eyes. “Och, don’t look at me like tha’. If ye want ta stop them before it goes any further, I suggest ye go get them, ye damn idgits.”

That was fair. Not waiting to see what Antonio would do, Gilbert started towards the dance floor. The current song wasn’t one he recognized, but it had a deep, pulsing beat that screamed sex and honestly, where the fuck did Alistair find all these songs? They said that they just listened to a lot of music while coding, but this was some pretty specific shit.

Gilbert worked his way to the pair and came up behind Matthew. Lovino was facing Matthew now and was smiling crookedly until he saw Gilbert’s approach. He wasn’t sure what was on his face, but he’s pretty sure the brunet said oh, fuck. The sound of it was lost to the music and general noise of the party, but Gilbert smirked as he put one hand on Matthew’s waist. He felt the boy tense at the unexpected touch and he leaned in to say in his ear, “Hello, Matthew.”

Matthew let go of Lovino like the touch burned and stepped back only to run into Gilbert. Gilbert caught him, arms around him now and Matthew looked over his shoulder with wide eyes. “Gil!”

“Mind if I cut in?” Gilbert said slowly, eyes moving from Matthew to Lovino, who was unaware that Antonio was coming up behind him. Matthew’s friend smiled knowingly and put his hands up in good natured surrender. He turned to leave them alone and ran right into a rather unamused Antonio.

Matthew was turning around in his hold and Gilbert let him. He stopped paying attention to his friend’s drama when Matthew asked, “You…want to dance with me?”

I want to do a hell of a lot more than that, he thought. “Yes.”

Matthew blinked wide eyes at him but reached up and looped his arms around Gilbert’s neck.

Gilbert put both hands on Matthew’s waist and moved them closer together, eyes not leaving his face. Color rose in his cheeks and his lips parted minutely before he looked away from him. Gilbert felt a shudder wrack his body and, oh God, but the things he wanted to do to this boy.

He started moving them to the song, remembering that Matthew didn’t know how to dance. He did well enough that Gilbert wouldn’t have guessed it first thing. Matthew followed him beautifully, extremely responsive to his touch and movements. About a minute in, he seemed to freeze before smoothly turning in Gilbert’s hold to press his back against him. Gilbert went with it, frowning a little in confusion before watching his ear turn red. The only other time he had seen that happen was last night, when Gilbert had pinned him that last time and Matthew had shivered as he said yes, right before he had all but run from him and—

Oh.

Oh, fuck.

Gilbert held Matthew close against him and fought the same reaction as they moved together. He leaned down and said in Matthew’s ear, “I want to talk to you.”

He shivered again and Gilbert was going to lose his mind. Matthew turned his head towards him and his pupils were wide as he asked, breathless, “About?”

His lips were pink and wet and right there and Gilbert only had so much self-control. He brought a hand up to tilt Matthew’s head just a bit and kissed him. It was a soft touch of lips, one he couldn’t resist but really wanting to talk to Matthew before they got into anything more than that.

Matthew had other plans.

When Gilbert pulled away to check Matthew’s reaction to his kiss, to make sure this was okay, Matthew seemed to be in shock, body still and eyes closed. When Gilbert lightly ran his thumb over Matthew’s cheek, deep blue eyes opened and focused on Gilbert’s mouth. Matthew leaned up, turning so their mouths met again and their chests were pressed together and oh, fuck yes.

Any good intentions flew out the window and Gilbert kissed him back, hand on his lower back pressing them together and Matthew once again looped his arms around Gilbert’s head. Matthew’s kisses were enthusiastic but still careful, like he was happy to be doing this but was very self-conscious. Gilbert didn’t want him thinking like that, didn’t want him to be doing anything but feeling what them together could be like. Gilbert licked at his mouth and Matthew immediately opened for him. Gilbert felt his moan, felt him melt against him as blunt nails moved over his scalp and he kissed back.

Perfect.

Gilbert pulled away then, gently and not going very far. He became aware again of the fact that they were in the middle of a dance floor at a crowded party. They were lucky no one had bumped into them, but he doubted it would last for long. Matthew blinked his dazed eyes open and seemed to come back to himself. He relaxed and bit his lip, but didn’t move away from him. ”Y-you wanted to talk?”

Gilbert didn’t answer verbally, just took Matthew’s hand and led him out of the crowd. Matthew followed easily and Gilbert considered his options. He knew that people were looking at him; it hadn’t been rare for any of his friends to pick up someone at a party, but they usually didn’t make out with them on the dancefloor. He hoped that Matthew didn’t notice as he led them through Antonio’s house and out of the back door.

It was much quieter out here, a night warm with a cool breeze. There were also few people outside and they all seemed very concerned with themselves. Gilbert headed around the corner of the house, pleased to find no one there, and turned to Matthew.

The one problem with using this spot for privacy was that there was very little light over here. It wasn’t completely dark thanks to the streetlights, but that was about it. He stopped and turned to Matthew who was still holding his hand.

Matthew seemed tense and Gilbert realized that he might have made him nervous by taking him away from everyone. Gilbert cursed himself a little and squeezed Matthew hand once before letting go. Matthew’s hand dropped but he could hear the confusion in his voice when he said, “Gil? What is it?”

Gilbert swallowed hard and tried to start this off right. “I…I’m not very good at subtlety, Mattie. I never have been. I like you a lot and I’m pretty sure you like me, too.”

“Yes…” Matthew said, stepping a little closer to him. Gilbert couldn’t read his face in the weak light, but he sounded hopeful. “I like you.”

Gilbert wanted to touch him, but he resisted the urge with some difficulty. “We haven’t known each other long or spent a lot of time together yet, but I want to. You’re…really fucking awesome and it would be great if you could be mine.”

It was quiet out here, so Gilbert heard the catch in Matthew’s breath. There was a slight tremor in his voice as he asked, coming closer to him, “What would that mean, Gil?”

“It means I want you to be my boyfriend. And none of that non-exclusive bullshit that Tonio pulled with Lovino. When I say that you would be mine, I would be yours, too.” When Matthew didn’t say anything for a few beats, Gilbert started rambling, “I know we just met and you might not want—“

“Yes,” Matthew rushed forward and hugged him. He repeated, “Yes.”

Gilbert was grinning, elated, and hugged Matthew back. (All the cuddles was a distant thought in the back of his mind.) After a few moments, Matthew laughed and said, “I wasn’t sure I heard you right. I didn’t think you would want me like that, like how I wanted you.”

Gilbert hugged him tighter, floored at how precious this young man was. He bent his neck a little to kiss his forehead since he could do that now and said, “How could I not?”

Matthew seemed to go still at that before saying shyly, “Hey, boyfriend?”

Gilbert huffed out a laugh. “Yes, boyfriend?”

“Can you go back to kissing me now?”

Gilbert laughed once more before doing as he asked.


Lovino was inordinately pleased with this turn of events as he backed away from Matthew. Gilbert wasn’t quite glaring at him, but the look and his hold on Matthew screamed his possessiveness over his best friend. Even if this little venture did nothing to change his situation with Antonio, it might at the very least get those two together. So he smiled, put his hands up to show he wasn’t going to fight Gilbert, and turned to leave…only to run right into Antonio.

Not pleased was a mild way to describe his lover’s expression. He wasn’t quite pissed, but he was angry in a way Lovino had only ever seen once that night he met Sadiq. Lovino took in the tightened skin around his eyes, the obvious clinch in his jaw, and the smallest wrinkle of his nose. “We need to talk,” he said, his voice was rough with barely contained emotion.

Lovino pushed back his shock and steeled his spine. “About what?”

“Us.” Antonio bit out and Lovino was getting angry now because really? Who the fuck was he to be angry about anything at his point? Was Lovino a little pleased that he was obviously jealous like Matthew had said? Yes, quite a bit, actually. But Antonio had no goddamn right to be jealous, not when he was the one that stated he didn’t want anything serious, anything real.

“Fine,” Lovino snapped at him. “Lead the way.”

Antonio looked at him for a long moment before turning and making his way through the party. He didn’t attempt to take Lovino’s hand or touch him at all, which was smarting but Lovino was determined to ignore it. He refused to hope for anything productive to come out of this conversation, had already been burned by playing with that particular flame. No, the best he could get out of this was a particularly passionate (maybe even rough for once) round of sex. The worst possibility was that Antonio would break off even this quasi-relationship.

He wrapped his anger around himself like the armor it was. He wouldn’t let himself fall apart here, so far away from any real form of privacy. He could not. He marched after him, chin held high, and kept himself from stomping like a disgruntled child, but it was a near thing.

By the time they had reached Antonio’s room and he had shut the door behind them, Lovino was shaking with rage. “What us, Antonio? You made it very clear when we started this there was no us.”

Antonio seemed to lose some of his ire as he looked away. “About that…”

Lovino stared at him. “Are you serious right now? You get jealous after I dance with my best friend once and that’s what it takes for you even think about this?”

“It’s not like he just danced with you, Lovino.” Looked like he was back to being angry. “He literally took you from my hand, touched you like he knew you—“

“He does know me. We share a room for fuck’s sake!”

“Is that all?” Antonio said lowly and he came closer to him. “Because from where I was standing, it looked like he knew to do a hell of a lot more than dance with you.”

Lovino gaped at him before laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. “Oh, my God. Matthew is an actual blushing virgin. We had to slow down out there because he face was burning so bad he wanted to hide it. And the only dick he wants belongs to your friend. But you know what? That’s so not the point right now.”

Antonio blinked, taken aback by the new information and he asked, “Then what is?”

“Even if Mattie and I were fucking like rabbits, you would have no ground to be angry with me. I asked you, Antonio. I literally asked you if you wanted to be exclusive and you told me no. So what exactly do you want from me, huh? Do you want me to only sleep with you while you fuck whoever you want? Because if you want to just use me I wish you would fucking say it and stop acting like you give a damn about me so I don't—“ Lovino cut himself off and turned away from him, walking to the other side of the room, hoping that would make breathing easier. Fuck, but he had said too much. He had said way too much.

“No, Lovino,” Antonio said and his voice was gentle now. “I don’t want that.”

Lovino swallowed hard and kept staring at the wall, arms crossed and hands in tight fists. “Then what. Do. You. Want.”

“You.” Lovino flinched and that one word hurt, cut him like a million shards of glass, slicing through his emotional shield like it was nothing more than warm butter. “And not just for sex.”

“Don’t. Don’t lie to me.” He tried to bite out but his voice sounded thin and frail. No, no no nonono. Keep it together, dammit!

“I’m not, not anymore. I always wanted us to be exclusive. The thought of someone else touching you always burned me to my core.” Antonio was moving closer to him, he could hear it, but Lovino was helpless to do anything but stand there.

Lovino squeezed his eyes shut, not letting himself believe him. “Bullshit.”

“No, it’s not. I thought you didn’t want to label this. I thought you didn’t want to commit to anyone so I told you a lie to protect myself. But I always wanted you, always cared about you.” Lovino was shaking his head a little desperately. This had to be a trick of some kind, a cruel joke.

“This isn’t a fucking joke, Antonio.”

“Do I sound like I’m laughing, Lovino?” No, he sounded serious, no hint of cheer or jeer in his voice. “I haven’t even thought of touching anyone but you since that first night. Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want us to be serious?”

Lovino’s eyes were stinging, his throat thick with want and control he was choking on; control he didn’t want, almost couldn’t bear to have anymore. He shook his head slowly and Antonio touched him, sliding his hands over Lovino’s arms until he had him in his embrace. Lovino knew he was shaking, but it was all he could do not to sob. He wanted to believe this. He wanted to have this, him. But he knew he couldn’t. There was just…no way.

“Do you want me like that, Lovi?” Antonio asked gently and Lovino hesitated before taking one last, stupidly hopeful breath. He nodded, not trusting his voice.

“Have you wanted me like that this entire time?” Lovino paused again but nodded, keeping his eyes down. Antonio’s arms tightened around him and Lovino felt him press a kiss into his hair. “I am so sorry, hermoso. I had no idea. I wish I could take it back, wish I hadn’t hurt you and I am so sorry I did.”

Lovino struggled to swallow around the lump in his throat but managed to ask, wanting to believe him, “You…want me?”

“Yes, Lovino. Be my boyfriend, partner, whatever you want to call us. Let me call you mine and let me be yours.”

Lovino sucked in a lot of air and fought the tears that wanted to fall from his eyes. “You can’t mean that. No one ever means that, not with me.”

“Oh, mi corazón, look at me, please.” It took effort but he turned and looked at Antonio, knowing that all his emotions were there on his face. Wide emerald eyes took him in as Lovino looked for signs that he didn’t mean what he said, that this was as he feared. But there was nothing but caring and heartbreak and sadness as Antonio cupped his face gently and wiped away the tears that started sliding down his cheeks. “I mean it. What can I do to make you believe me? How could I make it up to you for what you have felt these past couple of weeks?”

He could do a lot of things, but only one flashed across Lovino's mind at that exact moment. Lovino tentatively rested a hand on Antonio’s chest and rasped out the words that had been aching to voice for weeks. “Claim me.”

Antonio froze, hands stilling their soothing movements. “What does that mean, Lovino? I want to give you exactly what you need, and for that I need you to be specific.”

“I…” He swallowed hard and tried again, trusting him with a need he had never spoken aloud before. He couldn’t say everything with his eyes open, so he closed them and began speaking. “I need you to take me, fuck me like I’m the only person you’ve ever wanted. You always make me feel good, Tonio, but you’re always so measured, so controlled that I doubt that you want me as much as I want you. I can never keep from losing parts of myself with you, but control is all you ever have. It never feels like you need me and, at least this once, I need you to need me. I want to feel you tomorrow, to feel like yours even after I go home. I…don’t want to forget that. Only then will I feel like you’re mine.”

Antonio hadn’t moved, hadn’t said a word. Lovino opened his eyes to find Antonio staring towards him from a short distance away, eyes unfocused. The relief from sharing his secret desire with someone was quickly replaced with fear that raced up his spine. It was too much for him to ask, especially from Antonio. Fuck, but he sounded pathetically needy, disgustingly weak. Nausea rose as his stomach dropped from what he had just done and he started to pull away, throw up a shield to catch his fall like it wasn’t too late to save himself. “Forget it. I shouldn’t—“

“You don’t know what you’re asking me to do,” He said quietly, a strange yet familiar undercurrent to his voice, more prominent than Lovino had never heard from him before. “You’ve never seen me like that, not really.”

“Then show me.” Lovino rushed to say before his insecurities overtook him. “I don’t want just the cheerful, gentle bits of you. I want all of you: that anger you only show on the field or when something bothers you, the darkness in your eyes when I get ahead of myself in bed, the edge in your voice that you usually hide so well. I want you to take me, but I need you to give me all of you in return.”

Antonio breathed deeply and Lovino watched his eyes harden. “I am consciously generous in bed because I am not a naturally generous person, Lovino. If I didn’t fight that, make myself forget my true nature, all I would do is take from you as much as I wanted. The problem is that, with you…” Antonio stepped closer so that they were suddenly pressed together and Lovino could feel the effect of the thoughts racing through his mind. “…I want everything.”

Yes, yes, yes, yes. This was better than Lovino had ever dreamed of it being, the very manifestation of his wildest and most frequent fantasy. The sick feeling of impending doom snapped into sharp arousal and he let himself be needy and vulnerable. He stopped controlling himself the way he always did and always had done. He could only manage to speak one word: “Please.”

Lovino saw the last drop of Antonio’s resistance go as he pulled him into a harsh kiss. He ran fingers through Lovino’s hair before making a sudden fist and, oh, God, but his knees actually got weak from that small movement. He tried to gasp but opening his mouth was all the invitation Antonio needed to fucking conquer it, the hand not pulling his hair going possessively to his ass and squeezing. Lovino’s hands were trapped between him and Antonio, so the most he was able to do was grab his shirt tight as he was kissed within an inch of his life. Antonio didn’t make any sign of stopping, in fact seemed to get more and more aggressive with each passing second, and Lovino felt him get harder. This was what he had been craving. This is what he needed. He made a small sound in his throat that signaled his utter surrender, something that he would be embarrassed about at any other time and with any other person, and melted into his touch.

Abruptly, Antonio pulled away from him, leaving him bereft and unbalanced. Antonio steadied him and used the hand that was still in his hair to tilt his head back up so he met his burning green eyes. “You tell me to stop, and I’ll stop. But until then, I won’t. I want to make you beg and scream and cry for me, Lovino, and know that only I can do that to you. So I won’t stop fucking you until I am damn well ready, or you tell me to stop. Do you understand?”

Lovino was shaking, excitement, anticipation, and delicious apprehension flooding him. Antonio had only ever said that they made love, had never described what they did together as fucking, and the change in tone stoked his arousal to a fever pitch. He stared into his face and said, “Yes, I understand.”

Antonio released him completely and stepped back as he got out his phone. “Strip. I need to send João a message that, if he wants to sleep, he needs to find somewhere other than his room to crash.”

Lovino took a deep, steadying breath and started undoing the buttons on his shirt with trembling fingers.


Matthew had kissed other guys before Gilbert, but none of them had ever made him feel like this. He felt like he was losing himself, almost crawling out of his skin with a blinding, unfamiliar need, uncontrollable now that he was giving into it. It was overwhelming but Matthew didn’t give himself time to process. It felt too good to stop.

Matthew didn’t protest as Gilbert kissed him like he was the air he needed to breathe. Maybe he had just had really bad experiences before now, but he thought that, for the first time, he understood the appeal of a French kiss. He didn’t understand how the wet slide felt so intoxicating, but it was exhilarating.

It was only when his back hit a solid surface that Matthew realized Gilbert had pushed him against the side of the house, the brick unforgiving and cold. A sound he had never made before crawled out of his throat from being pressed between the building and his boyfriend, body recalling how they had been pressed against each other the night before.

He was trying to breathe through his nose, trying to take in air in those milliseconds between earthshattering kisses, but it was all too much and he was failing.

Eventually, Matthew turned his head to the side, gasping. Gilbert seemed undeterred, kissing down the side of his face and along his jaw, hands on Matthew’s waist and sliding to rest on the curve of his back. Matthew instinctively tilted his head away from him, baring his neck to the boy to do with as he pleased. He slid his hands up Gilbert’s back to his shoulders as he took the offered path.

His lips brushed along a spot that made Matthew jolt and forced a small sound from his throat that made him blush. “Christ, Mattie,” Gilbert murmured against his skin before leaning forward to say in his ear. “You okay, baby? Can I call you that?”

You could call me damn near any pet name at this point and I would be okay with it. “Y-yeah.”

“I ask because you’re shaking.” Matthew hadn’t noticed, but he realized that Gilbert was right. Gilbert slowly ran a hand over his side and he shuddered hard, breath uneven. “You always this sensitive?”

Matthew stilled at the question, tensing, and Gilbert pulled away to look him in the eye. He was grateful for the low lighting as his face heated. Matthew lowered his eyes and said nothing. Gilbert shifted to gently move his chin until he looked up and met his eyes. “What’s wrong, Matthew?” His voice was serious now and Matthew didn’t want him thinking he had done something wrong. No, the problem was with him.

“I…I wouldn’t know. If I’m always like this, I mean,” Matthew mumbled, stumbling over his words.

Gilbert tensed now. “Has no one ever touched you?”

Matthew licked his lips, nervous, and shook his head a little. “Not like this. Is…is that a problem?”

“No, Mattie. Of course not.” Gilbert kissed him briefly before asking, “Are you uncomfortable? You seemed like you liked this but—“

“I do!” Matthew assured him. “I really like you kissing me.”

Gilbert laughed, low and masculine. He leaned in and said in his ear, “And I really like kissing you. We’ll go slow, but tell me if you want don’t want anything, alright?”

“Y-yeah, okay.”

“Good.” An arc of sensation went down his spine at the word and that was worrying. “Now, I plan on hearing more those noises you make. Do you have a problem with me leaving love bites on you?”

Matthew shook his head, hands holding on to Gilbert’s shoulders to support suddenly weak knees. “N-no. Do you? Have a problem with that, I mean?” Matthew asked, turning his face towards Gilbert.

“No.” Gilbert pulled back to kiss his lips again and it didn’t take long for Matthew to once again become a mass of sensation he didn’t fully understand yet. Gilbert did slow down, but that didn’t help Matthew with controlling himself. It wasn’t like his boyfriend had been rushing through kissing him before, but now he was taking his time. He had been aroused before that point, but now it was distracting, embarrassingly so. He pressed his ass against the bricks behind him, trying to hide it, but Gilbert slid one of his legs between Matthew’s. He couldn’t stop the jerk of his hips or the groan of relief that escaped him at the result.

Matthew held himself still and broke the kiss to pant, “S-sorry.”

“Hmm, for what, Liebling?” Gilbert said, voice little more than a rumble in the dark against his skin as he moved down his jaw towards his neck. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No!” More like absolutely not, I’ll kill something if you do. “It’s just—I’m too—And you’re not…“ Matthew’s hips moved against Gilbert’s leg again and shit, but what that an honest-to-God whimper?

Gilbert laughed darkly again before he pressed closer to Matthew and asked, “I’m not what?” Matthew sucked in a harsh breath as he realized that Gilbert was hard, too, because of him. It filled him with equal parts of elation, pride, and nerves. “Never be embarrassed about how I affect you, Mattie. I want to make you feel good and I love how beautifully you respond to me.”

Matthew’s response was to offer his neck again and sigh out, “Okay.”

Matthew shuddered as Gilbert started pressing wet kisses to his neck without further prompting, jerking again when Gilbert found that spot that made him stop before. He didn’t cease his actions this time. No, he lightly bit him before sucking at the skin and Matthew forgot to be self-conscious.

His breathing was ragged and loud in the night air. He ran his fingers through Gilbert’s hair and did his best to encourage him to stay right where he was and keep making shocks of pleasure run up his thighs and along his lower back. He was no longer really in control of what his hips did, was only barely aware of the slow grind against Gilbert’s thigh thanks to the resulting pleasure that filled him.

Gilbert’s hands moved to his hips then, but he didn’t stop Matthew. Instead, he shifted them so that Matthew’s hips were slotted against Gilbert’s, Matthew’s thigh in Gilbert’s hand and lifted to wrap around his waist now. Even with all of their clothes on and the fact that it hurt, the feeling of them together was maddening and Matthew cursed before pulling at Gilbert’s hair until he was kissing his mouth again.

The kisses were messy and uncoordinated, but Matthew didn’t care and it seemed like Gilbert didn’t either. He knew he should slow his kissing Gilbert long enough to actually get a lungful of air, knew that the falling sensation in his head wasn’t technically good, but what was air when he had this? When he felt so close to a precipice that—

“Gilbert!” Someone else called into the night and that voice was like a cold bucket of water. Matthew froze in place, suddenly aware that they were outside where there were other people who could probably hear him.

Gilbert stilled against him and broke their kiss but stayed close. “Fuck. I’m sorry, Mattie. I completely forgot where we were. This wasn’t my intention when I—“

“War!” If Matthew thought he was tense before, he was made of stone now.

“Shit. No one calls me that this late unless there’s a fight that needs to be handled. I’m so sorry, Matthew—“

“Gil, you’re okay. We’re okay,” Matthew said soothingly, kissing his cheek and untangling himself from the boy. He straightened his clothes, worked to calm his body, and let down his hair, thinking that the bun was probably worse for wear after being pressed against the bricks. “Let’s go.”

Gilbert hesitated, staring at him with a torn expression, before taking his hand and heading back towards the party at a fast walk. He said, “After this, we should talk about when you’re free for our first date.”

Right, because he had a boyfriend now who would take him on dates and hold his hand and kiss him. And Gilbert was that boyfriend. Matthew couldn’t help the wide smile that spread across his face. “Sounds good to me.”

They hit the lighted areas of the backyard and Matthew saw that it was Luciano that had called for Gilbert. “What’s up, Lu?” Gilbert asked, tone losing all the softness it had held only seconds before for him.

Luciano’s eyes widened as he looked at Gilbert then at Matthew. He paled and visibly swallowed. “A few freshmen are making nuisances of themselves. Death’s there, but they’re not the most diplomatic.”

Understatement. “Where’s Tonio?” Gilbert asked as they entered the house.

“...extremely unavailable.” Luciano said uncomfortably before clearing his throat. Matthew hoped that meant that his plan had worked. He continued as they moved through the house towards the living room, “Since they’re new students, they don’t know the rules yet.” Matthew frowned in confusion. What rules?

Gilbert sighed. “And I’m supposed to teach them?”

“No, Death’s doing that, I think, but none of us are expecting them to believe them.”

“Enforcement, then. Which rule did they break?”

“Two of them, actually: don’t be a creep and no means fucking no.”

“Brilliant. I’m assuming there’s a girl?”

“Yeah. Her name’s Shannon. Famine’s making sure she’s okay.” The crowd was letting Gilbert, Luciano, and (by extension) Matthew through, a few older students pulling visibly confused people out of their way. The way Gilbert walked changed, shoulders squaring and steps more deliberate.

Gilbert squeezed his hand and Matthew looked up to meet his eyes. His face was hard with anger, but his expression visibly softened when Matthew looked at him. “Liebling, this should be quick. My threat’s only as good as my examples, so could you stay with Alistair until I’m done with them?”

Matthew frowned again. It had sounded like there were more than two people that Gilbert had to deal with and it seemed like it would come to blows. He didn’t quite understand everything that was happening, but he didn’t want to leave Gilbert in an unbalanced fight. “I could help. You know that.”

Gilbert’s mouth quirked into a smirk and his eyes seemed to fill with certainty. “I won’t need it.”

They made it to where a circle of people were standing around Alistair and it looked like three belligerent young men. The music was still playing, but the volume had been lowered to background music so Alistair didn’t have to yell as they said, “Ye can either get out on yer own or be carried out. We don’t tolerate this shite.”

“And who the fuck are you? This isn’t your house.” One of them said. Matthew looked them all over and noted that they all seemed to be flushed with some level of intoxication and were muscled, but with the kind that was just for looking pretty. There was something about the way they were dressed and an aura of entitled WASP-iness that rolled off of them that made Matthew immediately dislike them. Yeah, Gilbert wouldn’t need any help.

“Yer right, this isn’t me house. But it is me mate’s and we enforce our rules here. And me? I’m Alistair, they/them, but people call me Death.” Matthew heard the smile in their voice and knew that it wasn’t a pleasant one.

“We?” One of them flicked his eyes to see Gilbert and Matthew arrive, still holding hands and probably a little debauched from their make-out session. He scoffed and said, “What are a couple of queers going to do to us?”

It was like the entire room sucked in a hissing breath through its teeth, the people nearest to the guy that had spoken visibly backing away from him. Luciano said from behind them, “Dude, this is the soccer team’s party. Like, half of us are queer as fuck.”

“And I’m not goin’ ta do anythin’ ta ye. I’m just tha judge and jury. He’s tha executioner.” Alistair looked over to them and grinned.

Gilbert squeezed Matthew’s hand one last time before letting go and stepping forward, gesturing at the freshmen. “Alistair, you could have handled this yourself.”

They shrugged, “Yeah, but yer more efficient. Besides, I didn’t know ye were…” They focused Matthew and their face turned sly. “…Preoccupied.”

Matthew crossed his arms and glared at them as they came to stand next to him, trying to ignore the burning of his cheeks. Gilbert sighed, “Leave my boyfriend out of this.”

Matthew felt the sudden weight of a lot of people staring at him and heard not a few whispering voices. “So it’s official now! Congratulations. About damn time.”

“It’s been three—“

“What the hell did he mean by ‘executioner?’” One of the drunk boys said, apparently irritated by their inattention and spitefully putting stress on the wrong pronoun. Gilbert went still. “You can’t do shit to us.”

Matthew watched Gilbert's eyes go sharp and cold enough to burn as he focused on the one who had spoken. “I dislike being interrupted, which you have done twice already tonight. You’ve broken the rules which pretty much amount to don’t be a fucking asshole and have just deliberately misgendered my best friend.” The closest spectators moved even further away from him as they did from the homophobic guy with almost frantic speed, one person even going so far as to cross themself. Gilbert asked the general room, “Has someone called an ambulance yet?”

When no one answered for a beat, someone in the back of the room said, “On it, War.”

“What did that person call you?” This came from the last boy, who seemed less intoxicated than the others and had yet to speak. He was visibly wary and backing away from him a little. He was the smart one.

Gilbert looked steadily at him. “You must be new here. I’m War. Behind me is Death. Famine is somewhere comforting the girl you apparently ganged up on like animals. Pestilence lives here. Those names ring any bells?”

The smart one blanched and nodded. “My sister graduated last year. I’ve heard about you.”

“Good to know word gets around. Now, are we going to do this the easy way or the fun way?”

“I’m good,” he said, hands raised in surrender. “Won’t happen again.”

“What the fuck, Darren?” said the guy who had misgendered Alistair. “You’re really going to let him intimidate you? It’s three against one.”

“Yeah, no. I’m out,” Darren said. “He has a reputation; they all do. I’m not looking to spend the night in the hospital, thanks.”

Alistair hummed next to him, tilting their head a little in thought. “Yer sister. Is her name Erika, by chance?” Darren froze and looked at them in utter horror. Alistair nodded. “Classy woman.”

Matthew looked at them, mouth open. Darren said, obviously pained, “Oh, come on, pal. I didn’t need to know this. I’m trying to leave here. I fucked up, I get that.”

“I can see that. But, since yer walkin’ out and basic human decency seems too much fer ye ta grasp, I just wanted ta make sure this wouldn’t happen again ta some other girl. I think I still have yer sister’s number and it would be a shame fer her ta know what her wee brother’s been up ta.”

Darren sighed. “Understood.” He then looked at the other boys who were still squaring up to fight Gilbert. “You both should walk away while you can still walk.”

“Fuck off, dude. Some friend you are. Come on, Jake. We can still take him.”

“Hell, yeah.” Darren shook his head and left, pushing through the crowd and heading toward the door.

Matthew leaned in to Alistair and whispered, “Did you actually sleep with his sister?”

“Nah. She’s a lesbian but hasn’t told her family yet. We worked on a few projects together. I really liked tha way she coded,” they answered just as quietly, both of them waiting for the action to start.

Gilbert looked down his nose at both of them. “Damn. I’d been hoping for a fight.”

The one on the right, Jake, took offense to that and stepped forward to swing at Gilbert. Gilbert stepped to the side, turning his body easily so that the guy overbalanced and damn near fell to the floor. Gilbert’s expression was bored, bordering on pitying as he considered his opponents.

Not-Jake rushed Gilbert, obviously trying to tackle him. Gilbert dropped his center of gravity, grabbed him as he twisted them both, and threw him to the ground next to his friend, close to Matthew. He landed hard with a shout and groaned a little as he rolled to his back. Gilbert straightened and looked at them again. “Are you done or…?”

Jake managed to right himself and seemed to realize that this was an actual fight. He settled into a loose, sloppy stance that said that he had been taught some form of martial discipline at some point, but it was either too long ago or he was too drunk for it to be of any use. Gilbert saw this, studied the other’s body, and adjusted himself.

Jake started for him first, the punches surprisingly steady considering how drunk he was. He consistently over-extended, however, leaving his foundation weak. Gilbert easily blocked his strikes and got within his guard to elbow him smoothly in the temple. With Jake dazed, Gilbert tripped him and watched impassively as he crashed to the floor.

Not-Jake had dusted himself off enough to watch this happen. Perhaps realizing that he was no match for Gilbert, he looked around, almost as if searching for an exit. When his eyes settled on Matthew, he knew that wasn’t the case. He was almost standing next to him thanks to the fact that Gilbert had all but thrown him to Matthew’s feet.

Gilbert turned towards Not-Jake in time to see him attempt to sucker-punch Matthew. Matthew hadn’t expected it, so he wasn’t as steady as he would have liked as he dodged on instinct. He moved to the side, closer to where Gilbert was. He was sure that Gilbert and maybe Alistair were moving to help him, but Matthew didn’t have time to rely on them. He grounded himself as he waited a half-second as Not-Jake came to him. Then, just as he tried to gut punch him, Matthew stepped back so he would have to extend his arm farther than expected and redirected the punch to Not-Jake’s opposite side with a standard block. In the next second, he grabbed his shirt at the shoulder, stepped towards him, and drove his knee into his diaphragm, loosing a small grunt of effort. As Matthew brought his leg back down and heard the whoosh of air leaving Not-Jake’s body, he released him, turned, and snapped the heel of his hand into his ear. His shirt restricted his movements, but it didn’t take a lot of force to make that shit hurt. Not-Jake tried to scream, but it only came out as a choked wheeze. He crashed to the floor.

Matthew looked down at where the boy was writhing with neutral eyes and felt a light touch at his arm. He turned his head and found Gilbert there, looking at him with a darkly pleased expression. “Nicely done, Liebling,” he complimented as his hand came to rest on Matthew’s lower back, casually intimate. Neither of them were breathing heavily, nor had they broken a sweat.

Matthew smiled at him, happier than he was comfortable with to have pleased him. “Thank you, sweetheart. Now, who’s going to clean them up?”

“The EMTs. But first…” Gilbert’s eyes shifted to the boy Matthew had taken down and his expression sharpened dangerously.

He went to a knee besides the guy and gripped his shirt, forcing him to meet his eyes. Not-Jake looked scared in the way most people get when they realize they can no longer breathe properly, eyes wild and mouth gaping, but Gilbert seemed unsurprised as he shook him a little. “Now, I don’t know who you are.” If Matthew had heard a voice like Gilbert’s down a dark alley, he would have run in the opposite direction; It all but dripped violence. “But I am War. Going after that girl makes you a piece of shit. Going after my boyfriend makes you fucking stupid. No one tries to hurt him. This is your one free pass; fuck up and you won’t be able to walk away with only alcohol poisoning and a headache. Go after him again, and you won’t be able to walk at all.” Gilbert released him abruptly and he collapsed once more to the floor, breathing again but harshly, staring up at Gilbert like he was the devil himself.

Gilbert stood and Matthew heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. What he had just said should have been concerning, especially since Matthew was convinced that he wasn’t bluffing in the least. But why did his words make him feel…safe? Cared for? In hockey, Matthew had always been the threat of violence to keep someone else safe. When was the last time someone offered themself as his shield?

The dark intention hadn’t left Gilbert’s face when he turned back to look at Matthew but that didn’t stop him from smiling at his boyfriend. Gilbert’s edge softened perceptively, his body language completely shifting, and he was once again the boy who had asked if he was okay while kissing and frantically apologized for them moving too fast. Gilbert offered Matthew a hand and he took it without hesitation.

Gilbert looked over to Alistair as they moved towards them. Matthew was suddenly aware again that there were a hell of a lot of people in this room watching them and he blushed, ducking his head. Alistair was shaking their head at them, small smile on their face. “Feckin’ menace,” they said.

Gilbert laughed though Matthew didn’t get the joke. At the increasingly loud sirens, the mass of people began to thin out, all talking to themselves and creating a sudden cacophony. Out the shifting crowd emerged Gilbert’s blond friend. He took in the two boys still struggling to right themselves on the floor, both holding their heads for different reasons, and tsked. Looking back at them, he said with a barely discernable French accent, “Shannon’s okay; her friends are with her now. That was quick, Gil.”

Gilbert shrugged and pulled Matthew a bit closer to his side. Francis’ eyes went to him as Gilbert said, “Had some help, actually. Francis, have you met Matthew?”

He looked so familiar, but, for the life of him, Matthew couldn’t recall from where. “Actually, maybe I have,” Francis said, holding out his hand to Matthew. “Francis Bonnefoy, he/him. I also go by Famine when the need arises.”

Matthew’s brow furrowed as he fought to recall why he knew him. He shook his hand and said, “Matthew Williams, he/him. You look familiar, too.”

Francis narrowed his eyes and said, “Do you know a woman by the name of Hélène Jones?”

Matthew raised his eyebrows at his mother’s birth name, particularly as she is known by Helena to everyone outside of her family. The sirens stopped as flashing red lights came through the front window. “I would hope so considering she’s my mother.”

Francis laughed and said in French, “I think we met at a wedding a good number of years ago then. It was between my Aunt Celine…”

“…And my Aunt Leslie.” Matthew responded easily in kind, realization dawning. He and his family had attended his mother’s sister’s wedding about five years ago. His mother had moved to Canada for college, but most of her family lived in Paris. The wedding itself had been in the French capital and Matthew vaguely remembered speaking (clumsily) at length with a younger version of the boy in front of him. Gilbert’s hand tightened in his and two EMTs that were part of the campus service arrived.

Francis took a moment to grin fiercely at Matthew and say in English, “Hello, cousin. We’ll have to catch up later. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Then he turned to the EMTs and greeted them like old friends. “Ah, Alexis and Joey! Didn’t know you were working for the service this semester as well, let alone on the same team.”

The EMTs had a resigned, weary look on their faces, but they were relaxed as they addressed Francis as “Famine” and asked what had happened. As Francis assured them (with the back-up of a few remaining party-goers) that both of the first years had attacked Gilbert first (how did he know that?), Gilbert and Alistair were staring at Matthew. “Wha’ did he say?” Alistair asked.

“So, it looks like Francis is my cousin by marriage?” Matthew said, just as surprised at this turn of events but relieved to know why the junior had looked so familiar the first day Matthew had arrived. He shrugged, at a loss to explain this well. “We met at our Aunts’ wedding about…five years ago? Six? We don’t really talk to Mom’s side of the family much.”

“Unbelievable,” Gilbert said, shaking his head. Then he pulled Matthew’s hand gently and started moving them away from the scene. “Let me walk you home?”

“Why, yes, Gilly. How kind of ye ta ask.” Alistair said drolly. When Gilbert opened his mouth to answer, Alistair rolled their eyes and cracked a smile. “I’ll help Francis handle this. Maybe get some more information on these two fer…insurance.”

“You’re the best, Scottie.”

“I know tha’. Get out of here.” Alistair dismissed them both with a shooing motion and smiling eyes.

“Goodnight,” Matthew said, still a little lost but figuring that was an appropriate response. What did Alistair mean by ‘insurance?’ Why Gilbert was given the title War was obvious…but what did Alistair do to earn their title? What threat did their version of Death present to have people give them that name?

“Mattie?” Gilbert said quietly as they walked out the front door. When Matthew focused on him, Gilbert was hesitant. “Do you want me to walk you back to your dorm?”


“Oh. Yeah, yes, please. That would be great.” Matthew smiled up at him, bumped into his side deliberately and Gilbert relaxed a little. He was nervous about having shown Matthew who he could be when pushed, was aware of how some of his words could have been taken. He hadn’t been thinking about what he said, so swept away in the moment of shock, outrage, and terror when he saw that idiot go after Matthew because of Gilbert only to have Matthew not only handle himself but meet his gaze with a violent neutrality that was all too familiar…

And then he called him sweetheart.

So Gilbert didn’t second guess the urge to put the fear of God in that kid over ever going after Matthew again. He didn’t question the needs of his reptilian brain to protect his boyfriend, declare him his in front of so many people, or back up his claim with violence. He showed Matthew his monster, not twenty minutes after they started a relationship.

And then Matthew had smiled at him like he was the best thing in the world.

But he had also blushed and ducked his head the moment he seemed to remember there were a shit ton of people watching him. They hadn’t had a chance to talk about comfort levels about being public, or if Matthew was okay with everyone knowing about them.

And then there was the fact he had threatened to permanently injure a student over him. Animal instinct or not, on almost any metric that was a fucking red flag and Gilbert knew it.

“Gil?”

“Hmm?” Gilbert looked at Matthew and found him frowning at him, eyes searching his face.

“Are you okay?” Matthew asked softly. He realized then that they had been walking for a few minutes already and were almost at the edge of campus. “You seem…broody?”

Gilbert huffed out a laugh and echoed, “Broody?”

Matthew pursed his lips but there was a definite curve to them. “Yeah, broody. You’re thinking too much about something that’s bothering you and staring moodily into a middle distance. You’re brooding and are therefore broody.”

“I don’t brood.” Matthew looked incredulous and Gilbert moved to intertwine their fingers. “...Okay, maybe I was then but it’s not a regular thing.”

“Would you tell me? What’s wrong, I mean. If you want to?” Matthew looked away and Gilbert saw his face flush as they passed under a streetlight. Matthew was new at this, maybe didn’t realize fully what had just happened. That didn’t give Gilbert an excuse to not address what he had just done.

“Yeah, Mattie, of course. I, well. I’m sorry. For what happened.” He said, struggling to find the words.

“You mean the fight? You have nothing to be…” Gilbert winced and Matthew trailed off, frowning again. “You don’t mean the fight.”

“No, I do! I’m sorry that I threw him so close to you and that he tried to hurt you because of me,” Gilbert said, not wanting him to think he didn’t care about that. “I mean other things, too. Like the fact that now everyone knows that we’re together and we never talked about how open with our relationship we want to be. And that I basically threatened to paralyze someone if they ever went after you. Not that I wouldn’t! Shit, that’s not what I—listen, I just want you to know that’s not who I am, that I’m not violent in that way. I’m sorry you had to see me like…that.”

Matthew was quiet for what felt like an eternity, but was really only a few seconds. His voice was cautious when he finally asked, “Did you want to keep us a secret?”

“No! I didn’t and I don’t want to hide this, but I never gave you a choice and I apologize for that. D-did you?”

“Of course not. I did make out with you in the middle of a crowded party, Gil. I know you’re just being thoughtful and I appreciate it, but you really have nothing to be sorry over. Let me finish,” Matthew said quietly when Gilbert started to contradict him, steel in his voice and a demand in his face. Gilbert shut his mouth and listened. “I had an idea of what you were capable of after last night. I offered to help you in that fight before we got there and don’t mind the fact I had to defend myself. And if you think I’m mad at you for defending me, for trying to protect me, then you are wrong. If you think I wouldn’t do the same for you, then you are wrong. Is it a little fucked up? Yeah, probably. Does it mean we have to apologize for who we are? Not over this. Not to each other.”

They had drawn naturally to a stop as Matthew spoke, just outside of the light of the main campus walkways. Gilbert stared at him, saw that he meant every word, and felt something between them shift.

There was a long moment of them staring at each other before Matthew blinked and said hastily, adorably, “Sorry, I’m done.”

You. Are. Mine.

The utterly base, instinctual part of him wanted to say that to Matthew. It wanted Gilbert to seduce him, get him into privacy and claim him physically as much as he had verbally and mentally. He was still turned on from their interrupted intimacies earlier, from watching Matthew take down that guy with ease, from remembering what Matthew had felt like beneath last night as he relaxed against him and yielded to him over and over. And now to hear his acceptance of him, the fact that he would do the same for Gilbert…

But this wasn’t a moment to be used as an excuse to get Matthew into his bed. It felt deeper than that, the foundation for something he couldn’t understand yet, and Gilbert was more than his instincts. He stepped forward, further into Matthew’s space. He cupped his jaw gently and slowly ran a thumb over his cheek, still holding his gaze. He let the tension build until Matthew took a breath to speak, then simply said, “Thank you.”

Gilbert kissed him gently, lingering for a moment before pulling away. He tugged the hand he still held towards campus and Matthew’s dorm. Matthew stumbled but quickly regained his footing after steadying himself against Gilbert. After maybe a minute of silence and walking on the well-lit sidewalks of campus, Matthew cleared his throat, squeezed Gilbert’s hand, and asked tentatively, “About that date…?”

Gilbert grinned.