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burn the straw house down

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The Connor thing would be big news even if it wasn’t almost the offseason, but it is, so it’s fucking everywhere. Makes sense, Dylan supposes. It’s good TV, like, drama-wise: hockey Jesus gets injured before playoffs, disappears all mysterious ‘til announcing a presser out of nowhere.

Doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s going to be a retirement announcement. Dylan would put money on it. Wonders, absently, if he could put money on it – odds’d be decent, at least – but that probably crosses some line somewhere, so he just turns the TV to Sportsnet and leaves it there without really knowing why.

Fuckin’ masochism, is why, is the conclusion he reaches by dinnertime. He’s not even sure why he hasn’t changed the channel, most of the way through a Best of Connor McDavid clip show, watching decades’ worth of Davo dancing through the entire hockey world like pylons.

Dylan catches a glimpse of himself, this grainy clip from back in the O that plays just long enough for teenage Connor to bank in the puck and turn to past-Dylan, beaming, before cutting to shiny HD footage from the Oilers.

Yeah. Definitely masochism.

He orders Chinese – thank you, offseason – and then plugs his phone in to charge, sits at the breakfast bar and half-listens to Wayne Gretzky conference calling about how there’s “no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’s one of the greatest of all time. Always will be.”

Not even trying to hide it, then.

It never really gets less weird, seeing guys he started with retire. It’s the kind of thing he should be used to, by now. Still isn’t. Always manages to make him all reflective, or as close as he ever really gets to reflective. Dwelling on his own mortality, some fortune cookie shit like that.

Dylan’s barely even thought the fortune cookie thing when the doorbell rings, like he summoned his food at light speed. Which- hey, he’ll take the wins where he can get them.

The delivery guy knocks at the door, like there’s any chance Dylan missed the doorbell.

“Coming,” he shouts, patting down his pockets for his wallet before seeing it over on the table where he tossed his jacket earlier. He rifles through it while he heads for the door, digging for his card under a crush of receipts and old loyalty cards he’s been meaning to clear out for literal years. Two more stamps and he gets a free smoothie at Booster Juice, which is a plus, maybe.

 “That was fast,” Dylan’s saying, as he opens the door, only he gets lost somewhere towards the end of his sentence and ends up saying ‘that was fa-’ then just sort of standing there staring, because:

“Hi,” Connor says.

And it’d be real fucking great if Dylan’s brain could come up with a slick oneliner, here, or a not-slick oneliner, or literally any sentence in a human language; but that’s evidently too much because it’s like- one second he’s thinking of his food, the next he’s staring at Connor McDavid standing on his doorstep. He’s noticing all these incongruent little details, the taxi pulling away from the curb, Connor in a dress shirt and tie, the duffel bag sitting at his feet. His hair’s longer than it’s been.

“Nice beard,” Dylan says, finally. It’s an idiot thing to say, and hardly even true – it’s, like, an adequate beard, barely – but considering his brain is pretty much just incoherent shrieking, he should probably take what he can get. “That new?”

“Oh.” Connor reaches up, drags a hand down his face kind of absently. It’d be a self-conscious gesture on anyone else. “Not really, no.”

And yeah, that’s- Connor’s face is plastered all over every broadcast ever, Dylan’s probably seen pictures or video or something. He must’ve. First time seeing it in person, though. First time he’s seen any of Connor in person, this year and most of last as well. He hasn’t changed much, besides the beard. Couple more lines on his brow, maybe. Still stands kind of stiff, one hand in his pocket.

Stop staring, Strome.

Dylan coughs, moves aside so he’s not blocking the entrance and jabs a thumb behind him. “Sorry, you want a beer, Davo, or-”

“I’m okay.” Connor waves him off, but he comes inside. He’s favouring his left side, barely. Almost imperceptibly, except for how Dylan maybe knows Davo’s body as well as he knows his own. “Thanks, though.”

“Yeah, ’course.” Dylan shuts the door behind him, turns and heads for the kitchen. He’s moving on autopilot, no game plan, which is horrifyingly evident when he turns and asks, “How’ve you been?” It’s an absurdly transparent attempt at making conversation, and the TV picks that moment to interject with “-and that’ll be Connor McDavid, speaking live from Rogers Place in an hour.”

Dylan grabs at the remote from the counter and shuts off the TV, ages too late.

 “Y’know,” Connor says, dry. “Busy.” It’s not quite sarcasm. Maybe close.

Dylan considers being embarrassed that he got caught, like, listening to Connor’s adoring press, but considering that Connor apparently forgot to inform the entire NHL that he’d be on the other side of the country instead of at his presser, he decides to call it a tie.

Davo’s just leaning on Dylan’s kitchen counter, all casual like any of this is normal.

“Your arm,” Dylan says, instead of ‘what the fuck are you doing here’, because it’s kind of early to be confrontational.

Connor laughs, short. Not like anything’s really funny. “Surgery went fine. Shoulder’s fucked, though.”

Not a surprise. Still. Shitty way to go out. “Sorry.”

Connor shrugs the non-fucked shoulder, and it’s an obvious topic change when he says, “You look good, anyways.”

Dylan snorts. “Yeah, I’m a stunner,” he says, and Connor’s face does something complicated, and the silence is fucking suffocating, all at once. “Davo-”

“Go for a drive with me,” Connor cuts him off, somewhere between a request and his captain voice. He holds Dylan’s gaze, and Dylan’s response dies before it can come out.

He grabs his keys.

Takes his sweet fucking time, for the record, because he has some dignity, at least. Not going to trip over himself ‘cause Connor McDavid shows up and tells him to.

But he grabs his keys.

It’s not a long drive, nothing close. Dylan doesn’t ask where they’re going, just turns where Davo says and listens to the radio playing some top 40 remix, real low. He can see Connor looking over at him every so often, keeps his eyes on the road. It feels like a contest, like something to read into, as if he wasn’t already.

They end up in this residential neighbourhood, all these big houses with gates and perfectly manicured lawns. Now he looks at Connor, questioning.

“It’s the next street,” Connor says, adjusting his seatbelt while a couple kids ride past on their bikes. “Left here, it’s the second one.”

Dylan turns left and rolls to a stop in front of the second house from the corner. It’s, like, excessively large, brick with a long winding driveway and big windows. Trees around the property line.

Maybe most notably, a bright red SOLD sign up front.

“So I bought a house,” Connor says, and Dylan stares out the window, taking it in. He can feel Davo staring at him again.

“I can see that, yeah.” He puts the car in park, kind of- he feels like he’s getting pranked, except for Connor doesn’t sound like he’s joking. “It’s nice,” Dylan offers. “Big.” He reaches across and flicks Connor’s tie, this weird, aborted, manly kind of gesture that hangs between them. Connor tenses up under his hand, just a little.

This time, when Connor meets his eyes, Dylan looks back, and it’s looking, like a silent conversation, like asking, and he knows he’s not imagining the way Davo’s eyes flick downward, just for a second, before he really does ask, “You want a tour?”

 “Yeah.” Dylan answers real fast, even though he should know better, even though he knows where it’s going to end up, because it always does. Doesn’t even think about it. “Okay.”

---

So, like. He very much does fuck Connor McDavid up against the wall in his shiny new house.

It’s probably a bad call on a truly ridiculous amount of levels, but it’s probably also safe to say that it’s ninety-nine percent Davo’s fault, because he doesn’t even wait ‘til they’re past the living room before dropping any pretense and shoving Dylan against the wall and kissing him; and Dylan’s not fool enough to pretend like there’s any universe where he doesn’t kiss him back, doesn’t push ‘til he’s reversed their positions and got Connor pinned.

In Dylan’s defense, the wall part isn’t by choice. There is truly fuck-all by way of furniture in this place, which- the ‘sold’ sign is still up, obviously there’s no furniture. Not like Connor seems to mind, and Dylan doesn’t either, really, only he has this weird thought that the realtor’s going to walk in to ask Davo to sign something and find them like this. And it’s an unbelievably stupid scenario, he gets that, but it sticks in his brain and all he can think is how’s he going to explain to some real estate agent why he’s balls deep in The Next One forty minutes before he’s supposed to be announcing his retirement across the country.

“Like that,” Connor’s panting, punching out the words as Dylan pushes into him, angling himself the way he knows Davo likes, ‘cause he’s not entirely inconsiderate. “There, yeah-”

Dylan’s plastered against his back, one hand on the wall over Connor’s shoulder, one on Connor’s hip, holding him in place. It’s rushed, messy, pants down around their ankles. His face is going to be red as all hell, after this, ‘cause Connor’s arching back into him and his beard – the fucking beard, since when is that a thing – keeps scratching against Dylan’s jaw. It’s like- everything in Dylan’s head narrows down to that, this friction, between their faces and where he’s fucking into Connor and where their knees keep brushing together.

The fucking real estate agent, though.

Dylan shuts his eyes, reaches around Connor to take his dick in hand. He’s hard, leaking, ‘cause apparently taking it standing up is working for him – who knew – and he full-on groans when Dylan starts working him in time with his thrusts, like the sound is torn out of him.

“C’mon,” Dylan urges, more for himself than for Connor, and Connor breathes out, heavy. That’s pretty much the end of talking right there, which is fine with Dylan, ‘cause it means he can stop pretending like anything matters except the sound of skin against skin, getting faster, almost frantic. He’s barely even moving his hand anymore, but they’re falling into some kind of rhythm, him pushing into Connor and Connor pushing into him.

“Fuck,” Davo says, all breathless, cutting off Dylan’s quip about teamwork before he can make it. “Fuck-” He doesn’t say anything more than that before he’s spilling in Dylan’s fist, warm and wet; it goes through his whole body, sends him clenching around Dylan, and that’s enough to make Dylan lose it too, biting his tongue so he won’t say Connor’s name. It’s the best kind of not thinking, that space between when he comes and when he comes back to earth.

He leans his forehead on Davo’s shoulder – probably not the fucked-up one? He hopes it’s not, at least – and just breathes. Watches the skin right above Connor’s ass, flushed red. It’s the same all the way under his shirt, right up to his neck, he knows from experience.

 “I’m gonna,” he says eventually, and Davo nods, even though his back’s to Dylan; only winces a little when Dylan pulls out.

His head’s still kind of fuzzy, and he’s a little unsteady on his legs when he backs up to give Davo room to move. Hides it decently well, he thinks. Connor doesn’t even try, just slumps down again the wall and leans his head back, closing his eyes and sighing, heavy.

 Dylan copies him, collapsing back against the adjacent wall. Leaves the corner between them so they’re just sitting there on the floor catching their breath.

The house is silent around them. A dog barks from somewhere outside, the only noise.

Davo hasn’t even bothered to pull his pants up, just sitting there with Dylan’s come drying on his thighs, completely indecent. Dylan doesn’t know if he wants to kiss him or sock him right in the teeth for that, the way he’s so unembarrassed, like they’re still seventeen year olds who change next to each other multiple times a day and trade handies while their billets are out.

Connor looks like a fucking picture, and he’s leaning back against the wall with his eyes shut, and the streetlight from through the curtains means Dylan can see a shimmer of grey in his hair, and he suddenly wants to cry.

“I’m fucking furious with you,” he says instead. Connor opens his eyes. He looks tired, and it takes effort for Dylan not to soften. “I mean that.”

“Join the club,” Connor says, then, “I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving.”

 “Fuckin’,” Dylan starts, and he’s geared up to go on a full bitching session, only it’s like the sex and the heat and the fact that Davo’s here instead of announcing his retirement hit him all at once, taking all the wind from his sails.

He sighs. “Wayne Gretzky’s gonna be pissed at you, Davo.”

Connor snorts a laugh at that, which is about what Dylan was expecting, except then he just doesn’t stop, giggling until it turns into full on helpless laughter. Like, clutching his stomach and all but falling over, that kind of laughter. The kind that hurts.

“Oh my god,” Connor gasps, and he’s wiping his eyes, “Christ, I’m-” He doesn’t finish his sentence before he’s losing it again, practically cackling.

Dylan’s not even- he doesn’t know how the fuck he’s supposed to react to this, Davo teetering on the wrong side of hysterical, naked from the waist down and still wearing his tie on the floor of a house maybe twenty minutes from where they grew up.

Dylan stares, reaches down slow and pinches his own thigh.

Nope. Awake.

---

It’s a while before Dylan remembers that he ordered food, and once he remembers how hungry he is, he can’t think of anything else. Delivery guy’s definitely been to and left his house, by now.

“Hey,” he says, and Connor opens his eyes to look over at him. “We’re having Chinese. What’s the address?”

Connor actually has to get up and rummage through his duffel bag for his phone to confirm his new address. Dylan’s pretty sure this means he’s failing as a homeowner, but doesn’t say anything, just watches Davo dump his phone back in the bag and pull out a pair of sweatpants.

 “I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” he says, already on his way out.

“You’re paying,” Dylan calls after him, and Connor just kind of waves a hand, doesn’t even look back.

“Get extra sauce.”

Dylan considers not doing it, just to be petty. Decides against it, eventually; goes on the mobile site and doubles his order from before and adds extra sauce before finding Connor’s wallet and picking a credit card at random. He adds a bunch of spring rolls to the order once he realizes that there’re three hundred dollar bills wadded up with a bunch of receipts, because honestly, who pays cash anymore, let alone fucking hundreds? Seriously.

He can hear Connor puttering around in the bathroom upstairs, water running. He feels antsy, all of a sudden, sitting there in what’s either a giant living room or a dwarfish banquet hall, so he gets up and wanders around, giving himself the grand tour Davo offered before they got distracted.

It’s a big fucking house. High ceilings, wood floors. Gigantic glass doors looking out at the backyard. No furniture, anywhere.

It’d probably echo, if Dylan yelled. Not that he’s going to.

He counts two kitchens. Four bathrooms. He could shower too – could definitely use one, ‘cause it’s hot for May and he smells like sweat and Davo’s bodywash – but it would mean he’d have to borrow Connor’s clothes, so he doesn’t, just keeps on exploring.

It’s not a house for one person, is what stands out, here.

The doorbell rings, eventually, and Dylan’s stomach growls.

He almost bumps into Connor when he’s coming up the stairs from exploring the basement. It’s not awkward. Maybe close.

“Hi,” Connor says, hovering on the top step. His hair’s wet, a droplet of water perched on his nose. “Sorry, could you-”

Right. Don’t need the Wok This Way guy asking Connor McDavid for an autograph.

“Yeah,” Dylan says. “’course.”

He’s expecting them to at least sit at the breakfast bar or something, ‘cause kitchen number one is right down the hall, but when he walks back in with two giant paper bags of food, Davo’s just sitting back in his spot by the wall. And like, Dylan could bring up the sanitary dubiousness of eating dinner two feet from where you just had sex, but he’s also starving, so he just sort of unceremoniously drops the bags and sits down on the floor, too.

It takes a while for either of them to talk, they’re so busy wolfing down the food. And honestly, the offseason is everything, Dylan doesn’t know how he lived without fried food this long.

When Davo does finally speak, it’s through a mouthful of sweet and sour pork. “I ended it with Jess.”

“I figured,” Dylan says. Dylan lies, ‘cause Connor’s fiancée – ex-fiancée – hasn’t crossed his mind once until literally just this second, which makes him feel like a steaming pile of shit. He’s met Jess. Jess is nice. Sweet. Not the kind of girl who deserves to get almost-cheated on with some guy from juniors.

He pushes a forkful of rice around the Styrofoam container. “She okay?”

 “She cried,” Connor says, wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand and then just looks kind of contemplative. “Said she loves me anyways.”

Dylan winces. “That’s rough, bud.”

Davo just shrugs, which is cold, even by his standards. Like. They were going to get married, and Dylan’s pretty sure that calls for at least a little emotion, but Connor just goes back to eating as if fucking a guy then bringing up your apparently ex-fiancée while you hog all the sweet and sour pork is a totally normal sequence of events.

Dylan stares, a little. A lot.

It’s weird.

This whole thing is weird.

It’s maybe a minute and a half of neither of them talking before the silence gets suffocating. “How come you’re here?”

Connor meets Dylan’s eyes, all serious. There’s something- not tentative, because that doesn’t make sense, but. Something. A little wariness, maybe. “You won’t like the answer,” he says.

Dylan snorts, dismissive, and jabs his plastic fork into a spring roll. Connor McDrama Queen. “Try me.”

He’s not- Dylan’s not expecting anything at all from this, is mostly just focused on eating, which is why it’s so out of nowhere when Connor says, matter-of-fact, like he’s commenting on the weather, “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you.”

Dylan drops his fork.

He didn’t just-

In love-

Dylan blinks.

Connor’s not joking.

It takes Dylan a second, then a lot of seconds, and then he gets it together just enough to grab a napkin from the bag and wipe at where he dropped his fork, even though there are barely a couple crumbs. That was the last spring roll, too.

 “Sorry,” Connor says. Dylan can feel him staring, doesn’t meet his eyes.

“Yeah,” Dylan says. It’s- it feels like someone else is talking, like he’s watching himself from outside. He doesn’t know how he sounds so normal, doesn’t know how he’s making words at all. “I can drive you to a hotel,” he says. “Unless you’re staying here, or...” He trails off, as if Connor’s sleeping on the floor of his empty-ass house is a real option. It takes a second for Connor to speak.

“A hotel’s good,” he says. “Thanks, man.”

“Sure,” Dylan says, crumpling his napkin in his hand. He gets to his feet and grabs the paper bags. “I’ll start the car,” he says, and doesn’t actually run out of the house, but does something close.

He closes the front door behind him and jogs down the porch steps. There’s nowhere to put the garbage, at least not that he can see, so he walks down the driveway and just drops the bag at the curb.

He hasn’t actually started the car yet. He hasn’t- his brain is just nothing, right now, he can’t think.

He’s just standing there at the end of the driveway. A Volvo drives past, slow.

I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you.

He can feel his heartbeat, too fast. Clutches his car keys ‘til the teeth dig into his palm and makes himself take a breath.

It comes out like he got punched, and doesn’t do shit to calm Dylan’s heart from hammering against his ribs, because Connor’s here and maybe losing his mind and not engaged; and he thinks he’s in love with Dylan and they haven’t spoken in nearly a year and Dylan doesn’t know what the fuck to do with any of that.

---

So:

They’ve been fucking around since juniors, like, intermittently. Just screwing around, never anything more, ‘cause Davo made that abundantly clear the one time Dylan got stupid enough to try and do something about it. Broke Dylan’s fucking heart in the process, which sounds- it sounds like some kind of bullshit sob story, and it’s not, ‘cause even Dylan’s not pathetic enough to bitch about something that didn’t happen when he was eighteen, so it’s not anything like dramatic, just.

Facts.

They’re not best friends anymore, exactly. Haven’t been for a while. It’s normal growing apart stuff, living across the continent from each other, or it’s the fact that they’ve been having sex and not talking about it for more than twenty years, or that Connor was engaged, or that they argued again last year, or-

Best friends isn’t right, anymore. It’s too much and not enough at the same time, ‘cause Dylan’s never had a best friend that he just knows like he knows Connor. And he really does know him, is the thing, like the back of his fucking hand. Knows how he insists sandwiches are better if they’re cut diagonal, knows how he once skated suicides ‘til he actually threw up after the Oilers missed the playoffs. Knows the exact order he puts on his gear before a game, every game. Knows that he knows he’s the best, even if he’ll never admit it out loud.

He didn’t know this.

He didn’t know anything even remotely close to this. And that’s the fucking kicker, right, is that any time since he was sixteen he would’ve killed or died or both to hear Davo say he was in love with him, only now, now it’s just-

He feels blank. Not happy, not relieved, just.

Blank.

---

Dylan gets, like, a minute of sleep. Tries to string his internal monologue into something resembling a coherent thought and can’t – it’s like a stuck record, just Davo saying I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you on repeat for-fucking-ever – so he showers, downs two cups of coffee, and drives out to Thornhill.

No one answers the door when he knocks, so he plants himself on the doorstep and distracts himself trying to kick pebbles into the little hockey net in front of the garage. It’s a bad angle. He still gets a couple.

This WASP-y looking lady, double stroller and bad dye job and all, walks past and shoots him this skeptical look, like why are you sitting on my neighbours’ doorstep, random man. Dylan does not flip her off, which counts as character growth, he thinks. Maybe media training. Maybe both. He gets the skepticism, ‘cause he probably does look a little suspicious, waiting on the stairs all alone. Honestly, it’s not even a low point for him, which is either optimistic or just, like, overtly pathetic, depending on how you look at it.

 He’s trying to distract himself.

It’s not working, really.

“Uncle Dylan!”

 He looks up, startled, and can’t help but smile at the sight of Noah barrelling towards him across the lawn at what Dylan has to assume is maximum toddler-speed.

“Hey, pal,” he says, reaching out to catch the kid before he can trip. Auston’s still making his way up the sidewalk, but he lifts a hand in greeting.

Noah’s already chattering all excited, words getting all mixed together in that kind of lisping little-kid way. “I saw three birds!” He holds up four fingers.

 “Wow,” Dylan says, trying to sound excited. “That’s sick.”

“That’s four,” Auston corrects gently, finally joining them at the steps. “Almost got it.”

Dylan pulls himself to his feet, offers Auston a fist bump. “Sorry for just showing up,” he says, mostly out of habit, because he doesn’t think he’s actually called ahead in at least a couple of years.

“Hey, no worries.” Auston waves him off. Retirement looks good on him – he’s already got the beginnings of a tan. Little past the beginnings of a receding hairline, too, which is rough ‘cause he’s not even old, but Dylan figures that’d be rude to point out, so he doesn’t, just makes a mental note to chirp Marns about it later.

“Mitchy’s at soccer with Maya, but they should be on their way home by now. Did you want to-” Auston jabs a thumb at the door. Dylan kind of feels bad for noticing his bigass forehead, now.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind, man. Thanks.” He reaches down to mess up Noah’s hair, fond. “Gonna get the door for me, buddy?”

Noah nods and beams at him with probably more enthusiasm than is strictly warranted by opening a door, reaches out and grabs Auston’s hand for help climbing the stairs. Dylan kicks one last pebble at the net before he follows them inside.

“How’ve you been?” Auston asks, conversational, kicking his shoes onto to the mess of sneakers and sandals and skates piled on top of what Dylan figures was probably a shoe rack before it was buried alive. “You figured out if you’re gonna sign again, or-”

“Where,” Dylan says. “Like- not really if. I’m going to.”

“Oh wow,” Auston says, and he sounds surprised, which is not the most flattering, but not really anything new, either, ‘cause Dylan stopped taking getting written off personally a long time ago. “Congrats, man.”

“Thanks,” Dylan leaves his shoes next to the front door, trails them towards the living room and shoves his hands in his pocket. “But yeah, I’m still figuring it out, so.”

“You’ve got time, I guess,” Auston says, and then Noah’s dragging Dylan over to see his new ministicks, and that’s about it as far as socializing goes.

It’s tense, a little bit. And Dylan would love to blame it on Auston Matthews being an awkward fucking human who uses his kid as a social crutch just because Dylan tried to give him a shovel talk, like, a decade ago; which it maybe is, partly, but Dylan also knows that it’s on him today.

He can’t think straight. Can’t sit here and small talk like everything’s normal when Connor’s sitting half an hour away being in love with him-

Yeah, the awkward is Dylan’s fault, today.

He only has to feign being excited about ministicks for maybe ten minutes before the front door opens and the house instantly gets, like, eighty times louder.

 “We’re home!” Maya hollers, then, “I got hit in the face!”

“She’s fine though,” Marns yells after her, and Auston kind of sighs while Noah keeps trying to get the ball from Dylan, unbothered.

He can hear the two of them talking all the way down the hall, and Maya barely pauses for breath when she bursts into the room and makes a beeline for Auston. “Dad Dad Dad, it was so fun, we beat the orange team and Mitali from school was their goalie and she was so mad and then we had watermelon-”

“You should’ve seen the setup she gave for the gamewinner, unreal,” Marns follows her in, doesn’t even look surprised to see Dylan. Probably saw his car outside. “Stromer, hey.”

Maya’s hugging Auston, grinning at Dylan over his shoulder. She kind of looks like a mess, knees all muddy, a fat lip like she took a shot to the face.

“I scored twice,” she says, proud. Doesn’t seem any worse for the wear, at least.

Dylan holds out his hand for a high five. “Only twice?”

“Dude,” Auston says. It takes Dylan a second to register than he’s talking to his daughter, and he only gets there because he doesn’t think he’s ever heard the word ‘dude’ uttered with such concern. “What happened to your face?”

“Bella’s cleat,” Maya says, cheerfully enough, and smiles big enough to show a missing front tooth. Yeah, definitely Marns’ kid. She turns to Dylan, pokes her tongue through the gap in her teeth. “Cool, right?”

“Badass,” Dylan agrees, approving, and it’s enough to earn him matching wide-eyed looks from Mitch and Auston. Fuck. “I mean- badbutt?”

Maya laughs like that’s just the funniest thing she’s ever heard, and then Noah laughs because she’s laughing, then Marns laughs because he’s Marns. Dylan smiles, just a little one and mostly in spite of himself. Kids’re good for his ego.

Auston’s crouched down with Maya, tilting her head all worried while Noah stares at her lip. “C’mere, mousey, let me see-”

Dad-”

Mitch musses Auston’s hair on his way past, then Noah’s, this quiet little greeting that makes Dylan’s heart ache a little for how familiar it is, and it keeps being familiar when Marns tugs him into a hug, tight.

Dylan returns the hug, relaxes into it, in spite of himself. “Hey, Marns.”

“You look terrible, man,” Mitch says cheerily, pulling back just enough to look at Dylan and prod at the side of his face. “What’s up?”

Dylan swats Mitch’s hand away, but hesitates, because he’s decently confident that ‘I fucked my old teammate and now he’s in love with me’ doesn’t count as family-friendly language.

Auston, bless his American, giant foreheaded self, gets the hint, leaning on the coffee table to get to his feet. “I think a missing tooth gets a freezie, what do you guys think?”

The kids absolutely lose their shit, cheering and calling dibs on colours. Auston scoops up Noah, one-armed, bounces him up and down a couple of times and nods toward Mitch and Dylan. “Freezies?”

“Save me a blue one,” Mitch says, flashing him a grateful smile. Dylan shakes his head no, watches him and the kids disappear around the corner while Maya gives a play-by-play of her game.

Mitch flops down on the couch with a contented sigh, and starts untying his shoelaces.

Dylan gives him shit for it as he sits down next to him, because it wouldn’t be them, otherwise. “Nice cleats, coach. Kinda late to switch sports, isn’t it?”

“You honestly can’t even laugh, six year old girls are fucking intense. Maya goes so hard, it’s ridiculous.” And Dylan can’t even make fun of him for that, he sounds so proud of his weirdly competitive family, even though it stopped being heartwarming the first and only time Dylan came to game night, because he’s never once seen any group of people so absurdly intense about connect-four.

Mitch swats at Dylan’s arm, bringing him back to earth. “So?”

“So I saw Davo,” Dylan says, before he can give himself a chance to wimp out.

Marns’ mouth falls into an ‘o’, and his voice drops to this weird half-whisper, like they’re discussing state secrets or something. “The fuck, he’s here?” He leans in, halfway through removing his last shoe. “Does he realize he’s basically a fugitive?”

Dylan shrugs, leans back on the couch cushion and stares at the ceiling. “We had sex.”

He doesn’t have to be looking at Mitch to get the disapproval. Brat. “Stromer.”

“I know,” Dylan interrupts, tired. Runs a hand through his hair. “I know.”

“He’s engaged, Dyls.”

“He’s not.” Dylan actually turns his head and watches that one impact. The look on Mitch’s face is really something, a million different expressions at once so Dylan can’t pinpoint what he’s thinking.

“Shit,” Marns says, finally, and scoots across the couch so he can lay back next to Dylan, leaning his head on his shoulder.

Dylan exhales. “Yep.”

The sleepless night is catching up on him, or he’s just getting old – whatever it is, he’s tired, brain, body, everything. I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you.

They sit like that for a few minutes, this thoughtful kind of quiet. Marns is a weight on Dylan’s side, reassuring.

“So?”

Mitch doesn’t move. “So what?”

“So what do I do?” Dylan demands, impatient, pulling back so he can look at Marns’ face. “I know you have an opinion, what’re you thinking?”

It takes Mitch a couple of seconds to answer. “I’m thinking,” he says, “that this is going to be exactly like last time.”

Dylan’s shaking his head before he’s even done talking. “It’s not.”

Mitch doesn’t look convinced. “It’s been multiple decades.”

“Barely two,” Dylan says. “It was just sex.” He doesn’t mention the ‘in love with you’ part.

“It’s always just sex,” Mitch says. “Literally every time, and now you’re angsting in my living room and Davo’s off the grid-”

“That part’s not my fault,” Dylan interrupts. “I don’t know what his deal is.”

Mitch is frowning. Or, like. The Mitch version of frowning, which is basically just a neutral expression, on a normal human. “Is he not retiring?”

“I don’t know, Marns,” Dylan says, tired. “I don’t know anything.”

Mitch leans on Dylan’s shoulder again. He sounds serious – not even just Mitch serious, real serious – when he asks, “Is he okay?”

Dylan shrugs. Doesn’t move Marns, this time.

He doesn’t know.

“Are you okay?”

Now he moves Marns, elbowing him, sharp, in the ribs. “Shut up, you’re such a dad.”

“You shut up,” Mitch says, face all scrunched up, ‘cause he’s still too easy to rile up. “Assface.”

“Language, Mitchell.” Dylan shoves a hand in Mitch’s face, and Mitch licks his palm. “You’re so gross-”

“Genuinely, go fu- hey, bud!” Mitch cuts himself off mid-curse, looking past Dylan and grinning while Noah totters in, freezie in hand. Or- on hand. On face, and on t-shirt, and maybe in his hair too, just a sticky mess.

“I came back,” he announces, proud.

“Yeah you did.” Marns beams at Noah, holds out his arms and tugs him up onto the couch so Dylan ends up under a person and a half worth of overly affectionate Marners. “You’re gonna be faster than me in no time.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Maybe Friday,” Mitch says, very seriously, like his three year old has any idea what the concept of Friday even means, and pokes at Noah’s stomach to make him giggle, and that’s the end of the Davo conversation, just like that.

Nothing’s the same, since the kids came around. That’s not- it’s not Dylan dissing Marns, nothing like that, because it’s not just him. It’s everyone Dylan knows, getting married or having kids or, like, settling down, and it’s just-

Dylan isn’t.

He’s not jealous. He doesn’t know what he is, exactly, why he feels this irrational surge of annoyance at Mitch being all soft with his kid. It’s maybe partially Dylan wanting more of Marns’ attention, something pathetic like that; but it’s more just that he wants to talk, maybe swear without having to censor himself, to do something dumb and impulsive without having to call a babysitter or have SO’s tagging along or feeling like he’s failing at something-

Noah pats Dylan’s arm with one chubby little hand, bringing him back to earth. “We can share,” he says, all easy little kid kindness like he doesn’t care if Dylan deserves it. And like, he objectively doesn’t; feels abruptly shitty and kind of traitorous for wishing the kids weren’t around. They’re family, basically.

“Thanks, buddy,” Dylan says, and really, really tries to mean it. He lets Noah climb all over his shoulders while Marns switches to talking about the team for Worlds, and things still aren’t okay, exactly – I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you is still on repeat in the back of his mind – but he manages to let Mitch drag him into bickering about roster choices, and to not think about anything else involving Connor McDavid for a solid half an hour, which-

It’s something.

(u should talk it out tho, Marns sends, way later, once Dylan is back at his place heating up a microwave dinner. the davo thing.

i know, Dylan texts back, and the microwave beeps.)

---

It takes ten million years for Connor to answer the door. Dylan’s half-hoping he’s not home, that he’ll just stand here holding a sixpack of Bud Light and ringing the doorbell all night instead of sitting through an attempt to communicate – ugh – but Connor eventually opens the door and blinks at Dylan like he’s the last person he expected to see. And Dylan’s spent the last three days working up the nerve to be annoyed with him, but he can’t quite manage it, once Davo’s standing in front of him, barefoot and wearing a Jays t-shirt.

“Stromer,” Connor says. He looks surprised to see Dylan, which is just kind of stupid – like, what did he think, he’d confess his love all dramatic and they’d just go back to not talking? Idiot.

Dylan shoves the beer at his chest. “We’re talking now,” he says, clumsy. It’s a pretty sub-par peace offering by pretty much any standards, but Davo takes the beer and steps aside so Dylan can come in.

“I was just in the yard,” he says. “That’s why- I couldn’t hear the bell.”

“Right,” Dylan says. Shoves his hands in his pockets and waits for Connor to lead him through the house.

The place is still empty, no furniture, the exact same as when Dylan left that first night except for a couple of Ikea boxes piled up in the hall. Davo leaves wet footprints on the hardwood while he walks, and Dylan realizes why once they’re out on the deck and he sees the half-full wine glass and open book sitting next to the pool.

Connor sits down right at the edge of the deck, feet in the water. Dylan sits a little further back, leaves the book between them and taps the cover.

“Good book?” he asks, and Connor shrugs.

“Bought it at the airport,” he says. “Kind of boring.”

And there’s a lot of shit Dylan could say here, like how this must be one hell of a midlife crisis because he doesn’t think Connor’s ever sat and read a useless book once in his life, let alone while, like, lounging by the pool; he could make a joke, ‘I didn’t know you could read’, and it’s on the tip of his tongue, but-

But that’s not why he came.

He meets Connor’s eyes. “You’re in love with me?”

“Yeah,” Connor nods. “Think so.”

Dylan breathes in and out, once each, careful. “Alright,” he says, when he figures he can sound close to normal. “Alright, so what the fuck, Davo?”

Connor kicks at the water, just a tiny bit. “Can’t answer unless you give me an actual question.”

Dylan looks at him head-on. The sun’s beating down on his back, real hot for this early in the year, so Connor’s kind of squinting at him. “How long?”

“I don’t know.”

“Not good enough.”

“It’s the truth,” Connor says, matter-of-fact. He’s holding Dylan’s gaze this whole time, doesn’t even look embarrassed. “I realized maybe a few months ago.”

Dylan doesn’t actually flinch, but he comes close. Months, Davo’s been going around being in love with him.

The fucking audacity.

“Before,” Dylan says, a lot more level than he’s feeling. “When I asked, you said-”

“I know what I said,” Connor says, and for the first time, after Dylan mentions that night years ago, he looks guilty.

Good.

Dylan doesn’t let up, like now that he’s started he forgets how to stop. “The times we hooked up after,” he says. “We said it was buddies. You were lying?”

“Not at first,” Connor says. “I told you, months. Not years.”

“Yeah, I heard you,” Dylan says, and he can’t bite back the edge in his voice. He wants to kiss Connor again, or punch him, or push him in the pool. He doesn’t know. “So, what? You’re just bi now, or-”

“Gay,” Connor interrupts. He’s keeping himself calm, real deliberately measured, Dylan can tell. “It’s not new.”

“You were just engaged to a girl,” Dylan points out, not-quite-helpfully.

“Yeah, I was,” Connor says, simple, and it doesn’t leave any room for Dylan to question him, so Dylan doesn’t. Doesn’t pick a fight, either, even if he still sort of wants to. It’s hard to stay angry like this, when Connor’s being all- he doesn’t know the word. Pliant? Careful?

Davo’s staring now, all searching, but he doesn’t say anything, just watches Dylan kick his sandals off and scoot towards the edge of the deck so he can put his feet in the water, too.

It’s a nice pool. Nice backyard in general, quiet and all fenced in, trees and a little walking trail on the other side of the fence. They could be the only people in the world, back here.

For a while, they just sit there.

“So?” Connor asks, eventually.

“So what?”

“So I just told you I’m in love with you,” he says, patient. “You’ve got to have an opinion on that, right?”

“I don’t know,” Dylan says, after a second, because it’s the truth, and that’s one thing they’ve always been, is honest. And he couldn’t even blame Connor if he said ‘not good enough’ to that, turned it right back in Dylan’s face, but he doesn’t, just kind of nods, all stoic.

“Okay,” he says, and it’s the closest they ever get to awkward, but then Dylan looks at Connor and Connor looks at Dylan and it’s weird-tense for a couple seconds before Dylan can’t help but laugh.

It’s not like it’s funny-funny, really. Just- Davo’s in love with him, and apparently owns property in Mississauga, and skipped out on his own retirement announcement. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Dylan shakes his head. “This is so-”

“I know,” Connor says, and he’s kind of red underneath the godawful beard, so- he’s self aware, at least. That’s something.

 “You bought the bougiest fuckin’ house, though, Daver,” Dylan says, and it breaks whatever tension was left, and Connor matches his grin, still a little sheepish.

“It’s number 1097,” Davo says. “Thought it might be lucky.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dylan says, because of fucking course Connor bought a multi-million dollar house because the address has 97 in it. Of course he did.

They’re quiet again, but it’s not as bad, this time. Dylan kicks at Connor’s foot under the water, and Connor kicks him back. He still feels off-balance, a little, but- it’s them. He knows how they work. It’s easy, to settle back into this.

“You gonna talk to your team?” he asks, because he thinks he’s still pretty entitled to, after everything. “Or. Anyone?”

“I called my mom,” Davo says. “Told her about retiring.” He leans back onto his elbows, shuts his eyes and sighs real deep, like he’s basking in the sun. He looks relaxed, which is- unusual. Very not-Connor.

Dylan frowns, utterly at a loss. “The hell are you doing, man?”

Connor shrugs. “I think I’ll buy a couch, first,” he says. “Want to help me pick?”

“Obviously,” Dylan says, and they just sit out there in the sun, then; and as far as pretending things are normal goes, he thinks they do an altogether decent job.

---

There are twenty-three articles about Connor in the time it takes to find a couch online and have it delivered. Dylan knows because he counts. Skims through most of them, as well. They’re all dramatic, talking like Connor’s legitimately a missing person instead of a guy who skipped out on a presser. Some of them veer right into conspiracy theory territory, stuff like McDavid Signing With Leafs? and Connor McDavid Retiring To Open Gastropub in Toronto.

Dylan shows Davo the gastropub one, once they’ve set up the couch in the living room. It makes Connor laugh, and Dylan pretends like he’s not smiling along with him; sits there on the stupid-expensive couch that still has plastic on the cushions and ignores the lingering layer of awkwardness, doesn’t answer his phone when it rings.

He knows even before he checks that it’s his agent. He’s been bugging Dylan since the season ended to pick a team, or retire, or do something other than float around in UFA limbo. He leaves a voicemail, asks Dylan slightly desperately to ‘at least put some thought into it’.

It’s not as if Dylan hasn’t. It’s his career, obviously he’s thought about it. He even printed out the drafted contracts they sent him at the start of summer, sat there and stared at them for maybe an hour before shoving them into his extra drawer under old medals and battered team photos from peewee and the little velvet box he hasn’t looked at in years.

He’s planning to- god, he doesn’t know, take out the contracts and text Ry for advice or something, but the thought of opening the drawer and seeing that stupid little ring box-

I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you, Connor says, in the back of his head.

And, yeah, Dylan’s not dealing with that, tonight.