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burn the straw house down

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Dylan gets banished to the backyard while Connor’s on the phone, which he totally understands, but ugh, he wants to hear.

He rolls over in his deck chair and squints up at the sun. Tries to count the seconds, but he only makes it to 67 before he’s glancing over at the house again.

Connor paces past the screen door, nodding along to what someone’s saying. Dylan pretends like he’s not trying to listen in, which- okay, so he is, but it’s not like he’s being nosy for fun, this is important.

Davo was really, really worried, before.

(“You know you don’t have to,” Dylan told him, and Connor shook his head.

“It’s better to hear it from me,” he said. “I owe them that much, after everything.” And, see, Dylan is kind of over owing anyone anything, but he bit back an argument. It wasn’t up to him.)

Connor paces past again. Dylan wonders who he’s talking to, if he did teammates first then Jess, or vice versa, get the bad one over with. That’s how Dylan would’ve done it. Get yelled at first, have a chat with fuckin’- like, Draisaitl or someone to cool down.

Maybe Jess didn’t yell. Wouldn’t yell? She doesn’t seem like the type to yell, from what Dylan’s heard. Dylan would yell if someone proposed then dumped his ass, though.

He sighs.

He feels useless. Davo said he wanted moral support, but Dylan is fucking useless, out here.

He gets to 91, this time, when he counts. Would maybe even get higher, only the screen door slides open and Dylan almost falls off of his chair, he turns to look so fast.

“Hi,” he says, and Connor does this little wave, two fingers, before collapsing into the nearest chair and making this noise somewhere between a sigh and a dying cat.

“Okay,” Dylan says, getting up to go perch on the arm of Davo’s chair. “Okay, so it went bad-”

“No,” Connor interrupts, rubbing at his eyes. “No, it didn’t.”

“Oh,” Dylan says, perking up. “It went good?”

Connor looks up at Dylan, shrugs. “It went,” he says, a little weak, and it kind of counts as humour, Dylan thinks, so that’s a good sign.

He nudges Connor’s knee with his leg. “You okay?”

Connor nods. Even cracks a smile. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I’m- you want to swim?”

And Dylan’s not dumb, he gets that it’s Connor changing the subject. He doesn’t push it – this isn’t his to push – just gets up and pulls Davo to his feet with him, heads for the pool.

They don’t watch the anchors read Connor’s statement on TV, or when they post it on the Oilers’ social media. Dylan read the finalized version before Connor sent it out. It’s a very Connor press release, which is to say it’s stilted and awkward and somehow mostly sincere underneath it all. It gets pretty much to the point: Successful surgery but can’t return, thank you to teammates and the fans and the city for the support over the years.

The coming out part is just the last couple of sentences. Same tone as the rest, short and to the point.

Dylan and Connor are out for a walk around the time the news should be breaking. They don’t go far, just to the puny little trail behind the house. It’s muggy out, mosquitoes everywhere, and the sky looks like there’s a summer storm rolling in. It’ll be a relief; the grass could use the rain.

They end up standing on the little wooden lookout, watching the sun set over the meandering stream. Connor’s leaning on the railing, looking pensive.

“I’m not sad about it,” he says, when Dylan comes and stands next to him.

“I know,” Dylan says.

Connor drums his fingers on the wooden rail, staring out at the water. “It’s weird that it’s all going to be done,” he says, after a long while. “Like. Everything’s official, now.”

Dylan bumps their sides together, gentle. “Hell of a fucking run, Davo,” he says, fully aware that it’s a gross understatement, face to face with maybe the greatest of all time. Dylan’s lucky to have played with him. Lucky to have been playing at the same time as him at all, really. He forgets that, sometimes.

They’ve played some beautiful fucking hockey, together and apart.

Connor bumps him back, and it turns into them leaning up against each other, standing side by side with the forest around them. There’s thunder in the distance, but for now it’s quiet and contemplative and, Dylan thinks, okay, or getting there.

They make it back to the house just as the rain’s starting. Connor hollers movie suggestions from the living room while Dylan makes probably too many grilled cheeses for two people. He even remembers to cut the last few diagonally ‘cause Davo thinks it makes them taste better, which is still stupid and always will be, but Connor’s eyes light up when he sees the sandwiches, so Dylan will let it slide, tonight.

“You’re a beauty, Stromer,” Connor enthuses, stuffing his face with one of the little triangles before Dylan’s even sitting down.

“Yeah, eat your grilled cheese, you loser,” Dylan says, fond. He snags a sandwich for himself and sinks into the couch next to Connor. “What’re we watching?”

“Happy Gilmore,” Davo says, and Dylan just straight up rips off a chunk of his grilled cheese and flings it at his head.

“You have an Adam Sandler shaped problem,” Dylan says, and Connor just rolls his eyes – like defending Adam Sandler is a fucking eye-rollable thing, Dylan hates him – and turns up the volume. “A real problem,” Dylan says, but he stretches his legs out onto the table, resigns himself to watching this movie for the millionth time.

It’s not so bad. He can mostly tune the dialogue out, ends up just eating and staring at the tops of trees rustling outside, the rain coming down hard on the windows. Everything gets lit up every so often, when the lightning flashes.

Connor’s looking out the window too, chewing on the crust of one of the grilled cheeses. “The view’ll be nice in winter,” he says, casual, and Dylan knows enough to know that that’s Connor McDavid for an invitation. Not even a particularly subtle one.

He could kiss Connor, right now, and he’s pretty sure Connor would kiss him back.

They haven’t discussed the ‘in love with you’ thing in a while. Haven’t even joked about it, really, and Dylan gets it, because he doesn’t want to risk ruining what they’ve got, not now that things are finally okay. ‘Cause, see, he could kiss Connor and Connor would probably kiss him back and Dylan knows that, but he also knows that they’re kind of in a bubble, and have been most of the summer.

And it’s not that it’s not a nice bubble, because Dylan can see a future laid out in front of him, him and Davo walking around and doing whatever the fuck retired millionaires do, coming home and sprawling out together on the couch, Connor’s thigh pressed into Dylan’s the way it is now. He can see it, right within reach, and it’s good, is the thing, it’s everything he’s wanted since he was a fucking teenager, except-

Except that’s a lie, ‘cause it’s half of everything he’s wanted, and the other half’s sitting back at his place, waiting for him to sign and go off to some city somewhere. And that’s where shit gets complicated, because it’s not just them anymore. It’s the real world, it’s hockey. It’s being in two different cities for most of the year, and Dylan doesn’t know how to reconcile the Dylan and Connor who cuddle on couches and go skinny dipping with the Dylan and Connor who’re in the real world, with Dylan travelling half the year, because their real world track record is- it’s shit, honestly.

It’d be easy to think this time is different.

Dylan... thinks this time might be different.

But he doesn’t know. And they’re finally them again, and things are finally good, and like hell is Dylan going to gamble that on something he doesn’t know. He can’t ruin this, he won’t, so for tonight, he doesn’t, just leans back against Davo and lets him get an arm around Dylan’s shoulders while they listen to Happy Gilmore and Bob Barker beat the hell out of each other.

Dylan lets it be, tonight.

---

Connor takes forever to get dressed – his entire closet is solid-coloured button-ups, it should not take an hour to decide – and then he kind of snaps at Dylan in the car when he tries to change the radio station. And Dylan doesn’t take it personally, because he’s said and done way worse, but he’s confused as hell. The answer only really comes to him once they’re parking the car.

“You’re nervous,” Dylan says, as they’re walking toward the house. There’re enough cars that they had to park a block away, and he can hear people laughing and talking from all the way around the corner.

Connor’s carrying a bottle of wine, picking at the label like he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. “Why would I be nervous?”

“No clue,” Dylan says, mild. “You shouldn’t be.” He’s kind of bullshitting, the no clue part at least, because once it occurred to him why Davo’s all tense, it’s obvious: It’s Connor’s first time seeing all the guys in ages, his first time coming out at all since- well, since coming out. And knowing that stuff’s going to be fine, like, on a factual level, isn’t the same as actually feeling like they’ll be fine for real.

“Hey,” Dylan says, and Connor looks at him from the corner of his eye, doesn’t stop walking. “Davo.”

“I know,” Connor says, and his voice sounds all tight, still, but he slows down enough that Dylan can walk next to him without having to jog. Adds, like an afterthought, “Sorry for being mean.”

“It’s okay,” Dylan says. “I’m taking that wine bottle from you, though, because it was fuckin’ expensive and you’re destroying it.”

The noise from the party’s spilling out from the backyard, and Dylan leads Connor around the side of the house, lifting the latch on the gate to let them in. They have to move out of the way fast to avoid being trampled by a herd of kids – it’s Maya surrounded by a bunch of gingers, which means Brownie’s around here somewhere.

“Hi, Uncle Dylan!” she shouts on her way past, and Dylan waves, not that she’s paying any attention.

“Mini Marns,” he explains to Connor, who’s watching as the kids sprint down the street, towards the park.

“She got tall, eh?” Connor says. Dylan wonders when the last time he saw her is. Wonders if he could scam Connor into going to game night, watch someone else get fucking wrecked at Connect Four for once.

One thing at a time, Dylan.

The backyard is crowded when they head in, extra chairs everywhere and like, every hockey player in the GTA hanging around with plates of food.

Mitch is standing at the barbeque close to the gate, flipping burgers and chatting all animated with Derms. Travis is actually the one to make eye contact with Dylan first, then he looks over at Connor and his eyes widen.

“Hey, guys!”

Mitch wheels around as they get closer; almost takes Dylan’s eye out with a spatula, he moves so fast to hug Connor. “Dude, you made it!”

“Hey, Marns,” Connor says. He’s tense, and it’s obvious, but he fist-bumps Travis behind Mitch’s back and tries for a smile. “Trav, hi.”

Mitch pulls back to look at him. “Fucking awful beard, Daver,” he says, impressed, then he gets distracted going back and forth with Travis right after – “I mean, it’s not that bad,” Travis is hedging, ‘cause he’s maybe the only guy who can out-sweet Marns – and Dylan hardly even gets a hello.

It’s entirely, spectacularly normal, and Dylan could fucking kiss the both of them for it, because Davo looks visibly more relaxed, and he even smiles at the ribbing about his beard.

Dylan elbows him, gentle, like see, and then someone from the patio notices them and they’re getting pulled into a million conversations at once. It’s a lot, but in a nice way. People to catch up with. Mrs. Marner’s potato salad to eat.

God. Dylan eats, like, so much potato salad. It’s technically the offseason still, it’s fine.

And it’s kind of funny, right, because Dylan came into this barbeque ready to go into full-on human shield mode, hundred percent committed to throwing himself in front of the metaphorical bullet to fend off any potential conversations about gayness or injuries or anything Davo doesn’t want to talk about. The thing about that, though, is that Connor ends up wandering away on his own accord, and the next time Dylan sees him he’s nursing a beer, chatting it up with Auston and a bunch of Team North America guys.

He’s doing that thing again, where he walks into a room of guys and goes into captain mode. No one’d know how nervous he was coming into this, and Dylan- all at once, it’s like, fuck, he’s so proud of him, enough that he doesn’t even care how massively dorky of a thing that is to think.

“Move it, assface.”

Dylan looks up, startled. Marns is looming over him, balancing a plate of food in one arm and Noah in the other.

“Watch your language,” Dylan teases. He scoots over so Mitch can fit himself into the tiny amount of room on the seat, careful not to jostle Noah too much.

“Nah, he’s out, it’s cool,” Mitch waves him off, taking a bite of his burger and doing this big, dramatic sigh. “Jesus, I’m so good at grilling.”

Dylan checks while Marns is stuffing his face, and, yeah, Noah’s passed out on Mitch’s shoulder, tuckered out by all the excitement. Dylan relates, little buddy.

There’s a burst of loud laughter from over where Davo’s sitting, and Dylan doesn’t mean to look over, really, but he must, because Mitch follows his gaze and gets this knowing look.

Mitch swallows a bite of his burger, wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. “You guys’re good, then?” He doesn’t have to clarify who he’s talking about.

Dylan taps at one of Noah’s little feet, all wrapped up in footie pajamas. “Yeah.”

“Good as in...” Mitch prods, because leaving well enough alone isn’t a thing he’s ever done or will ever do.

“As in good, Marns,” Dylan says, firm. It’s the truth. Things are- they aren’t even just good, they’re better than they’ve ever been, maybe, because he and Connor are talking, and they’re not holding shit back, not hiding from each other or anyone.

And, sure, he’s in love with Connor, and it’s the kind of love where it hurts, a little, but they’re-

They’re good. Really good, and Dylan won’t lose that, this time.

“Hey, Mitch,” someone hollers from over by the gate, a while later. They both look over to see Marns’ brother gesturing them over. “You’re a captain, c’mon.”

Mitch beams, almost dumps his plate on Dylan, he’s getting up so fast. “You playing?” he asks, and Dylan grins, getting to his feet.

“Scared you’re gonna get beat, Marner?”

“Gonna kick your ass, is what I’m gonna do, Strome,” Mitch says, already heading over to hand Noah off to his mom.

Connor’s waiting for Dylan out front, messes up his hair affectionately when Dylan joins him on the grass. “You think the neighbours’ll hate us?” The nets are all set up in the street, and metal’s clanking loud along the driveway as Auston drags out the old trash can full of taped up sticks from the garage.

Dylan smirks, grabs Connor’s belt loop and tugs him forward so they won’t get stuck with the shitty broken sticks. “They for sure already do.”

Making the teams is, like, a blatant display of nepotism, and Dylan ends up facing off against half of the old Leafs roster. And, okay, a bunch of them are retired or on LTIR – Dylan’s one of maybe five guys still in the league – but most of the people here are or have been pro athletes, so it gets competitive real fast, shouts of ‘let’s go boys’ and stuff like that turning into friendly chirps in under five minutes.

A bunch of the kids end up sitting on the lawn – some of them have got to be from around the neighbourhood, there’s no way all of them are guests – cheering indiscriminately whenever the puck goes in the net.

Marns and Auston chest bump when they connect on a two-on-one, cellying like they just won a cup, and a bunch of their old teammates wolf-whistle when Auston engulfs Mitch in a hug and kisses his cheek all playful. Connor catches Dylan’s eye when they do that, and it’s intentional, and he’s trying to hide a smile. Dylan gets it. It’s nice, not being the only ones.

Not that he and Connor are- they aren’t-

They’re lineys again, is what they are, tonight, and Dylan focuses on that, because it’s a fucking fun thing to focus on. The whole game is, really, because they’re all adults but it doesn’t change the way they rotate in and out of being goalie, chirping the other team, hollering ‘car’ and dragging the nets out of the way every so often.

It goes on a long time, way past when the kids get bored and there’s no audience anymore. The score gets run up to the point where they stop keeping track, and things devolve into trick shots and blatant penalties. Dylan scores on a fucking ridiculous backhander, gets a chorus of cheers for his effort.

Guys drop out of the game a couple at a time, heading back to the yard for more drinks or, eventually, to gather up their families and head out. It goes like that ‘til Dylan and Connor and Marns are the last ones left playing, lit up by streetlights and hardly able to see what they’re doing for how dark it is. Davo’s smiling like Dylan forgot he could, hollering for the ball, going for the empty netter then laughing when he gets cussed out for it.

Even after Davo’s consigned to goalie purgatory, Dylan keeps battling Marns, checking him right up against the curb and getting shoved right back. Retirement hasn’t made Mitch any less annoying to play against, and it gets pretty fierce, ‘til both of them are dripping with sweat and literally can’t stand anymore.

“Fuck,” Marns collapses on the lawn, gasping for breath. “Fuck, my everything hurts.”

“Chickenshit,” Dylan chirps breathlessly, tossing his stick away and flopping down next to him.

Mitch just laughs up at the sky, too gassed to even dish it back; and he’s all sprawled out, skinned knees and laugh lines and he’d give Dylan just so much shit if he said how much he adores him, right now, but Dylan adores him anyways.

Dylan presses his hand down, flat on the grass so the blades tickle his palm, then turns his head to look over at Connor. He’s still out on the street, bouncing the ball on his stick. The movements aren’t as certain as they would’ve been before, all the work on his left side, but without noticing that Dylan’s watching, Connor’s smiling to himself, and the smile gets bigger when he keeps up the ball one last time and bats it into the net.

And crickets aren’t quite a stadium of cheering fans, aren’t quite close, but Dylan thinks, for tonight, they’re pretty good all the same.

Different. But good.

---

The street’s dead silent, practically a ghost town as Dylan and Connor meander toward where they parked the car. It’s gotta be 3 in the morning, minimum, and Dylan’s at that weird point where he’s tired enough to be kind of wired, high on friends and hockey and maybe just tonight.

“Hey,” he says, to get Davo’s attention. “You’re pretty decent at this hockey thing.” He says it all teasing, and Connor snorts, but his eyes are shining.

“I missed it,” he admits, and he sounds kind of stunned, dragging a hand through his hair, and Dylan can’t look away from him. He’s magnetic. “God, I- I missed it. You know when you’re swimming and you come up for air? It’s-”

Connor breaks off, and Dylan catches his eye, and they both kind of laugh, ‘cause Davo’s sure as fuck no more of a poet than Dylan is.

“Fuckin’ hockey,” Dylan says, because he knows Connor will get it.

“Fuckin’ hockey,” Connor agrees. He bumps his elbow up against Dylan’s as he reaches for his keys, and they exchange grins. It’s like- it’s stupid, how much this means to Dylan, Davo talking about hockey like he always has. Because yeah, the NHL has its shit, but hockey itself, their sport, it’s them. It’s in Dylan’s blood, his constant since ministicks with his brothers when he could barely walk. Hockey’s why he has his best friends, why he has Connor, why he still gets up every morning and works out ‘til he can’t breathe.

Not the kind of thing that gets taken away easy. Not from either of them.

“There is one thing that doesn’t make sense, though,” Dylan says, once they’re in the car pulling on their seatbelts. Connor looks at him, questioning. “How the hell did Marns end up as the one with his shit together?”

Connor laughs, turning the key in the ignition, and Dylan looks out the window in a probably-pointless attempt to hide his smile. His brain is just Connor Connor Connor, how happy he is, how happy he should always be.

Dylan must drift off, somewhere between listening to Davo’s music and watching the streetlights pass by in yellowish blurs, because he’s aware of getting onto the highway then nothing at all until Connor’s shaking his arm.

“Dylan,” he’s saying. The car’s not moving anymore. “Stromer, we’re home.”

Dylan blinks, still a little out of it.

Home.

He stretches as he gets out of the car, limbs stiff. The sun’s starting to rise, just barely, and it’s a little on the cool side. They’re inching closer to September, to autumn and hockey and everywhere but here.

Dylan traces Connor’s footsteps, follows him as they trudge across the lawn to the front steps. The grass is dewy on Dylan’s ankles, and every inch of this stupid, too-big house is familiar like the back of his hand, like home.

He stands on the bottom step and watches Davo searching for the house key, and something about the moment just- it’s like standing there, staring up at Connor, everything just stops. Dylan’s whole world is narrowed down to the two steps between them, to we’re home and Dylan and I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you pounding in his chest like a heartbeat.

Dylan reaches up and grabs Connor’s wrist, wordless.

Connor turns to peer down at him, all curious with his hair messy and that stupid fucking beard, and this is the part where Dylan does the leading man thing, closes the gap and kisses Davo and one of them ends up swooning or some shit like that, so-

So instead he drops the ball, because he’s nothing if not consistent.

“I,” he says, then stops, only the stopping comes out this weird strangled sound and then he’s just standing there in his sweaty button-up, staring up at Connor. “Shit.”

“You shit?” Connor echoes, wry, and the laugh that it pulls out of Dylan sounds a little manic. Connor maybe picks up on that, because he frowns a little and takes one step down, almost bemused. “What is it?”

Dylan’s mouth is dry. “I don’t know how to do this,” he confesses. “Sorry, can you just...”

“Can I what?” Connor asks, after another silence stretches out.

“I don’t know,” Dylan says, and he presses his heels back on the edge of his step, doesn’t step down. “I don’t know. Tell me you were wrong about being in love with me so I can kiss you?”

It comes out all in a rush, too fast to understand for anyone who isn’t fluent in Dylan Strome, but Connor is, so he just looks at Dylan, and there’s too much on his face for Dylan to try to make sense of.

“Dylan,” Connor says, and he’s talking so, so quiet, and Dylan wants him more than he’s ever wanted anything.

“I don’t want to retire,” Dylan says, instead of that. “I want to keep playing.”

Connor shrugs, tiny. “So keep playing.”

“Yeah, but I want to kiss you.”

“So kiss me,” Connor says, as if it’s obvious, and there’s something in his voice, like he’s asking just as much as Dylan is, here. “You- if you want like, permission-”

“It’s not that,” Dylan cuts him off, shaking his head. “I mean, maybe, but-”

“Dylan-” Connor reaches toward Dylan, just a little, and he’s the best thing Dylan’s ever seen but he’s not understanding what he’s asking for, here.

“I’m a fucking mess,” Dylan says, blunt, pulling his arm out of Connor’s reach. “I don’t- I’ve never done this shit right.”

“Me neither,” Connor says, no hesitation at all. “I got engaged to avoid dealing with stuff, I- we’re both shit at this, so what?”

“So I want to do this right,” Dylan says, desperate. “I want to not fuck this up, and we’re good right now, and what if we ruin it just because I want-”

“We both want,” Connor interrupts, and he’s looking down and Dylan’s looking up and it’s as intense as anything Dylan’s ever seen. “That’s all we do, why can’t we just- I know we messed up before, and I know I should’ve done things better, but we’ve been wanting, I-” His voice breaks, and Dylan didn’t even know Connor could sound like this, low and urgent and feeling.

“I’ve been wanting you for more than twenty years, Dylan,” Connor finishes. “I don’t want to want anymore. We can have this.”

Dylan isn’t sure when he started clinging to the handrail. Thinks it might be the only thing keeping him upright. The start of summer, Davo showing up at his door, Chinese food on the floor, feels a million miles away from right now. Everything does.

He’s never been this scared in his life.

Dylan swallows. The morning is still around them. No one else exists. “Are you still in love with me?” he asks, so quiet he can hardly hear himself.

Connor holds his gaze. “You know,” he says, simple. “You’ve got to know, Stromer.”

And- fuck, Dylan hears the words, but he doesn’t think he knows anything right now. Not a fucking thing. He doesn’t know how to be in love with someone, doesn’t know how someone could be in love with him, really, ‘cause he’s sarcastic and kind of selfish and yeah, he won a Stanley Cup but he also spent more time in the AHL than he was ever meant to; and he’s not as close with his parents as he maybe should be, and he’s really bad at therapy, and-

And Davo knows all that, and he’s still looking at Dylan like he loves him.

Connor knows him. Dylan knows him back. He wants to know Connor back, to catch up on the stuff he missed and stay caught up when new things change, which maybe counts even more.

Maybe always has.

Dylan loses track of what order things happen, then. It’s a lot all at once: his hand clutching Connor’s shirt, closing the last step between them, his mouth on Connor’s mouth and Connor kissing him back, fierce and certain and not really terrifying, anymore; and the order things happened doesn’t matter, Dylan decides, because they happened, they’re happening, he’s kissing Connor like he never thought he’d get to again.

It’s not chaste, because it’s them, but it’s maybe something close, gentle when they break apart. They’re standing so close, foreheads pressed together, their breath warm between them. Connor’s eyes are shut, and for some reason Dylan’s attention gets caught on his eyelashes, blonde and short in the porch light, and it tugs at something in his heart.

“Davo,” he says, and the rest of his words get lost, but Connor meets his gaze, gets his hands on either side of Dylan’s face and kisses him again so that it doesn’t matter.

They stumble into the house, at some point. Dylan sure hopes Davo’s paying attention to where they’re going, because Dylan’s just following blindly, hoping they’re heading for a horizontal surface. Any surface, really, so long as he can keep touching Connor. Dylan’s not picky. He kisses Connor’s cheek, the corner of his mouth.

“We can’t kiss up the stairs,” Connor says, barely pulling back at all, and Dylan laughs. He could do literally anything, right now, he feels like.

“Watch me,” he says, all bravado, and Connor’s laugh disappears into a kiss.

And just, like, for the record – they absolutely do kiss most of the way up the stairs, and it’s a safety hazard and a half, and Dylan does not care even a little. There could be a nuclear explosion in the hallway, a fucking volcanic eruption, and he doesn’t think he’d care, not once they make it to the master bedroom and he ends up pressed against the wall, Connor’s hands at his chest, wandering. “Can I-”

Dylan nods wordlessly, lets Connor unbutton his shirt and doesn’t bother trying to hold back a groan when Davo’s hands get onto his skin, just on the right side of too warm. He mouths at Dylan’s neck, enough that it’s going to leave a mark, enough that Dylan can barely get it together enough to step out of his pants when Connor tugs them down.

Dylan gets caught up in the kissing, Connor’s mouth and his tongue and his leg pressed in between Dylan’s, and Dylan gets embarrassingly close to just, like, rubbing one off on Connor’s leg, before it occurs to him that he’s mostly naked and Connor’s still fully clothed, which is something to be corrected immediately.

“C’mon,” he urges, pulling at the buttons of Connor’s shirt. “Be more naked, c’mon.” He gets a split-second glimpse of Connor laughing at him before they’re kissing again. And it’s a hell of a feat of multitasking, getting Connor’s clothes off and manoeuvring towards the bed so they can fall onto the mattress, and then they’re just making out like teenagers, Connor kissing Dylan so thoroughly he thinks he must be shaking with it, and there’s just skin everywhere under Dylan’s hands.

The friction between them means things don’t stay innocent for long, if they ever were. They’re both hard, both keyed up, and Davo’s blushing red everywhere – really, everywhere – and Dylan wants to make him feel so, so good.

“Turn over,” he requests, and Connor does without even hesitating, tugging a pillow under his arms to lean on. Dylan kisses his shoulder and down his spine, past the small of his back, and then lower, and-

“Oh my god,” Connor says, hushed. “Oh my god.” And Dylan kind of wants to laugh at that, because sure, he’s probably flattering himself to think that Davo’s having some big gay epiphany ‘cause Dylan’s eating him out, but it sure fucking sounds like it, and it’s the best thing Dylan’s ever heard, no contest.

He takes his time, leans in to the heat of Connor and gets him wet and slick, fucks into him with his tongue and then with a finger, testing. Dylan doesn’t let himself get lost the way he usually does, stays real focused, because he wants this to be good.

“Ah,” Connor’s gasping, when Dylan adds another finger, flattens his tongue against whatever space is left. He’s got one hand clenched in the sheets, that Dylan can see. “Dylan, fuck-”

Dylan thinks, maybe a little smug, that he’s probably doing pretty okay.

He keeps it up, picks up the pace until Connor’s writhing under him, pushing back into Dylan’s fingers all needy. Dylan thinks absently that he could probably get Davo to come untouched, just from this. He kind of wants to test out that theory, but for now he pulls back just enough to kiss Connor’s hip, to catch his breath.

Connor peeks back at him, gets out, “You’re good at that.”

Dylan smiles like the biggest fucking goober in the world. “You want me to keep going?” he asks, ‘cause he’d probably do this for hours, if it’d keep making Davo sound like the way he does, all wrecked. “Or I could fuck you, which one?”

“Yes,” Connor says, nonsensical, and he’s ridiculous and Dylan loves him. “The second thing, I need to-”

He shoves at Dylan, and Dylan backs off enough to let Connor turn around and lie on his back, adjusting the pillow behind him. Dylan crawls back up the bed, hands and knees so he’s straddling Connor, staring down at him. He looks like a fucking mess, hair all dishevelled from Dylan’s hands, flushed from his cheeks to his chest.

Dylan’s not far gone enough to say shit like ‘beautiful’, but it’s a close thing.

“God,” he says, leaning down to press his forehead to Connor’s, smiling. “God, you’re so-”

“C’mere,” Connor says, bossy, and Dylan’s heart like, leaps in his chest at how Davo it is. And, like, Dylan’s mouth probably tastes like ass, but Connor doesn’t seem to mind, getting a hand on the back of Dylan’s neck and tugging him down to kiss him, real deep.

Dylan sighs against him and lets himself get kissed, lets Connor set the pace – and fuck, does he ever, his hands on Dylan’s ass, pulling him down so they’re grinding up against each other, slow for maybe ten seconds before it gets frantic. Dylan’s on cloud fucking nine, cloud a million.

“Can you,” Connor says, and Dylan’s nodding before he’s done.

“Yeah,” he says, and his hand-eye is shot but he reaches out blindly and grabs at the bottle of lube from the bedside table, opens it clumsy and one-handed. He barely manages to stroke himself a couple of times before Davo’s taking over, impatient, jerking Dylan off as if he’s not already, like, embarrassingly hard, then guiding Dylan’s dick between his legs. It’s sort of- it’s an endeavour, finding an angle that’s not making Connor put too much weight on his shoulder, but they get there eventually, slotting together like they always have.

Connor breathes out through his teeth when Dylan pushes into him, already oversensitive.

“Come on,” he says, and Dylan presses his lips to his neck, drags his teeth along Connor’s jaw. Connor’s still tight around Dylan, warm and wet from before. “Come on, I want-”

Dylan nods against him, moves his hips in slow, dragging thrusts; searching for the sounds Connor makes, ‘cause he’s always been more vocal during sex than, like, any other situation ever, and it’s the hottest thing Dylan knows, Davo’s the hottest thing-

“Dyl,” Connor says, getting a hand on Dylan’s cheek to tilt his head and capture his lips again, and Dylan hums into it, lets himself get lost. Kissing eventually turns into more just panting up against each other while Dylan fucks into him, this steady rhythm, and it’s intimate enough that Dylan’s entire body feels like an exposed nerve, every touch making sparks.

They’re both close enough that Dylan knows it’s not going to last, so he just leans into it, picks up his pace so the mattress creaks and focuses on making it good for both of them. He thinks he manages it, because Connor spills sticky-hot on Dylan’s stomach with this little shout like he can’t hold it back, unguarded and something Dylan could spend the rest of his life trying to hear again. He fucks into Connor a couple more times, real deep, before he feels himself losing it, and Connor’s fingers are tight around the back of Dylan’s neck, his name on Dylan’s lips when he comes.

It’s so much. Dylan’s had a lot of sex, but not like-

This is so much.

They stay together for longer than Dylan has before, just pressed up all close, touching everywhere. Dylan wants to memorize the feel of Davo all around him, the light-coloured hair on his arms, the way he kisses Dylan, lazy and loose-limbed, and does this exhausted little laugh when Dylan teases at his lips with his tongue, playful. Even when they pull apart, neither goes far. They end up catching their breath side by side, flat out on the bed and utterly spent.

It’s bright out, is what Dylan realizes, when he starts thinking coherent things again. Early morning, at least, the sun streaming in through the blinds and casting shadowy stripes along the bed.

Connor turns to meet Dylan’s eyes, asks all breathless, “Whose dumb idea was it to stop having sex?

Dylan’s laugh disappears into a yawn. He leans over and kisses the closest body part he can find – Connor’s arm – before lying back and grinning up at the ceiling, sweaty and exhausted and stupid fucking happy.

He falls asleep like that, stretched out in the sunlight; Connor’s hand on his thigh, rubbing back and forth with his thumb, steady and grounding and here.

---

He thinks it’s rain, at first; takes a while to realize that it’s the shower from the en suite.

Dylan yawns and stretches. Listens to his bones click, then to the water, for a while, before sitting up and looking around. He has to get up to fish his phone out of his pants, over by the wall, but he sits back down cross-legged on the bed, and rattles off an email to his agent, doesn’t even second-guess himself about it.

Then, because he’s naked and probably looks like a hot mess, he steals a t-shirt from Davo’s drawers, treks to one of the other bathrooms, and splashes his face with cold water from the sink. That wakes him up pretty well, and then he just kind of stands there over the sink and looks at himself in the mirror.

He doesn’t look away, just sticks his tongue out at his reflection. Watches drops make their way down his forehead.

Dylan debates doing something about the horrifying rats’ nest that is his hair and decides it can wait, because the sound of the other shower has stopped and it’s all he can do to not, like, sprint back into the other room and jump Connor all over again.

He doesn’t.

He maybe jogs, just a little.

When Dylan gets back to the room, Davo’s just coming out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist. He looks like an actual picture, and the only thing that’d make this better is if he’d shaved that godawful fucking beard, which he didn’t, but it’s kind of growing on Dylan, maybe, a little.

There’s this big moment, just the two of them standing in two different doorways, staring at each other – story of Dylan’s fucking life, maybe – and then Connor breaks the silence.

“Hi,” he says, and it’s kind of clumsy, but Dylan smiles, already on his way to him.

He reaches up, traces the line of Connor’s jaw, light. “Nice beard,” Dylan teases, low, and Connor rolls his eyes, any trace of morning-after uncertainty gone.

“Asshole,” he says, all fond, but he turns his head and catches Dylan’s palm with the smallest almost-kiss. It’s a quiet, familiar little gesture that makes Dylan’s heart do something fluttery and, like, extraordinarily lame.

Dylan settles his hand on Davo’s waist, runs his thumb over where the towel is tucked. “You know I’m in love with you too,” Dylan says, because he can’t remember if he mentioned it, and it’s probably kind of important.

Connor nods. “I figured.”

Real Casanova, this guy.

Dylan returns his smile, small, and doesn’t give in to the temptation to quit talking and make out with him for the next forever, no matter how much he wants to. “I have stuff to say, though.”

“Okay,” Connor says, and he looks surprised, a little – yeah, bud, Dylan is too – but he just waits for Dylan to talk.

Right. This part.

Never really gets easier.

Dylan takes a breath. “I don’t want a family,” he says, holding Connor’s gaze. “Like, I’m serious about us, and I fucking love Marns’ kids, but I don’t- I’m almost forty, I don’t want to be a dad now. Or probably ever. We’re not them.”

“We’re not,” Connor agrees, and Dylan waits for him to bring up some counterpoint, some offer, but he doesn’t, and it’s stupid, maybe, but it’s like a weight off of Dylan’s shoulders.

They want the same things, or- or don’t want the same things, and they’re doing this, still.

Dylan pushes forward. “And I don’t want to do a huge ‘we’re together’ thing, with the media,” he says. “Like- after, we can say whatever you want, but not ‘til after this year. I’m gonna sign with Buffalo, and I just want to play without reporters acting like I’m all of a sudden some kind of role model or something just ‘cause I’m Connor McDavid’s-”

He breaks off, unsure.

“Boyfriend?” Connor says, maybe offers, but he makes a face right after, ‘cause ‘boyfriend’ sounds kind of juvenile, not to mention all the baggage it carries with it, for them. “Or- significant other, I don’t-”

Dylan thinks about it. He’s not creative about this stuff, really. “Partner?” he suggests, after a second. “We could- partners?”

“Partners,” Davo says, like he’s testing it out. Dylan gets it. It sounds like- it sounds gay, is the thing. Real decisive, too, like something permanent, and Dylan likes both those things, and how solid it sounds. Partners.

Connor must agree, because he’s smiling, kind of biting his lip. “Partners is good.”

“Yeah?”

Connor nods, gets this look on his face so Dylan knows he’s about to say something unfunny. “Howdy, partner.”

“McDavid,” Dylan says, flat, because really. Connor’s beaming, all proud of himself, and Dylan can’t hide a smile, pulling him in by his towel. “You’re fucking dumb.”

“Yeah, and you love it, though,” Connor says, simple. He steadies himself with a hand on Dylan’s chest, uses the other to tilt his chin so he can kiss him, and Dylan- look, he fully intends to keep giving him shit, but it’s easy to get distracted what with Connor’s mouth and his body and his hands and god, his mouth, curved into a smile against Dylan’s.

Dylan feels, like, giddy, or at least close enough to be using adjectives like ‘giddy’, which is a whole new circle of embarrassing, probably, but fuck it, that’s where he’s at, face to face with everything he never thought he’d get.

It doesn’t feel like they felt for so long, months of nothing tinged with something bitter whenever they came face to face; doesn’t feel like when they were kids, either, lost and fumbling at each other behind closed doors.

It feels like them. Like Dylan’s got his best friend back.

His partner, his brain corrects, and, yeah, giddy as fuck.

It’s enough. More.

---

So:

Dylan’s packing his stuff to fly down for training camp, and he can’t find his other green stripey sock. Connor is giving him shit for leaving it to the last minute, lying on the bed half-heartedly folding Dylan’s shirts and just generally being distracting instead of remotely helpful. What a dick.

God, Dylan’s going to miss him like crazy.

And that’s a chirp-worthy thought, or it would be if he’d said it out loud, because Connor’s coming down at the end of the week to help pick out an apartment for them and catch the preseason opener. Not like Dylan’ll even have time to miss him, hardly.

“Hey, Stromer,” Connor says, and tosses Dylan his missing sock. Which- sure. “Can I have one of your old jerseys?”

“You’re gonna have to be more specific,” Dylan quips, because he’s spent his whole life wearing different colours, different logos on his chest. Wonders if the new colours are going to be his last, at least in the NHL. The idea’s not particularly scary. Just- distant. Dylan’s got more left in him than people think.

He tosses a pair of balled up socks at Davo’s head and watches him dodge, easy.

“From Erie,” Connor specifies. “I’m having a couple things framed. For the basement.”

Dylan smiles down at his suitcase, settles into the warmth blooming in his chest; all around him, maybe, like standing in the sun.

Something lame like that.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, we can figure something out.”