Nobody Needs to TikTok
Copyright © R. Cooper 2022
All Rights Reserved
Content tags: off page drinking, current hangover, off page referenced homo/biphobia and negative publicity, employee/employer(s) relationship
This is a nonsense modern AU for A Suitable Consort (For the King and His Husband)
Mattin is the social media consultant for two former professional hockey players who happen to be married to each other, and famously in love with one another, and funny, and kind, and ridiculously attractive even with/because of the gray in their hair, and okay, maybe he is in lov--maybe he has a crush of some kind on them. Whatever. He's not thinking about it and he's certainly not acting on it.
That's what he tells himself. Repeatedly.
The champagne had other ideas.
Mattin peeked out from beneath the duvet to try to gauge a) what time it was and b) if he was dying. He got no real answers to either question because the curtains in the room were drawn, blocking out any sunlight. But the movement started a throbbing ache at the back of his skull and behind his eyes—although that one spoke more of eyestrain, which was strange since he’d been at a concert, not working all night.
Or, sort of working. The thing about being an official/unofficial social media handler for two rich and famous people was that going to events could be both fun and work. He… he just wasn’t sure what last night was.
He didn’t normally drink, for one, and that was usually just sipping something in a pretty color. Also, despite the invitations and the special, cordoned-off VIP area of the small club that had been the venue for concert, Arden and Mil were not particularly music lovers. Arden had even said something to that effect when he’d sprung the plans on Mattin the day before.
“You’ll get more out of it than we will, dear heart,” he’d said, instead of just not going which is what they usually did for those sort of events, and calling Mattin the teasing nickname Arden had recently become fond of using. “You could invite someone… if you wanted to invite someone,” he’d added, with Mil making angry noises in the background and scowling at nothing in a way that used to terrorize people back when the two of them had still played professional hockey.
Mattin ducked back under the duvet to breathe and let his heart slow so his head wouldn’t explode. He decided not to think about yesterday, or the concert, for now. He could only remember bits of it anyway. What he did remember of the night before didn’t seem to be concert-related.
He decided not to think about that, either. He waited, then poked his head out of the duvet again.
He was not in his bedroom in his apartment, which was, to be frank, just the bedroom with a tiny bathroom attached. And that was the nicer apartment he’d moved into after Arden and Mil had started paying him a ridiculous amount of money to basically teach them how to tweet.
It was more than that, of course. But also, essentially, that.
Being rich and famous didn’t require a social media presence, but Arden and Mil were infamous, and admired, and hated, and held up as both role models and symbols of wickedness because they were handsome and good at what they used to do and also happened to be in love with each other and married to each other.
That had come out, quite literally, after their retirement from hockey, although from what Mattin understood, it had been a rumor or an open secret for a while before then. The pair of them had been renowned for their talent and skill, and for playing absolutely brutally against anyone who came close to the goalie they were tasked with protecting.
At least, that was how Mattin interpreted their jobs on the ice. He was sure their actual jobs were something to do with stopping points from being made while protecting the goalie. But he also refused to find out for certain. He had learned a lot of stats and player history in his time working for them, but actually watching a game left him queasy and shaking to the point where Arden and Mil hesitated to even mention it around him.
“You have knives on your shoes!” Mattin had protested, perhaps with his voice strained and high, when they had finally confronted him with their concerns. “You push people into walls! The pucks go so fast! At your faces!”
They hadn’t laughed, at least, although they had exchanged a look. Since then, though they still went to watch the occasional game, it was the one outing they took care to ask Mattin about before dragging him along or leaving him behind.
He could go to games, he’d found, if he kept his attention on his phone or his tablet and not the game itself. Sports people seemed to find this hilarious. Arden and Mil brought him coffees, just how he liked them, and held conversations about the plays over the top of his head while he worked, and beamed oddly smug smiles whenever the three of them ended up on the big… TV… Jumbotron…thing.
Mattin must seem very silly to them. Even more so now, since he was clearly in one of their guest rooms because he’d had so much champagne they hadn’t trusted him to get home okay.
He sighed heavily, for that and for the softness of the sheets and the quality of the duvet, because everything in their home was expensive and well made and tasteful because Cael was in charge of all of that, and Arden and Mil let their housekeeper-slash-secretary do whatever she wanted.
They were distressingly like that in almost all things. Arden’s brother and sister popped in and out of the house whenever they pleased, and Jola’s children had their own rooms here for sleepovers.
If Arden and Mil had been as brutish as people liked to portray them, Mattin wouldn’t be in this mess. Now, he was hungover, and in their home, and if he remembered correctly, their schedules were mostly clear today, which meant they were home too, and he would have to face them before he left.
He didn’t know what that would involve—teasing, an offer of brunch, an invitation to stay for dinner—but it would kill him if the hangover didn’t. Somehow, he was sure.
He gave the room another peep, then pushed the duvet down to better study his surroundings. It was a guest room. Not that he had ever been in Mil and Arden’s bedroom—Mattin had that much self-control, at least—but the framed plaques and awards and photos on the walls said neither of them had ever set foot in this room. Cael had probably taken a bunch of the gifts given to the two of them from their various charity projects and dumped them in here for lack of anywhere else to put them. Arden waved those things away. Mil look embarrassed of anything except the odd magazine article or picture of him at some youth hockey event.
The difference, Mattin suspected, was that Arden was born to money and the expectation of greatness, and didn’t know how to handle being admired for what he saw as natural. Whereas Mil, whose wealth was new and came from his own work, took more obvious pride in the things he’d done. It meant Mil was slightly more reasonable about press things than Arden, something that still surprised Mattin to this day.
He peered at the picture of the two of them, quite young, helmets off, hands on that ridiculous giant trophy, and then quickly looked away. They had better pictures of that moment elsewhere in the house anyway.
The awards and plaques for their other work, post-retirement, post-coming out, post-sports world scandal, were also elsewhere in the house. There was a picture of them on a float at a Pride parade, holding hands, looking vaguely confused but nonetheless happy, that Mattin had to stop himself from staring at sometimes.
There were no displayed pictures of any of the news stories about Arden’s career-ending injury, or Mil’s subsequent retirement the next year when his contract had expired. There was one dramatically framed collage of articles and posts disparaging them after they had come out by announcing they’d been married for several years. The collage was the kind of thing Arden would have made. It was in the foyer next to one of Jola’s original paintings and some sort of proof of Ral’s—Mattin didn’t understand higher math, or any math, for that matter, but the proof certainly looked mysterious and impressive.
But Mattin thought Arden might take the collage down soon. Mattin had been working hard to show Arden just how much his presence mattered, how much his love for Mil was admired, how much they both meant to… people. He thought it was working. It was Arden who tweeted about queer rights occasionally, after all, or had Mattin do it. And it was Arden who looked warmly at Mil while Mil let Mattin put product in his hair and style it. And when Mil asked Mattin carefully, frowning, if Mattin knew anything about nail polish, it was Arden who had Mattin research things for them and for him to post about. Like support for trans organizations, or the enby flag colors, or what GNC meant, because he wanted to know, and to help others, but also, Mattin suspected, to be ready for whatever Mil decided.
The nail polish had not gone unnoticed. There was a spotlight on the two of them now, more than before when they had mostly been known only to sports people and to anyone else who might have seen and salivated over the Sports Illustrated Body Issue that had featured them a long time ago.
That was what Mattin was for. To help them. Guide them along and explain things and steer them away from the more hurtful comments and people, whenever he could. And to block and report and delete, and pass the more threatening messages on to the security company Arden and Mil employed, and then to block and report and delete some more, without Mil or Arden ever seeing what he saw.
Not to drink too much bubbles and be put to bed like a child… or a college student. He was a college student, or, well, recently had been, but he had never done anything like this.
Two jock types, two athlete superstars, of course, would have. Many times in their playing days, he would bet. No, not even bet. They had. They delighted in mentioning things to make him blush, clearly thinking Mattin was embarrassed and not completely, humiliatingly turned on.
There was a saving grace in there somewhere. Mattin didn’t feel grateful for it. Or for the glass of water on the nightstand next to his phone—charging but not with Mattin’s charger—or the bottle of headache pills, or for his glasses in the hard protective case Mil had bought for him when Mattin had crushed his last pair in his bag.
His bag, incidentally, was on the floor in front of the nightstand. There was no sign of his shoes or his coat.
He was fond of that coat. The two of them could chide him about how thin the lining was all they liked. It was gorgeous and elegant, and he’d gotten it at a consignment store and had it tailored, and the deep red looked good on him.
Knowing them, they’d try to replace it with a parka. A giant parka, and when Mattin would say something, it would be, “But, Mattin, we’re going skiing next month and you’ll need it.” With every expectation that he would go with them.
He would, of course.
He didn’t ski. Snow made him wet and miserable. He would have to work, at least a little, to make himself feel less guilty about it. But he already knew he’d end up in a cabin or chalet or something, watching Arden help his niblings build a snow fort, and seeing ski bunnies or whatever they were called leering at Mil, and accidentally falling asleep on the deck and waking up in front of the fireplace, covered in blankets.
They would carry him.
They could carry him, easily, either of them.
One of them had likely carried him in here.
He wasn’t thinking about it. And he would look at his phone when his head stopped hurting.
The water was delicious, but he choked on his third sip, suddenly recalling the night before, and standing in their kitchen--leaning in their kitchen—while they’d made him drink one of their bright sports drinks.
On the heels of that haunting memory, he abruptly realized he had to pee. He had to pee right now, because he’d consumed who knew how much champagne and all of a sports drink and maybe, something else? Something sweet?
He put down the glass and tumbled out of the bed to the floor, tangled in the duvet because he’d been tucked into it. He closed his eyes, not exasperated although he wished he was, and reached up, first for the water, then for the pills. He took two, emptied the glass, then opened his eyes to crawl to the bathroom.
It just seemed safer to crawl. Reasonable really. Like plopping down between two large, warm bodies to rest his head and try to sleep.
…Which he was certain he had not done. He would never. He was a twenty-six-year old with too much dignity, it was true, but he would never.
At least the sports drink meant he wasn’t actually at death’s door this morning, or afternoon, or whatever.
Mattin reached the bathroom, did his business, then turned to contemplate the obscenely large shower complete with three showerheads and a bench. He did not look at his reflection because he didn’t want to know what his hair was doing.
He peeled off his clothes, sweater, collared shirt, pants, underwear, then his rings and bracelets, and rubbed the indentations in his wrists before he turned the water on, hot, and stepped into the shower. He would stay in until he felt like a person again, and hopefully the water would wash away his memories as well.
If it hadn’t been a house run by Cael, he wouldn’t have trusted the soaps and shampoos. As it was, without access to his products, his hair would be a disaster of fly-aways. It always was.
Glitter swirled down the drain. Mattin hadn’t thought it was that sort of concert. A private event for the rich and a few lucky fans, sure, but nothing wild. He’d been in a VIP booth. With Arden and Mil, for fuck’s sake. The two people least likely to shower him in glitter ever.
Some might have been from his makeup, which he had done for the concert, but Mattin only ever did subtle looks, which did not include pink and gold glitter.
He burned down his toes at the memory of after the concert, of insisting he was hungry, and Arden, practically glowing with amusement, pulling in to a late-night drive-thru with Mattin falling over Mil in the backseat and talking fondly of chicken nuggets.
He’d called them chicken nuggies. Mortifying.
Dale, the bodyguard in the passenger seat, had been grinning. Mil had opened and held Mattin’s dipping sauce for him while Arden had said something, something Mattin couldn’t quite recall, but in that teasing tone of his, something about true love.
Probably directed at Mil, who was Arden’s true love and he made sure everyone knew it.
Then the restaurant employee had recognized Arden and given him a bunch of free stuff, which Arden accepted probably because he wasn’t going to tell an excited baby gay no.
He didn’t call them baby gays, but Mattin had explained memes to him, among other things, so Arden got the concept.
The free kids’ toys had included a sparkly wand with ribbons. Mattin assumed it had broken at some point. Been broken. By him.
He’d probably gotten glitter in the bed. He’d have to apologize to the cleaning staff.
And Arden and Mil, and Dale, for wasting their time. And…
“Oh no.” Mattin’s dismay carried over the spray of water. Arden had ordered a milkshake and Mattin… Mattin was fairly sure he’d started teasing him. About his milkshake. And the boys Arden brought to the yard with it. “Oh no,” Mattin said again, more than fairly sure now, because he’d had some of that milkshake. It had just suddenly seemed like the most delicious thing in the world and he had stared at it, and up at Arden, with interest, until Arden had very solemnly handed it to him.
The good news was, no other employer would tolerate that.
The bad news was, Mattin was going to get teased about it until the end of time, which was likely how long he would be working for them because he….
…wasn’t going to think about that now. He was hungover and naked in their home.
He wasn’t going to think about it ever, really. So this was fine. Even if the soft, warm way they joked with him made him hot and flustered and kept him from sleeping, sometimes, when he thought about it in his bedroom-slash-apartment, and now it was going to get even worse. Or better. No, worse.
A sensible person, which Mattin was, wouldn’t have agreed to go to the concert at all, even if it was music he loved and the small venue was ideal because he wouldn’t have to deal with crowds. A sensible person wouldn’t have had more than the one glass of champagne, even though Cael and Jola had separately both encouraged him to have more fun, and definitely wouldn’t have felt so privately pleased to have both Arden and Mil serving as his escorts and watching him so fondly that one would think their favorite pastime was indulging him.
Mattin was sensible. He had always been sensible… except for possibly some of his clothing choices, but he was really not much to look at and nice clothes made him feel better about it. He’d survived this long without winter gloves and he refused to wear shorts in the summer with his skinny legs no matter how hot it got. In one area, Mattin was not practical.
Just the one.
Okay, possibly also his choice of going to grad school, although he’d lucked into this job because of that, so that was something.
But he was sensible everywhere else. Which was why he didn’t dwell on impossible things or spend more than a moment thinking about the living, breathing warmth that fluttered in his chest like a dove of hope every time he walked into this house and two particular men smiled at him.
They were legends. Icons. Incomparably rich, far, far beyond Mattin’s comfortable family background. Gorgeous enough to model. Famous. Loving. Generous. Funny. Older and far more worldly than he was. And they were devoted to each other in a way that made him happy to witness, even now. Mil could have kept playing for a few more years but had retired because he liked playing with Arden, and had wanted to spend more time with him while he recuperated. Arden, in his way, was readying defenses for whatever the public might throw at Mil next. They protected and defended each other, supported each other, and it was beautiful and it hurt, all at the same time, because they trusted Mattin with protecting them too.
Mattin turned off the water, and stood, dripping, for several moments, before he sighed and reached for a towel. He used that on his hair, resigned to it being a rat’s nest. He’d chopped it short last year and Mil still made indignant noises about it, although Mattin’s hair was already long enough to fall into Mattin’s face if he didn’t add product to hold it in place.
His eye makeup had stayed immaculate despite the shower. Everything else was gone. Mattin was pale and freckled with bright hints of eyeliner that was supposed to make his rather ordinary brown eyes pop. He was on the scrawny side, with no muscle tone to speak of, although he was never going into the gym to try for any.
He slipped on his pants and his shirt but didn’t button either as he made his way back to the bed, and to his phone. He had ear plugs in his pants pockets, which at least explained why his hearing was only slightly muffled today.
It had not occurred to him to wear ear plugs. The ear plugs had been a gift.
They were very thoughtful, the two of them. He pretended he was flushed because of the heat of the shower as he grabbed his phone.
He hoped he had at least done some of his job last night and posted something. Truthfully, except for an occasional consultation about terminology, Mattin suspected he wasn’t needed anymore. At least, not for his original job function. He was almost a social secretary now, although Cael handled a lot of that as well, and Jola sometimes sent her assistant’s assistant over to help whenever an event or cause was big enough to warrant it.
With Mattin’s experience here, he could get a job elsewhere. And yet, not even to spare himself the sleepless nights and racing heart had he done anything close to looking for work.
Nor had Arden or Mil implied he should. But Mattin shoved that stupid dove right back into his chest and focused on finding his lip balm in his bag.
He wasn’t going to contemplate anything beyond that because he liked this job and he lo—liked them, Arden and Mil, so much, and he was a twenty-six-year old idiot who had once been a twenty-four-year old idiot when he met them, and he had no accomplishments accept his degree, and only a few crushes and hookups and disastrous dating attempts in his past, and if he stopped at all, even for a second, to consider the situation he had gotten himself into, he would probably faint.
Or have a meltdown of some kind in a Starbucks in the middle of ordering the afternoon coffee that Arden and Mil worried over him drinking too much of yet using the ridiculous Starbucks gift card they had gotten him for Christmas that suspiciously never seemed to run out of money. Because that meant something, or he thought it did, or he didn’t know. Didn’t want to know.
His head hurt.
It was fine.
It was all fine.
Mattin was a dog sitting at a table in a room on fire, but everything was fine.
He would go out there. If they were home and not… jogging or in the home gym Mattin wasn’t brave enough to venture into… they would tease him for wearing his rumpled clothes and being less than fashionable, and he would blush and try not to stammer and then hurry out the door.
Back to his little apartment that he’d never unpacked after moving into. It was wall-to-wall boxes of books and clothes, all opened, none of it put away because nothing to put it away into and no time to do it because Mattin was almost always here.
He was surprised he didn’t have his own room, or a regular guest room, to be honest.
Then he remembered that Cael had mentioned it once and Mattin had decided for his own mental health to ignore her.
And the hesitant attitude from those two afterward, which surely could not have been connected.
Mattin collapsed back onto the bed, then sat up just to grab his phone before falling backward again. He held it, just breathing, just existing as a forever guest in their lovely home while they were adorable and annoying and beautiful and in love with each other somewhere else.
Then he sighed and checked his messages.
He noted the time,12:15, PM, not morning, and then, blankly, frozen, suddenly numb, registered the number of notifications.
The lock screen was a picture of the parure of the Empress Marie Louise, so it was Mattin’s phone, not Arden’s or Mil’s, which they often handed to him.
Mattin had a Twitter account of his own, with a few hundred followers up until last year, when Arden, using his own Twitter for once instead of having Mattin do it, had discovered it and followed him and began to respond to Mattin’s very dull tweets and tag him in things. Then, Mattin gained a few thousand, still nothing remarkable. Mostly industry types and queer organizations, from what he could tell when he had quickly looked them over.
There was no reason for him to have that many notifications from Twitter alone.
Some of the others were missed calls. His mother. His sister. His uncle and unofficial head of the family. Cael--that was alarming.
Texts from some of his friends. Messages from Jola.
Google alerts that he had set up for Mil and Arden.
More messages from Jola.
Push notifications popped up from Insta, his secret Tumblr, and some of the subReddits he kept an eye on for professional reasons.
Mattin put a shaking hand to his forehead, which had gone clammy.
The only time he’d ever had anything close to this level of attention was early last year when Mil had posted a picture of Mattin and Arden when they had all been stuck overnight at an airport, and Mattin had fallen asleep against Arden’s shoulder. Arden had been half-asleep too, staring at the viewer, at Mil, sleepy adoration all over his absurdly handsome face. Mattin, his perfectly arranged hair smushed against Arden’s shoulder, his hand nearly in Arden’s lap, his body mostly covered in Mil’s coat, had probably been snoring. Mil had captioned it Peace in a crowded airport and it had gotten an incredible response.
It was a very good picture of Arden. Of course, Arden didn’t take bad pictures.
The next day, Mil had claimed he had no idea how Instagram worked. He said he’d thought it was Snapchat.
He didn’t even have Snapchat. He’d never had Snapchat. Mattin had been too embarrassed to even accidentally be in that picture that he hadn’t pushed it.
He skimmed the messages from his family.
His mother’s said, I hope you drank some water
Mattin opened one of his email accounts, the business one, then closed it when he saw the number of unopened emails.
His personal account had an email from Jola. Subject: Open this first, you silly, panicking duck
Dangerous, but also probably good advice. Jola had never steered him wrong from the moment she’d contacted Mattin after some party of hers and apologized if her brother and her “sweet but looming” brother-in-law had frightened him away from all future gatherings of hers.
Mattin hadn’t the slightest idea what she was talking about, until the next time he was in her apartment and introduced, properly, to her brother and her brother-in-law. Mattin didn’t much like parties, and had been overwhelmed by the noises and the crush of people, and had briefly found himself in a corner, blocked, or shielded from the rest of the room by two intimidatingly large, attractive older men who had talked about… honestly he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember what he’d said, either, in the presence of two men like that, polite though they had been. He’d fled the party at his first chance to do so.
Apparently, Arden and Mil had worried to Jola afterward that they’d “frightened some tiny friend of hers who’d been hiding in the corner.”
Mattin tightened his mouth even in this terrible moment at tiny. Although ‘tiny nerd hiding in the corner’ was probably exactly how he had seemed to them. Maybe how he still seemed to them.
Inside Jola’s email was a winking emoji and a link.
Mattin recognized the web address of a trashy celebrity “news” site and winced even before he clicked the link.
He took a moment, maybe two, to look at the first image as it loaded, to stare and feel… something… something not good. Something like sick terror. Horror. Soul-crushing fear as his heart was laid bare.
Then he was up and off the bed, phone in hand, tearing out of the room barefoot with damp hair, his shirt and pants still unbuttoned.
There had always been rumors. No, not always, but since shortly after Jola had introduced them by saying, “Mattin was a friend of a friend, and then a friend, and then I finally got him to come to a party and you two scared him off. Which is a shame,” she added, louder, over their objections, while Mattin gaped at the couple in front of them and finally realized who they were, “because Mattin studies pop culture.”
“He is pop culture,” Mil had said, looking over Mattin from Mattin’s Pride Converse to his glittering Hellmo t-shirt over a long-sleeved, collared shirt with sparkling pinstripes to his, at the time, long, plaited hair that showed off the silver ear cuffs his friend in art school had specially made for him because Mattin was too much of a baby about pain to pierce his ears.
“He studied it, and history. It’s his field,” Jola had corrected Mil in a particular tone, and then abandoned Mattin to the clutches of two of the most well-known queer figures in the country, who had apparently desperately needed help managing their new notoriety.
The first few months had been Mattin remembering how to speak, and think, in their presence, and the two of them being utterly confused by not only Mattin and his clothes, but apps and memes and nearly anything about the LGBTQ rights movement except for whatever they’d seen in movies. They did like movies. They weren’t completely outside of popular culture; they just had been living together in secret for so long that they didn’t really have the language or tools to be a part of anything else. But they had wanted to. They’d wanted to help others.
Once Mattin had realized that… he would have done anything for them. The rest had followed shortly after that. He should mind, but he never had, letting them take over most of his life with very little effort to stand his ground.
What was he going to do? Go back to the apartment that he’d never even decorated, or go shopping with Arden to convince him to wear better suits—something the entire world should thank Mattin for? Get an entry-level underpaid job on a failing magazine if he was lucky, or sit on a park bench in Montreal, freezing his butt off but not even minding much because Mil was asking him, almost shyly, about all the pretty things Mattin wore and would it be silly if Mil ever wore anything like that?
And even when they were annoying… Mattin didn’t find himself too annoyed.
“What if I need to TikTok?” Mil would ask, deadpan, and Mattin would know that Mil knew he was saying it wrong and still, Mattin would sigh and get in the car, or on the plane, or end up on their couch with them while they watched whatever.
“Nobody needs to TikTok,” Mattin would answer. But he’d be there anyway.
So there were rumors. Had been, nearly from the start, even though Mattin was cute at best, and Mil and Arden were obscenely handsome and obviously over-the-top devoted to each other, and even if they were interested in others, Mattin had never seen any evidence of it. If they were—a big if—judging from everything, tiny, unathletic nerds who hid in corners would not be their type.
Since he had no idea where they were, Mattin went downstairs first, past Arden’s office, through the sun room, which was just a living room with a bunch of windows, past the actual living room with its giant, comfortable couch that he could have slept on just fine, beyond the massive dining room and then into the kitchen.
Where he stopped, because they were at one end of a kitchen counter, in jogging clothes, Arden in his knee brace, Mil with his hair in a little ponytail. Mil was pouring smoothies from a blender into two cups.
They stopped as well when they saw Mattin, panting, dripping, disheveled, in the doorway. Almost as one, both of their gazes traveled down over the rest of him.
Mattin belatedly pulled his shirt closed and held it with one hand.
The image from the article flashed before his eyes. He briefly wished his head had exploded.
“Sleeping Beauty is awake at last,” Arden offered first, into the strange, tense silence that had fallen. He didn’t look at Mil, but he didn’t need to. They could communicate seemingly telepathically.
“Cinderella,” Mil replied, not quite grunting. Neither of them took their eyes off Mattin.
“Cinderella?” Arden echoed, questioning, then nodded. “Ah, because of the night out.”
Their eyes were practically twinkling. They were both sweaty. Arden had a sprinkling of gray in his dark hair. Mil, for all that people found him scary, had smile lines at the corners of his eyes. They were in sweatpants. It wasn’t fair. It made Mattin want to do something. Something wild, by his standards, but tame by theirs, he was sure. Something… like what he’d done last night.
He had only looked at the one picture, but one was enough.
Someone around the VIP booth had taken it on their camera. It wasn’t as good as one of Mil’s pictures, but still clear.
Mattin, on a long, velvet couch, not even remotely glancing down toward the stage because he’d been too busy touching Arden’s face—the scar, the scar on one side from the violent, terrifying game they loved. The scar that Mattin always wanted to touch and apparently finally had—with his other hand gently holding Mil’s hand at his waist, where Mil must have been trying to steady him, and both of them looking at him in a way that people were going to see and misinterpret.
The rumors must be out of control now, all because Mattin couldn’t control himself after too much champagne.
“I’m sorry.” Oh, his voice was rough, and he imagined all the things he must have said, shouted, to them during the concert, and cringed before dropping his head. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean for any of this to happen and I don’t know how to fix it because I’m not actually a social media consultant! I’m sorry. We can… Jola knows… we can discuss it. Is Cael here? Maybe she can think of… or you could fire me, I guess. Discreetly, when things die down. I mean, I assume they will.”
He pulled in a breath, then realized he was the only one speaking.
He looked up. Their expressions hadn’t changed, although Mil was frowning a little. He gave a start when he noticed Mattin watching him, then finished pouring their smoothies before putting the blender down.
“Oh no,” Mattin said as he realized. “You don’t know yet.” They must have slept late as well, then gone out for a run without checking their phones. They were older. They did things like that. “You haven’t looked at the news?” he asked weakly.
Mil’s frown cleared. “Oh,” he looked at Arden, then back at Mattin, “that.”
“So you have?” Mattin raised his head, and thought maybe his hangover was slowing his thinking. “You’re not… mad? Or upset? This isn’t…” Mattin clutched his shirt tighter. “This isn’t like the other rumors.”
The rumors that one of them and Mattin were having an affair. The gossip sites, and Reddit, could never seem to decide which one. It varied from day to day. Sometimes, someone would posit that they were both using Mattin for a human sex toy, a rumor Mattin had carefully never mentioned to them because it was patently ridiculous—one had only to look at them and then look at Mattin—but also because Mattin suspected he would give everything away if he even tried to joke about a threesome with them.
Mattin was twinkish looking and obviously gay, and they were two handsome queer gentlemen slowly aging in hot zaddihood who people liked to fantasize about. It wasn’t personal. Yes, they were all close, and yes, Arden and Mil liked to spoil Mattin in the strangest ways, but they did that with people they cared about. Mattin didn’t doubt they cared about him. Just… not like that.
“Usually they imply one of us is fucking you,” Arden commented, out of nowhere, and then calmly took a drink from his smoothie before continuing, “Although lately, they have been mixing it up by implying we’re all in a secret relationship.”
“To be fair, you and I were once in a secret relationship,” Mil pointed out. “So it’s not entirely off base to suggest we’d do it again.”
“True,” Arden went on thoughtfully. “But they don’t know our dear heart very well if they think that he would let us use him.”
Mattin, unfortunately, suspected that he would. Thankfully, or not, they had never tested him on it.
“Some have been suggesting the opposite.” Mil briefly scowled at his smoothie. “That Sass is using us.”
Mil’s nickname for Mattin was much rarer to hear. Mattin took a deep breath, then choked on it.
“Using you?” He’d never thought they’d checked the message boards. But they had or… Jola had done it for them. That Mattin was both a scheming homewrecker and greedy, grasping gold digger was a belief some had. “They think that I,” he waved over himself with the hand still clutching his phone, “am using you two?”
“If only.” Arden sighed.
They both focused on Mattin at the same time. Mil looked as if he wanted to sigh too.
Mattin swallowed. “It’s all absurd,” he said the way he answered all questions about them whenever anyone dared to ask him. “You could have anyone,” he added that just for them.
Their faces went blank. Both of them. In unison.
Mattin straightened up just to scowl at them. “Stop that. My head hurts. I don’t like it.”
He hadn’t meant to whine.
They both came sweeping forward, drawing him into the room and urging him onto a stool by the counter. Mil took Mattin’s phone—with some effort—and put it down before handing Mattin his smoothie. “Drink. It’s got protein.”
“Don’t need protein,” Mattin grumbled, but took a sip of peach and banana smoothie. He looked at Arden. “I’m sorry I took your milkshake.” The twinkle returned to Arden’s dark eyes. Mattin was much too tired and stressed to deal with that. He turned to Mil. “Thank you for holding my dipping sauce.” Mil smiled, pleased as punch. Mattin couldn’t deal with that, either. He looked down. “Did you… um, did you two see the article?”
“’Article’ is a strong term for a bunch of pictures and some innuendo,” Arden remarked.
“The whole internet has seen it, I think,” Mil answered.
“Not helping, my love,” Arden chided. They exchanged another look before turning their focus once again on Mattin.
“Oh,” Mattin realized in a faint voice. He pushed the smoothie away so he could drop his head onto the counter. “So, you saw.”
Saw Mattin gaze tenderly at Arden like that. Saw Mattin holding Mil’s hand possessively to him. “You saw,” he said again.
“You having a good time?” Mil suggested, in an extremely unconvincing tone.
Mattin huffed a laugh despite himself, then sighed. “Too good a time,” he wailed softly. “Wait,” he sat up, ignoring his hot and probably red face. “How long have you two known all the rumors? Since when? I make sure to—I don’t let you see those.”
“There’ve been rumors and stories about us since our early days,” Arden informed him gravely.
“People tell us, and we know where to look to confirm.”
“Even if we hadn’t noticed, Jola and Cael did. Fuck me, even Ral noticed.” Mil frowned. “Drink some more. You were awfully pale when you burst in here.”
Mattin ignored this. “And you don’t mind?” he demanded incredulously. “The love you’ve fought so hard for, and people thought one or both of you was throwing it away on… on your assistant? Like this is a gay Lifetime movie?”
“I don’t think they make gay Lifetime movies.” Arden pushed the smoothie insistently toward him.
Mattin, scowling, had another sip. It was delicious but he didn’t care about protein right now.
“I wouldn’t say we didn’t mind.” Mil seemed more thoughtful. “After all, it was hardly fair to you. Must cut into your love life quite a bit having everyone think you’re ours.”
Oh, it was cheating when they both studied him without the twinkle in their eyes.
“Yours,” Mattin heard himself repeating, strained. “What?” He was tired and thirsty and seemed to have lost track of the conversation. “They think I’m a homewrecker is what they think.”
Mil disagreed. “They only thought that at first.”
“Alternative possibilities popped up fairly early on, although it still took people a while. Normally, gossip and speculation is bullshit, as Jola says. But in this case, I think they were perceptive.”
“Perceptive, my ass.” Mil paused to scoff at his husband. “You just have the subtlety of a tank.”
Arden was so, so mild. “I can bring up the pictures, my love. We can compare subtlety.”
Mil shut his mouth, then opened it again to add, “So we weren’t subtle.” He shrugged. “It’s not like we’d ever done this before. Not like this.”
Mattin, in the first smart thing he’d done in about twenty-four hours, did not ask, “Like what?” He said, “You’ve seduced plenty of people, from what you’ve told me and others have hinted.” Then he rescinded his congratulations to himself for being smart since he was now thinking—again—about them seducing others, and hid his face by drinking more of Mil’s smoothie.
“Mattin, we never wanted you to be uncomfortable.” Arden’s low voice brought Mattin’s attention back up. Arden met his stare. “We thought you weren’t, even if that wasn’t what you wanted. You trusted us, and you were comfortable enough around us to relax.”
“To do what you did last night,” Mil joined in, drawing Mattin’s attention to him.
What Mattin had done was drape himself over them. Steal their food. Touch them. Let them touch him. Gaze at them adoringly. Be gazed at adoringly in ret--
Mattin ought to say something to remind himself that these were his employers. Except he had been doing the draping, always, every time, not the other way around. If he had been careful not to look, they had been equally careful, in their way, not to press, not to touch.
“Mattin,” Arden said, and Mattin again found himself warm, his heart racing while both of them fixed him with a look. A look he had seen before. Many times. Daily. And in that picture. That one image he had allowed to load and been so frightened by his own clearly visible love that he had come running out here without stopping to view the rest, or to consider how the camera had caught them looking back at him the same way.
“What is happening?” He thought he was shaking. If he was, it wasn’t the hangover. “This is… I don’t think about this. No matter how much it feels like I should, like it’s… You always look at me like that. No, no not always. Not at first. Since I’m not sure when.”
“There’s plenty of pictures for us to check, if you’d really like to know.” Arden didn’t appear to be joking. “I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you about each of us, if you’d like. Maybe not right now. You really were very pale.”
“I didn’t—I was trying not to.” Mattin needed them to know that. “I didn’t want to upset you. Get in the way. Be as in love with you as everyone else,” he added, whispering, before raising his voice again. “But they kept giving me champagne, and you have this way of looking at me that makes it hard to be sensible.”
Mil grinned as if that was very funny, but wiped it from his face when Mattin narrowed his eyes.
“Been looking at you that way for a while now. Talked about it with Cael, even.”
Mattin twitched. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, yes.” Arden’s smile was just a little sad. “At one point, Mil--we—were convinced we’d made you uncomfortable, and you would leave. We thought you’d want to go back to school, or get a job with someone less demanding than the two of us.”
They were not anyone’s definition of demanding. But Mattin didn’t get a chance to object.
“We’ve each got more than a decade on you, and we were doing our best to hide how, let’s say infatuated, we were. But maybe we didn’t do a good job. So we thought, after a while, that you would leave.”
“But you didn’t.” Mil’s grin returned. “You stayed and you seemed to like it, and every time he’d--we’d—get you something or invite you somewhere, you’d go along with it.”
“But you could leave,” Arden took over, naturally as breathing, and reached out to brush his fingertips across Mil’s cheek as if wanting to calm him. “So we decided to try.” He paused. “Cael basically told us to try or shut up about it.”
“Oh, no,” Mattin said again, weakly.
“T-b-h,” Mil said, spelling it out loud in a way that he knew would normally make Mattin sputter, “we tried and you didn’t do anything back. We took that for a polite no, whatever your reasons. So I’m really not sure why you came bolting in here or why you look like you might faint.”
“What?” Mattin rubbed his tired eyes. “What?”
The two of them glanced at each other. Arden took over again. “We were more obvious. Weren’t we more obvious? I know we already took you to get coffees and things, and maybe we should have let you go on the weekends so you could,” he took a deep breath, “try dating other people, but you seemed to like our weekend plans.”
Other people. Mattin pointed at both of them, one at a time. “I haven’t been dating anyone else,” he said, which was not even close to what he’d meant to say, and he didn’t appreciate their wide, relieved smiles no matter how beautiful they were. “Okay, a) your weekend plans are sitting on the couch whenever you can get away with it and I’m pretty sure that’s not how you date people… at least not in the beginning. And b) I’m here all the time anyway, so how was I supposed to know you were… you were… that was dating? You were trying to date me?”
They didn’t even look ashamed of themselves. “Well, you already have the security codes and our phone passwords, and you practically live here even if you won’t take a room.” Mil seemed disgruntled at this in particular. “Or share ours. How else were we supposed to show it? This isn’t like sneaking around a hotel or using a threesome as an excuse to—” He stopped. “We took you with us on our vacation last summer.”
Mattin had joined them for a few days only at the place they’d rented by a lake. They’d invited him. Jola had told him he needed to rest and the house had an extra room anyway.
Jola. He should have known.
“Oh my god, she ships us,” Mattin murmured as he realized, then tossed his head. “That was a family trip!”
Arden somehow nodded and shrugged at the same time. “We thought we should make it clear, more clear, to you. In case you thought it was only fucking we were after.”
“I mean, when we first met you, we wouldn’t have said no to that.” Mil’s eyes had regained their twinkle. “You were a sexy little thing. Still are.”
Mattin pointed at him again but couldn’t manage words until a moment later. “What sort of old person dating method is that?” he demanded incredulously. And was about to go off on the subject of family vacations as dates when he realized he’d stripped the light from their faces.
“Ah,” Arden clucked his tongue and turned to Mil. “We’re too old. Well, that’s not a total surprise at least.”
He was doing that thing he did where he made something a joke that wasn’t funny, like that collage in the foyer.
“Shut up!” Mattin snapped at him, then put his hand over his mouth in surprise at himself.
But they shut up, watching him, looking at him, even now, with all that affection and fondness and peace.
Like he made them happy, despite what he’d said. Despite what he’d done. Maybe because of it.
Mattin rubbed his temples and tried to think.
“Can I get you something to eat?” Arden broke the silence, almost timidly. It was fake, but Mattin appreciated the effort. “Maybe some oatmeal?”
“You know he’ll want a pastry,” Mil chimed in.
Arden inclined his head. “You ate the last croissant this morning. I suppose I could go get some more. The bakeries must still have something.”
“You are not going to drive into town just to get me a pastry,” Mattin ordered faintly.
“You could come with us.” The offer was issued in a blank, careful tone. Arden kept his voice soft.
“Get brunch, or lunch. Or just the coffee and a snack.” The way he watched Mattin was unfair. The way both of them slowly let the gleam return to their gazes while Mattin stared at them and obviously wanted them. “You know, if your head hurts, it’s probably the lack of caffeine. I mean, you mainline the stuff.” Arden turned to Mil. “Do you know how to work that espresso machine thing in the corner?”
Mil briefly considered the mass of shining steel. “No. But I can make regular coffee… if Cael shows me where the grounds are.”
“Shush.” Mattin was sort of certain they were mocking him, but also that it was loving mockery. He slid off the stool to his feet. “I can make it.” Yes, he was shaking, but he didn’t think he would faint. He shuffled around them to the coffee machine Cael used and got out the canister of grounds and a filter and nodded his thanks when they followed him over and one of them got him some water.
He was still not entirely sure what was happening. But that was months of denial slapping him in the face. Months of telling himself that what was, wasn’t.
“I don’t want to go out.” Mattin kept his attention on the coffee machine, but waved at himself as he talked. “Look at me. I’m not going out like this. Unless… unless you want to make it very clear that we aren’t… like that. Seeing me now would definitely stop people from believing it.”
“I don’t think you’re seeing you like we’re seeing you right now.” Arden’s rumble was dangerous. “Out of curiosity, are you even wearing underwear?”
Mattin shivered and stared hard at the coffeepot as it bubbled to life.
“People will use this to denigrate you more, you know.” He had to say it. “God forbid someone do something outside traditional heteronormative—”
“Mattin.” Mil cut him off there. “Is it the worst you’ve been afraid of all this time? Not us?”
Mattin took a deep, deep breath. “They will come for you, hold it against you.”
Arden was suddenly in Mattin’s field of vision, closer, but not touching. “You think we didn’t consider that?”
Arden considered everything. That anyone had ever thought he was purely a brute was their failure to see the obvious. He was a brute, definitely, but not only a brute.
Mattin bobbed his head, accepting that much, even if the two of them might not realize the whole extent of it. “They’ll come for me, too.” The room, the whole house, seemed to go quiet. “They’ll hate me. I’m not… famous like you. I’m not on your level. They’ll wonder why. They’ll be worse than they are now. And it’s just… was… a rumor.”
“Should’ve known he was hiding all of that.” Mil was behind him, speaking softly. “You don’t have to do anything, Sass. You do know that, I hope.”
“Not a thing,” Arden agreed. “Privately or publicly. But especially not publicly. If this is too much, we aren’t going to push it. Like we said before, we figured you would leave someday and we wanted to try, if that was the case. It’s whatever you want.”
Mattin raised his head. “What I want?”
He had to twist a little to see both of them. Mil shrugged. “You know what we want.”
He didn’t. Or, he hadn’t, back when he hadn’t been looking or thinking about it. If his stares and blushes hadn’t been hidden, then they’d known, known at least that he was attracted to them, and they could have seduced him, or fucked him, or used him like the rumors implied. Instead these…complete dorks… these older and supposedly worldly gentlemen who had done more partying in their younger days than Mattin would ever dream of… had taken him to brunches and a concert and… on a family vacation of all things. To a lake. Where they had made him roast marshmallows, and asked if his room was comfortable, and brought him to their room because it had a deck and balcony overlooking the water and they’d wanted him to see the view.
Mattin had a feeling his eyes were wide.
“It wasn’t about the view, oh my god.” He hadn’t wanted it to be. The dove certainly hadn’t thought so.
His face was burning hot.
“Really?” he asked them both, lightheaded and alarmingly breathless.
Arden raised his hand and placed it on Mattin’s shoulder. His fingertips was warm where they grazed Mattin’s throat. Mattin tried to breathe normally, then gave up. He put his hand over Arden’s, holding it there, blinking rapidly before looking up at Mil. Mil dragged his gaze from where Arden was touching Mattin to meet Mattin’s stare, and it was an obvious struggle for him to do it. Mattin stood on his toes, just a bit, enough to let him put his palm against Mil’s cheek and then to sweep his thumb across Mil’s mouth before he caught himself.
He swallowed, then pulled his hands down and turned back around to face the coffee machine.
He felt as if he was panting. He probably was.
“I don’t want to be public.” They needed to remember who they were dealing with. Mattin didn’t have a world famous nature. He stayed in the corner. “Especially not right now. Today, I mean. I was drinking last night, so some will say you took advantage while I was drunk, or something.” A certain section of the population liked to think the worst, especially of queer people. Dealing with them was part of Mattin job and he would do it to protect Mil and Arden no problem, but he saw no reason to bring this down on them as well.
“That’s your concern?” Mil’s tone was puzzled, or maybe proud.
“Okay.” Arden took charge, agreeing as if Mattin was negotiating. Maybe he was. Mattin would be the last to know, at this point. “But we aren’t ashamed of you, or hiding you. And nothing is going to make those rumors go away completely, because we can’t change how we look at you. You might have noticed.”
“Ah.” Mattin squirmed and shivered and glanced over and up to each of them in turn. “I can’t change how I look at you, either,” he admitted, and reveled in their smiles. “That picture alone said it all.”
“It’s a video,” Mil informed him. “The article just cut it into pictures, but there’s a link to…” He trailed off at whatever Mattin’s expression was. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Cute as a bug, you were.”
“A bug,” Mattin echoed. “Is that… a compliment?”
“You only had three small glasses of champagne and one shot of… something pink?” Arden seemed confused about whatever Mattin had thrown back on his wild night. But also just amused. “You’re a lightweight. It’s adorable. Please never change.”
Mattin did his best to scowl at him. But he wasn’t feeling very scowly, even with the headache. He turned back to the coffee instead, but peeked at the two of them only a second later.
“What?” he asked when they didn’t speak or move.
“You haven’t actually given us any sort of answer,” Arden prompted him, then paused to frown. “If you aren’t ready to, that’s fine.”
They didn’t look fine. They looked impatient and antsy. They got that way on Christmas morning too.
Oh. Mattin was like Christmas morning to them.
That was… incomprehensible.
They’d been waiting all this time. For him. He hadn’t even done his hair. “I’m calling the shots?” he wondered, very doubtful and a lot confused.
Mil snorted. “Don’t you always?”
Mattin turned to him in disbelief, because they had bundled him off to join him on their outings numerous times. But his heart was racing, leaping, jumping into his throat until he opened his mouth.
“The dove,” he murmured, and stared with all the affection in the world at their matching bemused expressions.
He had adored them for everyone to see, even if he denied it later. And, denial or not, no one would believe him, because they were looking back at him with what Jola might have described as wonder. They were idiots. Mattin lo—like—no, he could say it now. Or at least think it. He loved them.
He took a breath. “I think,” he began, serious and nervous and warm to his toes, “that you should touch me now.”
Their eyes lit up.
Arden raised an eyebrow. “Just touch you?”
Mattin shrugged, unconvincingly casual but also not caring. “We can start there.”