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“Look, if you’re just gonna make fun of me—”

“No, please! I wanna hear the rest of this,” Patrick says, forcing the laughter out of his voice and giving Shawsy an earnest look. When Shawsy greeted him at Tazer’s entryway with a beer and a bear hug, Patrick had asked how his summer was going. He hadn’t expected this long-winded spiel on all these kids movies he’d been re-watching with his little cousin and the hidden messages in them. He’d just spent ten minutes on The Brave Little Toaster, alone. Patrick has to wonder if other teams are like this.

Patrick glances around as Shawsy continues, surprised that no one else at this pre-convention get-together is game to listen in to the prime chirp material Shawsy’s spewing about Winnie the Pooh and premarital sex before he realizes they’ve probably already had an earful. Patrick can only take about five more minutes before he has to head over to the beer pong table for a breather. For their friendship’s sake.

He joins Sharpy sitting on the back of the couch watching Saader absolutely demolish Hammer. He’s been in touch with Sharpy pretty much all summer anyway, so there isn’t much catching up for them to do.

“Who knew Walt Disney was a Nazi, eh?” Sharpy says, not looking away from the game.

Patrick puts his head in his hand, “Shaw, man.”

Sharpy’s looking pretty well on his way to Margaritaville. His hair is artfully askew and he smells like Cuervo. Some kind of shots Seabs was pouring became a hit, apparently. Patrick has to give Sharpy a little credit, since they’re living radically different summers. It’s the only time of year Sharpy gets to be a full time dad, and now with Sadie it’s double the fun, quintuple the work, apparently. And he’s only just escaped trade speculation hell. This is probably one of only a handful of nights he’s been able to really indulge.

Sharpy slings an arm around Patrick's shoulders, managing to keep their balance on the back of the couch.

“Good to have you back in town, Peeks. The girls’ll want to see you.”

Patrick loves hanging with Maddy, so he doesn’t pause before giving a little grin and saying, “I think I can make that happen.”

Patrick glances around.

“Is Richards here?” he asks. He hasn’t had a chance to welcome him to the team yet.

“Nah, Toes says he won’t be here till the night before the convention.”

They’re jostled when Bicks and Steeger throw themselves down onto the sectional to boot up Jonny’s Wii. Sharpy wiggles obnoxiously, his ass pretty much on Bicks’ shoulder. Bicks doesn’t even look up. “If you fart on me, Sharpy, I swear to god.”

Sharpy just cackles (definitely in Margaritaville) and keeps working on his beer. Patrick hopes his self-preservation instincts are still intact because Bicks is looking jacked from his offseason routine.

Patrick's considering getting up to replace his beer. The last fourth of his bottle of Goose Island has been sweating on his khakis for a good ten minutes, so he kills it and heaves himself off the couch.

He’s never really over at Jonny’s. Looking around, he can’t tell if the place has changed at all since Jonny moved in. He knows most of the shit in Jonny’s place has to have come from his previous condo, but only because he knows Jonny and how much time he’d be willing to spend picking out new pillowcases (very little). The last time they were really joined-at-the-hip, come-to-my-place-after-practice type friends, Jonny was still staying with Seabs.

Speak of the devil, “Drink this.” Seabs comes up from behind Patrick to hand him a shot glass. He eyes it warily.

“Come on, it’s the same shit Sharpy’s been drinking all night,” Seabs prods him.

“That supposed to make me feel better?”

Seabs gives him a look, “Just fucking drink it.” Patrick knocks the shot back.

He looks down at the empty glass, pleasantly surprised. “What—”

“Secret,” Seabs insists, looking very pleased with himself. “But I can tell you it’s tequila.”

Patrick hands the glass back, “Get this shit away from me. Dangerous.”

Seabs takes the glass off his hands easily, still smug.

Patrick perks up, “Hey! Does it have a name yet?” Patrick has always wanted a drink named after him, for as long as he can remember.

“No,” says Seabs emphatically. Patrick feels like he’s answering a question other than the one Patrick asked.

“Pff,” is the only response Patrick can bother with. He walks past Seabs over to the kitchen where Jonny and Leddy are talking about fishing. He bumps hips with Jonny and gives Leddy a shoulder pat greeting on his way to the fridge, gets nods from them both. He bends down to grab a bottle from the back of the fridge out of habit, even though they’re all probably equally cold by now.

“… until my dad finally looked on the boat, like, three days later. You cannot even imagine the smell, man.”

Patrick can hear Jonny chuckling distractedly behind his back. When Patrick straightens, Jonny’s saying, “D’you have a picture of it? Send it to me. Fuck, thirty pounds.”

Patrick's opening his bottle when a hand comes to rest between his shoulder blades.

“How’ve you been, buddy?”

Jonny’s got a backwards cap and a relaxed slant to his eyes. His face isn’t pink, though, so if he’s fallen prey to Seabs’ dark tequila magic, he hasn’t done more than one shot. Neither of them should get too shitfaced tonight, they’ve got a big presser on their contract extension tomorrow.

Patrick thinks back to the early years of Jonny’s captaincy, when he did team bonding like it was being recorded for stats. He was never the robot he was made out to be, but he certainly felt every ounce of the pressure that was on him. Jonny’s gotten so much better. He looks good from the first half of the summer, too. Tan, bulky. Wearing the same damn boat shoes Patrick's wearing.

Patrick makes a noncommittal noise, “Can’t complain, can’t complain. Been on the lake some. Got caught up on movies… Shaved every now and then,” he adds, pointedly eyeing Jonny’s stubble. They’ve kept in touch about re-signing earlier in the summer but mostly through emails and quick phone calls. Clearly, no one has been giving Jonny shit in his stead.

“Hey, fuck you, not all of us commemorate summertime by getting our eyebrows bleached. What the fuck is that, Peeks?” Jonny wiggles his fingers in the direction of Patrick's (unfortunately well-camouflaged) eyebrows.

“It’s the sun! The fucking sun! What, you want me wear an umbrella hat? I can’t help that shit!” Patrick pushes at Jonny’s shoulder. Jonny just keeps laughing as Patrick grumbles, pulls his own cap down to cover the cause of his shame.

“Aww, bud, it’s okay,” Jonny coos, smushing Patrick's cap down even further with a heavy hand on top of his head. When he turns it into a vague kind of noogie, Patrick ducks out of his hold, straightening his cap.

“It’s good to see you, man. You—”

Patrick's cut off by a loud clamor from the living room. When he and Jonny go into the living room, Mario Party has been paused and a spirited debate is going on around the pong table. Saader looks incensed.

“What, so I should be penalized for being the best? What the fuck, man,” he says to the ceiling in apparent disbelief.

Leddy pipes up, “Yeah, but where’s the fun if you win every time, huh?”

And then Shawsy jumps in. “It’s not about fun, it’s about the principle of the thing,” even though Shawsy’s not even that good at Beirut. “Us champions deserve a little more respect than that, I think.”

“Fuck you, Shawsy, as if you’re even the problem.” That’s Bicks, content to stir the pot from his seat on the couch.

So apparently, there was a motion to ban Saader, the pong messiah, from the game. Patrick grabs a barstool and settles in to watch. While Patrick's trying to decide if this argument is going to be entertaining enough to watch for however long it will inevitably go, Jonny pulls up a stool next to him. Jonny’s whole place just perpetually smells like new apartment, but Jonny himself smells the same as always. The combo of beer smell, Jonny smell, and Jonny’s fratty footwear must trigger some weird sensory memory for Pat, because he suddenly remembers this weird anecdote he hasn’t thought about in, like, five years.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” he calls, interrupting the verbal equivalent of a sixth grade slapfight going on between Leddy and Shawsy. “Jonny’s boys in college had this weird ass version they used to play. Right?” He glances over at Jonny but doesn’t wait for a response. “That’d even the playing field some.”

No one has jumped down his throat yet, so Patrick continues, “It’s like Beirut, plus pool Chicken, and some other random shit.”

After the requisite metric ton of Canadian and Midwestern shit he gets for calling the game by its goddamn name (Sharpy never tires of it, “Beiruuuut, Beiruuuut,” in this mocking sissy tone like the fucker didn’t go to college in motherfucking Vermont, what a faker), someone says, “Well how the fuck do you play it, then?”

Patrick turns to Jonny, who’s still looking a little stunned. “Uh.”

He recovers pretty quickly though, and sets down his beer to explain the rules with some complicated hand gesturing.

“It’s actually really fun,” he finishes. He looks cautiously psyched, with that little quirk at the corner of his mouth.

Sharpy suddenly hops off the couch, a little wobbly on the dismount. “Okay, then, teams! Teams! Four on each side, right, Cap’n?”

 

Ten minutes later, Patrick is sitting on Dunc’s shoulders, taking aim. He wants to go for the back row; those cups are double points. But if he hits Bicks they get a deduction. And if he somehow hits Jonny, who’s sitting on Bicks’ shoulders, then he has to switch and hold Duncs on his shoulders for his next turn. Or something. Which Patrick does not want to do. He makes his decision quick so Duncs doesn’t get worn out (ha, as if). Back row, right side, baby.

“Fuck yeah!” Patrick yells amidst the roars of delighted and less delighted expletives. He fist-pumps carefully and grabs the ball Duncs holds up for him, waiting for Bicks to finish drinking. From Bicks’ wince, it looks like the cup was one of the liquor ones Seabs had ‘secretly hidden’ around the table.

Patrick misses his second shot, but manages not to hit anybody. He dismounts from his mighty steed as Saader is hoisted onto Seabs’ shoulders beside him.

It’s Jonny’s shot now, and he clearly already knows the cup he wants to make. He wastes no time in neatly flicking his wrist to net a second row cup with a post-it on it.

There’s another loud roar—everyone in the room has picked a side, whether they’re playing or not. Patrick hopes Jonny’s neighbors are in Fiji or some shit. Jonny himself is grinning in this douchey/charming way he should copyright. He’s like a smugly delighted three year-old, mouth open as he soaks up the praise. He sways a little before tightening his thighs around Bicks’ neck to stabilize himself. Patrick is struck with the mental image of an anaconda strangling its prey.

Get out while you can, Patrick silently pleads with Bicks.

“Drink up, boys!” Since the cup had a post-it on it, Saader has to champ it, or something. And if he spills any on Seabs… something happens? This game is complicated. Jonny watches Saader down the beer avidly, pumping his fist. He is so into this.

The thing is.

The thing is, Patrick kind of broke the rules on this one. He and Jonny are bros, no question. They have each other’s back in pretty much every arena. But.

But he and Jonny stopped being the kind of friends who had solo hangouts all the time, the kind of friends who went out of their way, a while back. It’s not like they had a falling out or anything. Or if they had, Patrick didn’t know about it. To be honest, Patrick doesn’t really know what happened. A little ways into their second season with the Hawks, within a month of Jonny being named captain, Jonny just sort of... stopped. Whenever they saw each other, everything was still good. In the locker room, in hotel rooms, on the ice. But Jonny was withdrawing in that deliberate manner of his that didn’t let Patrick think he was imagining it for very long.

Jonny’s never been quite flagrant about his emotions, but he’s never managed subtlety either. No more invites to video game tournaments at Seabs’, no more passing the phone so Patrick could talk to Jonny’s mom. They had been emergency contact friends, talk about the afterlife at three AM friends, and then suddenly Jonny was treating him the same way he’d treat Steeger or Bolly.

Jonny would make a good captain. Already in their careers, Patrick had known Jonny wouldn’t do anything that would hurt the team. For a little while there, Patrick had thought that might be the only reason Jonny talked to him at all anymore. Maybe he’d done something to make Jonny flat-out hate him and Jonny was just keeping it together for the kids.

Whatever Jonny’s problem was, he was trying real hard to make things seem natural. Patrick never had the heart to confront him about it, too busy feeling sorry for himself and pretending not to care. He got over it, eventually.

But Patrick has to recognize, watching Jonny’s laughter across the beer pong table, that none of his friendships before Jonny or since ever gave him the same feeling of accomplishment, of fulfilment. None of his friendships since Jonny felt like a victory.

Patrick could force the entire OHL to take a shrimpy sixteen year-old seriously, could force a city to care about hockey again, but he wasn’t much inclined to force his friendship on someone who wasn’t reaching back anymore. So remembering this goofy college thing Jonny had told him about maybe once ever over half a decade ago and then making it happen feels more significant than it should. Feels like crossing a line. Yet Patrick can’t manage to make himself feel bad about it.

 

By the time they’re down to three cups left on the table (after multiple penalty refills, mandated by Sharpy, who was too tipsy to do anything but ref), everyone’s pretty sloppy. Jonny’s neck is flushed and Duncs’ hairline is looking (and feeling) a little sweaty from Patrick's perch on his shoulders. Someone (Steeger) hooked their iPhone up to Jonny’s sound system and put on a workout mix, so things are feeling pretty intense. There’s definitely money on this game, but Patrick can’t remember if any of it is his or not. Leddy’s supposed to be keeping track.

Jonny’s got his game face on, clearly having the time of his life. Patrick did that. Not the intensity—Patrick couldn’t control Jonny’s overgrown sense of competition if he wanted to. But the nostalgia and the silliness? That’s all Patrick.

There’s only one more cup for Patrick’s team to sink, but he and Saader have gone back and forth missing it for a few turns now. Fucking tequila. This time he’s got it in the bag, though. Showtime. He meets Jonny’s eyes as he takes aim, gives him a grin. Fuck yeah, Patrick’s the best at remembering shit and being a good bro. Patrick’s the best, period.

He sinks it.

The crowd goes wild, Duncs is lifting him up and down (probably just happy the game is finally over). Saader starts singing the Dagger at Shawsy, who flicks beer on him. Leddy presents Patrick with a cup—a shot glass messily taped to the bottom of an upside-down solo cup. Patrick does the shot (rum???), hoists his little cup, then passes it to Duncs who looks like he could use a shot. Patrick isn’t the heaviest of the bunch, but he sure as shit isn’t light.

Saader’s insisting they have their names ‘engraved’ on the cup, but Patrick's beyond caring. He flops onto the sectional and waits for the room to right itself. There it goes.

Jonny comes into his line of sight and drops down next to him, deliberately squashing Patrick’s outstretched knee.

“So pissed at you.” Jonny’s shaking his head slowly. He’s at least as sloppy as Patrick is, after all those ‘penalty shots.’

“Naaaah,” Patrick says, leaning so that he’s pushing shoulder to shoulder with Jonny. “I made your fucking night.”

When Patrick turns his head, Jonny’s doing that thing where he’s trying not to grin and is totally failing at it. His eyes go all squinty. Adorable.

Apparently, Jonny can’t come up with a comeback, because all he does is shove Patrick's face and steal his cap.

“Hey!”

Jonny holds his hat out of Patrick's reach, saying, “Next time, when it’s a regulation game, played properly,” Jonny emphasizes, like the tequila addition had compromised the integrity of both the game and its players, “I’ll congratulate you. But until then, you should know your victory is empty. This,” Jonny tries to keep a straight face as he gestures at Saader and Hammer singing ‘We Are the Champions’ and Leddy actually writing their names on the solo cup, “is aaaaall empty. Ya gotta play it right to win it, Kaner.”

“Your mother would be ashamed,” Jonny adds for good measure, but Patrick’s already laughing. Jonny’s looking pleased with himself, but, please, everyone knows Patrick’s an easy laugh.

“Gimme my hat, douchebag,” Patrick says, at length.

To Patrick's surprise, Jonny actually does. He fits it snugly onto Patrick's head, adjusting it properly and everything.

Patrick is high on that all week long.

*

So maybe Patrick has a Jonny problem, whatever. That’s not exactly brand new information. A couple summers ago, they’d crashed out of the playoffs and Patrick crashed out of wanting to be responsible for himself. After some regrettably public malfunctioning, Patrick got a fresh perspective on his life and how he was dealing with it. Or, as Hawks management called it, a therapist.

What a summer that had been. Turns out that while dedicating yourself wholly to one thing and chopping off every part of yourself that doesn’t fit the dream can make you an unparalleled hockey player, it can do some shit to your psyche. Huh.

Pat’d had to play catch up on a few developments his brain had neglected to let him in on (or, that Patrick had actively repressed, if you believe Dr. Katie’s version of things, whatever). For instance, being not straight. Or being not secure all the time always. Patrick was twenty-three years old when he realized he didn’t even like Gatorade (shhh, if they still want to pay him for commercials, that’s their business).

His life isn’t a cakewalk now, but he isn’t living with blinders on.

 

When Patrick lands in Chicago for the start of the season, he takes a cab straight from the airport to his condo. It’s been about two months since he was here for the contract signing; an extension a year longer than the total time he’s been here already. The familiar drive into the heart of the city makes him feel some mix between old and… local. There are new billboards on I-90. Rush hour traffic gives Patrick time to examine the storefronts that have changed over the summer. He wonders what they’ll look like eight years from now.

Patrick looks up when the cab passes that oyster bar Sharpy insists on taking the guys to at least once a season so they can be fancy douchebags and so Sharpy can make a point of ordering Canadian oysters and using tiny ridiculous silverware. Jonny goes every time and slurps down whatever Sharpy orders. Patrick's like 87% sure the guy doesn’t even like oysters, that he just thinks oysters are a thing he’s supposed to do. Jonny gets a lot of weird ideas. Patrick always goes along with it whenever Sharpy rounds some of the boys up for a victory meal there because he’s committed to catching Jonny in the lie. Plus, that place has super fucking good fish tacos. And if tossing oysters back does Jonny’s throat some aesthetic favors, well. That’s not bad either.

Patrick looks away from the oyster bar’s window front, stares down at his hands. Rubs at his mouth a little.

Part of this whole mental health schtick relies on him being honest about the things he wants. And it hadn’t taken long after the ‘not straight’ epiphany to realize he wanted Jonny. New, improved, self-aware, in-touch-with-his-shit Patrick Kane knew that the desire might have come from any number of places: bleed over between hockey drive and sex drive, the double taboo of guy and teammate, some contrary need for approval after their best friend status fizzled, who knows.

It’s not like Jonny’s a one-off either. Looking back, there had been crushes and infatuations he hadn’t seen clearly. His thing for Michael Keaton’s Batman comes to mind. But Patrick doesn’t have to worry about that one because he’s never going to meet Michael Keaton. It’s the Jonathans in his life that cause trouble.

Accepting all this had been a huge weight off Patrick's shoulders. The thing about living without blinders is that you aren’t going to like everything you see. Coming to terms with himself didn’t fix all of his problems, and it definitely didn’t disappear all of the reasons he’d grown up thinking being anything other than straight wasn’t an option for him. But he’s always talking to Dr. Katie (who secretly loves being called ‘Dr. Katie’) about what he deserves and what makes him happy and what gives him purpose, on and on. And Patrick's still thinking about that night at Jonny’s, how he’d felt like he’d achieved something beyond his reach. How he’d felt invincible. How he’d felt like he’d won something.

So Patrick has to wonder if maybe he deserves a shot at that.

*

Patrick pops his neck and rubs at his jaw. He’s been chewing this piece of gum for the better part of two hours and it’s starting to pull at the scars on his lips. (Isn’t it just typical that he and Sharpy would take a puck to the face on the same day—Sharpy getting a dashing scar and Patrick walking out looking like the taxidermist from 101 Dalmatians.) He wants to spit the gum out but he can’t find a regular trash can in this juice bar, just recycling and compost. Typical.

The team seemed a little off-kilter, people sluggish from poorly timed naps when they landed in Ottawa. A handful of them decided to go to this juice place one of the trainers recommended to refuel, get out of the hotel. It’s only three weeks into the season, but road life drains you quick.

He’s looking at the menu, but the back of his mind is still replaying shots from last night’s shutout loss. Over and over, like one line of a song on loop. Chew, chew, chew. Smitty and Saader are ahead of him in line holding an incredibly polite debate about kelp. Patrick tries to study the menu harder, but he knows he’s just gonna pick the first drink he sees with strawberries in it.

He hears a “tch” behind him when he orders his drink, but he doesn’t turn around.

“Shut up, Jonny.”

“Didn’t say anything.” Jonny’s voice is sleep scratchy.

Patrick settles up with the cashier and spits his gum into his receipt, tucking it into his pocket. He takes a seat by Krugs, who’s bemused by the shit brown color of his drink.

“Hippies, man,” Patrick says. Krugs just squints his eyes shut and gulps some down.

Jonny comes to sit with them. When he sits down, Patrick notices his cheek is still creased from his nap, his eyes are still sleep heavy. There’re actually the white remnants of some drool by his chin. Patrick's fingers itch to wipe it away, but he just fiddles with his straw.

It’s cold in the cafe. Patrick readjusts his beanie and crosses his arms to tuck his hands away. Jonny’s staring at him.

“What the fuck is that?” Krugs asks, pointing at Jonny’s radioactive green juice.

Jonny launches into an explanation while Krugs keeps his same judgmental expression in place. Patrick's sipping at his drink, not really paying attention. The replays are back: clack, clack, scuff, shoot. Thunk, pad save. Ding, goalpost. Groan, shot block.

“Kaner?” Jonny’s staring at him again.

“What’s up?” Patrick raises his eyebrows.

Jonny doesn’t reply, just gives Patrick a funny look and calls Saader over to talk about god knows what. Patrick goes back to his juice.

*

Come Monday, a few days later, the team is sprawled across O’Hare’s private terminal, all groggy and tired for morning travel. Overcast grey light is streaming in through the huge windows. Crow’s already got his hat pulled down over his eyes, stretched out across three seats. Shawsy has his beanie over his eyes with his sunglasses on over the fabric, Weekend at Bernie’s style. Instagram bait. Most everyone’s got their eyes shut, earbuds in, waiting for the plane check to wrap up.

Patrick is sitting next to Steeger zoning out. He squeezes the air out of his water bottle, lets it re-inflate. Squeezes it again. Repeat. He accidentally squeezes too hard and water spews onto the carpet. A rivulet threatens to run down the bottle and splatter onto Patrick’s wool pants, but he catches it quickly with his tongue. He would be the best at giving head. Honestly, it’s such a shame he isn’t in the game. And he can’t help but be curious, fueled by that fundamental desire to be tested at something new, to be good at it, to be amazing. Patrick’s seen the way eyes catch on his mouth, his body. And so far, he’s put both to good use—he does alright with the ladies—but the thought of uncharted territory drives him to distraction sometimes. Like, he could be the best dicksucker on the planet and never know it. What a devastating blow (heh) to the male population of North America. And if he gets this much of a kick out of thinking about it, imagine the real thing—

“—Kaner?”

“Hm?” Patrick looks up, pulled out of his daydream. Dear god, he’s been absently thumbing the lip of his bottle, he realizes with some shame and tells his thumb to quit it.

“You got gum?” Steeger asks, like it’s the third time he’s asking. Oops.

Patrick passes him a piece of gum and puts his water bottle away. For safety. He cracks his neck and leans back to survey the terminal.

From Patrick's seat, he can see Jonny hunched forward, eyes open, earbuds out. He’s staring downcast into space with his lips parted, and the dark circles under his eyes are visible from two dozen feet away.

He’s been fretting over some real estate shit, Patrick knows, and maybe some family shit, too. He doesn’t know specifics, but he’d heard Jonny talking on the phone in French the other day and the word “Dave” was peppered in quite a bit.

With a slack jaw and blank gaze, Jonny looks completely out of it. A luggage cart is being pushed around and when its squeaky wheel gives a shrill screech, he jerks violently. Patrick can’t watch this much longer. He’s considering throwing his power bar at Jonny’s head when someone comes in off the tarmac to let them know they’re good to go.

Filing onto the plane, Sharpy shuffles behind Patrick with his hands on his shoulders like this is a conga line. Patrick's long used to Sharpy’s shit, being used as an arm rest, etc, so he just keeps moving. Jonny’s in a window seat towards the front like normal. He’s pulling out his phone to stare at it, but Patrick can tell he hasn’t unlocked it so he’s staring at a blank screen.

When they were rookies, David was still working his way up to the show, in his last year at Shattuck. Jonny talked about it some, how their relationship wasn’t really the same as it had been when they were kids. How he didn’t always quite know how to talk to Dave. How he got so torn about reaching out or checking in or instigating conversations because Dave might take it as hovering or condescension. It drove Jonny crazy and upset him more than a little; he couldn’t win. And Jonny hated not winning. The best way he knew how to help someone was constructive critique and motivation. The way he told it to Patrick, it seemed like Dave didn’t want his criticism, but he definitely didn’t want his coddling either. They loved each other for sure, but it wasn’t easy spot for him to be in. Not that Jonny talks to Patrick about it anymore.

By the time Patrick's reached Jonny’s row, he’s made up his mind to slide into the seat next to Jonny. He pulls out his phone to put it on airplane mode, casual like. In the aisle, Sharpy’s looking thrown off, like he’d already resigned himself to Tazer duty (which is proof that Patrick wasn’t the only one to notice the raincloud over Jonny’s head because Sharpy usually makes a point of sitting with Duncs). Patrick just gives him a little wave and turns to Jonny who’s managed to unlock his phone and is swiping through some emails.

Jonny doesn’t blink. “Fuck off, Sharpy. Not in the mood to beat your ass at Gin Rummy.”

Patrick scoffs, “Like you’ve ever beaten me at anything.” (Patrick has a very kind, very selective memory.)

Jonny’s head snaps up. Patrick thinks his look of surprise is overkill, frankly.

“I’ve beaten you at everything, you numbskull,” Jonny manages and starts twisting around to get his coat off.

Patrick pops a piece of gum in his mouth and leans back in his chair with a small grin.

“I win at basketball, Scrabble, karaoke, sweet dance moves, Tazer Pong—which is pretty embarrassing, y’know. I mean, it’s named after you.”

Jonny rolls his shoulders and stretches his neck, relaxing back into his seat with his eyes closed.

“We’ve never even played Scrabble, Kaner.”

“That’s cause I’m a good person, protecting you from the pain of the cruel, cruel world.” He lolls his head to face Jonny, “The pain of my skill.”

“I’m bilingual. In what universe are you better than me in word-smarts?”

“That just means you’re an idiot in two languages. I’d school your ass. Proselytize you, even.”

Jonny’s eyes slit open, “What does that even—”

“Hah! I win.”

“You’re so full of shit, Kaner.”

“Practically corpulent with shit, friend,” Patrick shoots back, smacking his gum obnoxiously.

Jonny’s lost the vacant zombie routine. He’s got his fingers clenched on his armrests, giving Patrick the murder eyes. He’s a little flushed. It’s a good look.

“No fucking way you’d beat me. We don’t have any hard proof you even know how to read. All I’m saying is it’s a good thing jerseys have numbers on’em.”

Patrick laughs, “Oh, you’re so right. I’m just humbled in your presence, Doctor Toews.”

Jonny’s eyebrows lower and he’s clearly about to start on some diatribe (diatribe, 11 points, baby), when they hear Shawsy from the row behind them saying, “Yeah, man. They’re arguing about fucking Scrabble.”

Jonny’s mouth snaps shut and his eyes cut accusingly to Patrick like it’s his fault that Jonny got sucked into this nonsense conversation. Like it’s his fault Jonny is the easiest person in the world to bait. Patrick mentally high-fives himself on a job well done.

They’ve reached a cruising altitude so Patrick gets a water bottle out. When he glances over, Jonny’s got both hands on either end of the scarf around the back of his neck, pulling down while he arcs his neck back against the pressure. The light from the window delineates the curves of his bottom lip, Adam's apple, his jugular. It’s pornographic and Jonny’s completely unaware as he rolls his heads around.

“Don’t let me sleep too long, eh?”

Patrick swallows so hard his ears pop.

He puts his earbuds in and tries to focus on his music.

Jonny doesn’t fall asleep quite as quickly as Bicks or Duncs, but he’s a pro at sleeping deep. The trained eye knows to look for either a wide open mouth, a scrunched up brow, or both. When Jonny’s out, Patrick fishes the phone out of his pocket easy.

 

By the time Jonny’s jostled awake by some turbulence, Patrick is mostly finished with his tasks, just a few emails left. Patrick’s absently pressing his tongue to the scar in his top lip in concentration.

Jonny’s rubbing at his eyes, probably harder than is good for human eyeballs. It takes him a minute or two to realize the phone in Patrick's hands is his.

“Is that mine?”

“Yeah,” Patrick replies, “I went ahead and texted Dave for you. He’s free to skype tonight. I sorted out your mail, too. You’ve got to get off of some of these mailing lists, dude.”

Patrick doesn’t look up to check Jonny’s expression. He’s got a feeling Jonny’s face will stab at his heart, whether it’s shocked or unsurprised. He just focuses on deleting some emails from someone named Tata Harper. Pffft. Tata.

It takes Jonny a minute to formulate a reply, which is worth the wait since that reply is, “What?”

Patrick gets to use his long suffering sigh far less than he would like, so he makes the most of every opportunity.

“I organized your mail. Got rid of the junk. All the shit from your realtor’s in a special mailbox now. Wasn’t sure if the aromatherapy company was spam or not so I left it for ya,” Patrick lets himself grin, dimple a little, to hide how unsure he’s suddenly feeling about this invasion of Jonny’s privacy.

Well, it’s not really the privacy thing. Patrick wouldn’t have taken Jonny’s phone if he thought Jonny would feel like violated or some shit. He feels more uncomfortable about the intimacy of it. Like it wasn’t his place and he’s made things weird now and Jonny’s going to have to find some way to be nice and make Patrick feel not weird about it—

“You talked to Davey?”

“Texted him, yeah. Just asked if he was free to talk tonight. Here,” Patrick pulls up the conversation and passes Jonny the phone.

“Sorry if I—”

“Thanks, Pat.”

Jonny’s eyes are still kind of wide but they aren’t doing that thing they do when Jonny has to be decent in awkward situations. He’s looking at his phone, thumbing through the texts. The message Patrick sent to Dave wasn’t longer than five words, but Dave sounded good in his response.

Patrick doesn’t know how to reply beyond a shrug. He pulls out his phone for something to do instead of sitting here listening to the AC blast into the cabin.

He goes to put his headphones back on, but startles when Jonny’s hand settles on his shoulder.

Jonny’s mouth opens slightly like he’s going to say something, but he just shuts it again and clenches his jaw. Uh oh, emotions. He gives Patrick's shoulder a rough shake. He’s projecting this expression that’s so fond, with his lips sort of sucked in like he’s having a capital-E Emotion, and his cheeks are doing that thing they do. Maybe this was a bad idea because Jonny’s eyes are starting to actually make Patrick feel choked up and that’s completely unwarranted.

Patrick has no idea what his face is doing when he says, “No problem,” but it seems to satisfy Jonny, who gives his shoulder a final pat before pulling out a book.

Q is trying him and Jonny on the same line again tomorrow night in Montreal, so Patrick pulls up some game tape on his iPad and gets to work.

*

It isn’t until after the shutout win the next night that Jonny discovers all the shit Patrick downloaded to his phone (an app that gives you daily Leadership Quotes for inspiration, an app that puts your face into scenes from Frozen, and three complete Enya albums).

They’ve just wrapped up their postgame workout, but Jonny’s looking considerably less gassed when he thrusts his phone in Patrick's face. He has an email pulled up.

“What the fuck is this?”

Busted.

“Amazon order, looks like.”

Jonny drops the hand with his phone in it, but muscles himself forward, backing Patrick into the wall of the visitor’s locker room.

“Uh huh, so I sleep ordered Scrabble Junior, three separate books on how to learn English, and a seven-hundred-and-fifty piece jigsaw puzzle of an American flag?”

The cement wall is cold on Patrick's back. Not unpleasant after a good hard game and a bike session. With the way Jonny’s looming over him after the minutes they just logged, it’s like he’s sweating at Patrick.

“And a mood ring,” Patrick adds.

Jonny gives him an unimpressed look.

“I, uh,” Patrick coughs, “I think the email said a mood ring, too.”

Patrick makes it three seconds before busting out laughing right in Jonny’s face. Jonny grabs Patrick and shakes him by his shoulders roughly.

“You’re the fuckin’ worst,” he rasps, but he ruins the effect by giving in to laughter halfway through. He’s shaking his head, lowering it to Patrick's shoulder while pressing a fist to Patrick's chest like a punch in slow-mo.

Patrick pushes Jonny off him gamely and starts toward his equipment bag. He turns to look at Jonny over his shoulder with a, “You could just say thank you,” and a cheeky grin.

Jonny just flips him off.

 

When Patrick gets back to his condo from Montreal late that night, he says bye to Richie on the elevator, drops his bags in his entryway, toes his dress shoes off, and faceplants onto his couch without hesitation. Halfway suffocating on the leather, he lets his mind drift. Lets himself unwind. There’s always that gap between being on the plane and being in the privacy of his own home where Patrick isn’t off the job just yet, no matter how exhausted he is.

Now he’s going through that yoga exercise Jonny taught him. He relaxes his forehead, his jaw, his neck, his traps. Muscle by muscle, all the way down to his solei, the extensor muscles of his feet, every last toe. He’s a person-shaped puddle on his sectional. He tries to keep his mind blank, but that’s never been his strong point. He keeps coming back to the image of Jonny all up in his face, shaking his shoulders trying not to laugh, crinkly-eyed and failing. Patrick is so, so fucked.

See, this is the kinda shit that happens when Patrick doesn’t get laid enough. He’s had a full plate lately, hasn’t felt like spending the time or effort on picking up. It’s probably his longest dry spell in years. And as a result, he’s losing his grip on his hormones (he always knew there would be consequences).

Patrick brushes his teeth for bed and the questions are still chasing themselves around in his head. Is it nuts to consider whether Jonny is into him? Is it insane to even think about it? Fuck’s sake, Jonny probably doesn’t even like dick. But then, he probably thinks the same about Patrick. He wishes there were a simple way to handle this. There are maybe five possible ways this could not go wrong, and two of those involve amnesia. He rolls his neck and spits in the sink.

He skates clear of fights on the ice because they aren’t his job. Because he knows his role. But to say that hunting down his own happiness isn’t his job? That would just give Dr. Katie way to much to work with, and if his job is hard, hers should be too. So how the fuck does he go about it, then?

Patrick probably needs to be delicate. Patrick can do delicate. If you ask Sharpy, Patrick's the king of delicate, from the tip of his delicate nose down to his delicate little toes. Patrick looks at himself in the mirror, eyeing the toothpaste trail down his chin and his cheeks puffed while he swishes his mouthwash. Looks down at the wastebasket, where the comb he snapped in half last week is still sitting. Delicate. Sure, fine.

*

A couple days later, Patrick rolls out of bed slow and easy. Afternoon practice gives him plenty of time to wake up at his own pace.

His phone buzzes and he glances away from the shake he’s making. And all at once, he’s totally awake, grinning at the screen.

Jonathan Toews has invited you to start a game with him, Words with Friends tells Patrick .

It’s almost like Jonathan ‘you can’t taste the kale’ Toews sensed that somewhere in the city, Patrick was about to put chocolate ice cream in his blender. Even if that’s the case, the notification doesn’t stay his hand from scooping it in with some protein powder. Fuck Jonny, this shit is delicious and Jonny can argue with the results when he’s won the Calder. Patrick makes what is probably a very unattractive smug face to himself.

It’s only two minutes of Patrick bouncing around to this playlist Jackie sent him before his phone lights up again. He dumps a sliced banana into the blender and checks his phone.

J Toews has played LIARS for 6 points.

…which. Jonny can’t possibly know about his Pretty Little Liars marathon last night. (He has to keep up, okay? Or else the girls will spoil it for him.)

Patrick eyes his windows distrustfully all the same. With the letters V, Z, A, T, U, and two E’s, he doesn’t know how to make a good rebuttal, other than ‘UTAZE,’ which he is informed is ‘not an acceptable word.’ Fuck Words with Friends, Patrick is all about creativity.

Which is why he creatively googles “how to cheat at words with friends.”

 

Somewhere in the city, a phone chimes.

K-Money has played ZETA for 13 points.

He’s going to make Jonny livid.

*

Patrick's a little conflicted. Jonny gets delightfully pissy about being majorly outmatched in their Word with Friends match—texting him strings of expletives and bringing up the absurd words Patrick has used in the game during casual conversations. He’s such a sore loser that Patrick doesn’t really feel bad about using scrabblefinder.com to cheat.

But then, it never seems to enter Jonny’s head that Patrick could be cheating. He just accepts that Patrick knows words like ‘BARQUE’ and ‘BILIOUS.’ Either Jonny’s more naïve than he thought or he just has way too much faith in Patrick. Or both. It’s a little heartbreaking.

Or rather, it’s heartbreaking until Jonny will get a notification in the locker room and throw his water bottle. Last time, the bottle almost hit Raanta, whom Sharpy held afterward while glaring at Jonny, melodramatically demanding, “Why? Why?”

When the Epix film crew is hanging around the room, Jonny restrains himself from being a raging asshole and Patrick finds he’s actually disappointed about it.

By hook or by crook, making Jonny turn into a petulant seven year old is worth it. Pissy Jonny is a delight. He’ll full-on glare and shoulder past Patrick, as if that were something people actually did, before stomping out to the parking deck. Sharpy quietly tells Patrick he saw a bag of Scrabble tiles on his coffee table the last time he was at Jonny’s. Like the fucker had been practicing. And the morning skate after Patrick makes the word ‘ZENITH,’ Jonny presses him into the boards, heavy and lingering, cursing him out hotly.

Cheaters never win, except when they do.

*

When they leave the bar in Calgary, they’re knocking shoulders every other step. Patrick's got Jonny on one side and Richie on the other. Richie is his boy. He says so.

Richie gives him a heavy clap on the shoulder, kind of impeded by the arm Jonny’s got slung there, but he perseveres. Their line is finally rolling, and it’s nice to see Richie loosen up for real. It’s the circus trip, so they’ll definitely get some down time together at some point. Back home, Richie’s been understandably preoccupied with the birth of his son.

On his other side, Jonny’s got a smug mouth and lidded eyes. He’s still uppity from winning their darts competition, which was totally not regulation, on account of the many generous and non-negotiable birthday shots sent Patrick's way.

The fact that they’d already celebrated Patrick's birthday two days ago seemed to mean absolutely nothing to the boys. It was birthday shots all around, with Shawsy intermittently yelling, “Welcome to the circus, bitch!” like this was the first year he’d thought of it.

He’s drunk enough that his mind keeps circling back to how long it’s been since he got laid (not since, like, training camp, if you’re wondering). There were a few girls eyeing him at the bar and he considered going for it, but decided that wasn’t the kind of night he was out for. He’s happy just to be with his boys.

They’re jostling together and forward up the street, the nylon of their coats squeaking together. In the bar, Patrick's body temp was way too high to contemplate zipping his coat up. Now the freezing November air swirling in around his torso feels magic. In his fingers, he can still feel the vibration of the puck coming off his stick for the gamewinning goal. He’s pretty content with his place in the world at the moment. Alright, his head itches a little under his beanie, but it kind of always low-key itches under whatever hat. He’s trained himself to ignore it. So yeah, content.

They drunkenly Wizard of Oz their way to the corner of the street, meeting up with Seabs and some others who have a cab wrangled. When they pack into the cab, Patrick ends up squished against the window. Jonny’s still got an arm around his shoulders. In their close quarters, he shifts his hand so that it’s on top of Patrick's head instead, idly pressing his fingers down as he carries on some conversation with Seabs in shotgun. It’s a habit of Jonny’s, Patrick has noticed, this casual car-induced handsiness. He’s the type of guy who always has a hand on his girlfriend’s thigh when he’s driving her somewhere.

The streetlights pass and Patrick lets himself be lulled. Jonny’s fingers are moving the beanie around a little and then scratching his head through it. It is… It is incredible. With the way he’s spreading his fingers and sweeping them around in little circles, Jonny’s probably stretching out the wool or at least completely fucking up Patrick's hair. Pat— Patrick does not care. Patrick's just gonna stay still and see how long he can have this.

Next thing he knows, he’s awakened by a sharp tug to his ear.

“C’mon, old man,” Jonny says, helping Patrick scoot out of the cab and tugging him upright.

When he gets to his room, his first priority is pissing and his second is brushing the cloying sweet taste from his mouth. Jonny follows him in, but Patrick waves a sloppy hand at him to wait while Patrick does his thing.

Patrick comes out to find Jonny sitting on the bed patiently, looking at Patrick expectantly.

“Okay, what’s up man?” Patrick says.

Jonny raises his eyebrows. “You said if I beat you at darts, I could pick movies for the rest of the trip.”

Patrick's jaw drops. “The fuck I did! I don’t remember saying that at all.”

Jonny’s brick wall gaze remains steady. He crosses his arms. “You shook on it.”

Patrick sighs. He’s inwardly kind of pleased at the implication that they’ll be having movie nights throughout the trip. And Jonny’s tone has the easy assurance that was there when they were rookies. The undertone of ‘of course we’re going to watch movies and braid each other’s hair, why on god’s green earth wouldn’t we?’

Patrick missed it.

So now Patrick not only gets that back, but he also gets to act indignant about it. It really is his birthday.

“You have such shitty taste though, Jonny. For both our sakes, lemme pick.”

“Ha, fat chance, hotshot. A bet is a bet.”

Patrick flops face first onto the bed next to where Jonny is sitting.

Muffled into the comforter, he says, “What are we watching, your majesty?”

Jonny doesn’t show any sign of being able to understand him, so Patrick turns his face to the side and nudges Jonny with his knee.

“What are we watching?”

“Dunno, go get your computer. See what’s on Netflix.”

Back when they did this all the time, it was either cable or On Demand. Patrick is OLD.

“You are not, drama queen.”

It’s pretty middle school, but Patrick doesn’t even really want to watch a movie. He’s tipsy and exhausted. But he’s worried that if he begs off, Jonny won’t ask again. So even though he’s pretty sure he won’t make it past half an hour, he cracks his computer open and lets Jonny scroll around the Netflix homepage while Patrick changes into sleep clothes. He doesn’t much care what Jonny picks.

Fifteen minutes into Inception, Patrick's already listing against Jonny’s shoulder, keeps catching himself at the last minute.

“C’mon, Peeks, wake up.”

On screen, Paris is bending over backwards. Patrick's eyes cross a little.

“ ‘f you wanted me awake, shoulda picked a movie ‘bout awake people, Taze. You’re killin’ me.” Patrick widens his eyes and stretches his face muscles, trying to wake himself up a little. On screen, more trippy shit is happening and everything is grey and his eyes slip…

“So I bought a house.”

Patrick's head snaps to face Jonny.

“In Chicago,” Jonny supplies.

“Wha...” Patrick is too drunk for this.

“Yep.” Jonny is also too drunk for this.

Patrick had no idea Jonny was looking for a new place. He hadn’t actually read any of Jonny’s real estate emails. He’d figured it was Manitoba shit. Maybe investments. A house in Chicago is a big deal. Patrick's mind is whirring. A house is… permanent. A house is… babies… is… Patrick is too drunk for this.

“Where is it?”

Moving. Jonny’s always fucking moving. Never satisfied. Just picks up his shit and moves on.

“What?”

“Where’s the house?”

“Chicago, I sai—”

For fuck’s sake, Jonny, “Where the fuck in Chicago is your motherfucking picket fence?”

He didn’t mean to say it like that.

Jonny pauses. “Um,” he says in a slightly smaller voice. He sounds thrown off and not-sober. That makes two of them.

“There is a fence, actually,” he says slowly, not looking at Patrick.

Patrick can’t stand this. He can’t control the tiny bubbles of fondness rising up (because of course there’s actually a fence) any more than he can control this sinking feeling that everything is changing. Patrick hadn’t realized just how much his hopes had solidified in his mind until now. He’d thought he was being easygoing about him and Jonny, invested yet realistic. And now he feels like crying because of a fence. People don’t change. Patrick least of all.

“It’s in Lincoln Park. Not too far.” Jonny’s still kinda quieter, probably because Patrick got aggressive and weird out of fucking nowhere.

Patrick needs to chill. His eyes slip shut.

“That’s awesome, man. Congrats. I can’t wait to see it.”

“Yeah,” is all Jonny says. And then, “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, Jonny. Sorry, I’m just. Tired. I don’t know.”

“Alright. We can just watch the rest tomorrow.”

Jonny doesn’t think it through when he snaps Patrick’s laptop shut to stop the movie because it leaves them in the dark. It feels like Jon is looking at him but he has no idea.

After a beat, Patrick says, “Okay.”

The points of warmth where he and Jonny are touching don’t move. Jonny’s wearing his going out cologne and the smell always reminds Patrick of their last Cup celebration: cologne and booze, sloppy and tactile and out of their minds but safe.

“Nothing’s changing, y’know. I’m not going far.”

“I didn’t even know you were looking.”

Jonny leans into him a little, pressing their shoulders together. “I should’ve mentioned it earlier, huh?”

Jonny’s so quick to own up to his mistakes. Patrick doesn’t know how to tell him that his only misstep was not wanting the exact same things Patrick does.

“S’okay, man. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Patrick tilts his head to the ceiling. He still can’t see anything. The movement from the mattress when Jonny gets up makes Patrick's body sway. His mind is already looping through the conversation, trying to process. His throat feels tight.

He doesn’t hear any more movement so Patrick says, “Need the light?” His throat hurts so bad.

Then there’s the sound of Jonny feeling for his phone on the bedside table.

“No, I’m good.” Footsteps toward the door. “Night.”

 

Of course, in the morning, sober and rested and alone, Patrick can see that his mind took some liberties with Jonny’s news. “House” and “babies” are not synonyms. Jonny isn’t even dating anybody. Hell, it could just be a business move.

But the real problem in all of this is Patrick.

“You unchill motherfucker,” he tells his reflection around a toothbrush.

He spits into the sink and goes to pack his bags.

*

It’s a weird day. He sees Jonny at breakfast, lurking by the cream and sugar (though he fucks around with neither), sending unsure and unsubtle glances over to Patrick’s table. His arm twitches to wave Jonny over, but he forces his focus back down to his omelet instead.

Thing is, if Patrick can’t be a grown up about this Jonny thing, maybe they shouldn’t mess with the status quo. If he plays this fast and loose, there’s always the chance that Jonny might cut him off again. Patrick is realizing more and more how much he really doesn’t want that to happen. He’s got a Skype appointment with Dr. Katie in a couple days. He should cool his jets and talk it out with her, get his head straight before he does anything risky. So when Jonny’s got an open seat next to him on the bus, Patrick makes eye contact with Duncs two rows back and plops down there to talk about a book Patrick lent him. They don’t sit together on the plane either. He’s not trying to be cold, and the distance probably only stands to make his weird outburst last night look worse, but ultimately he just needs time to be smart about this.

 

In the end, he doesn’t get much time at all. That night, Patrick’s stretched out on his hotel room bed in Edmonton when there’s a knock on his door. He’s been waiting for Duncs to return that book to him, but it’s Jonny in his doorway. He has wide eyes and that unsure expression that plays Patrick’s heartstrings like a fucking guitarist. Patrick steps aside to let him in.

Jonny walks in, without the standard issue hardy back-slap or nudge or arm around Patrick’s neck. When Patrick’s got the door shut, he turns to find Jonny with his lips sucked in, pressed thin together. Patrick picks at the hem of his sleeve. He’d bought this shirt in the spring, so it’s stretched a little too tight across his shoulders and arms now. His skin feels tight, too. Jonny’s eyes zero in on his fidgeting and Patrick lets his hand drop.

“Movie?” Patrick offers before Jonny has to. Jonny, who’s clearly unconvinced of his welcome, goddammit, Patrick.

He shrugs like he wasn’t the one to show up at Patrick’s door and lifts a brow, eyes a little brighter. “I pick, though, remember?”

Patrick rolls his eyes and knocks into Jonny with his shoulder on his way past to get his laptop. While he’s got his back to Jonny, he says, “Hey, sorry I got bitchy last night. You know how it is, clock strikes midnight and I turn into a dickwad.”

Patrick’s extricating his charger cord from his suitcase so he can’t see Jonny’s face when he says, “S’okay. I’m the one who liquored you up, murdered you at darts, and then made you watch a mindfuck movie.”

Murdered is a bit strong,” Patrick objects, tossing the computer and then himself onto the bed.

“No, you’re right,” Jonny says, grinning as his eyes follow Patrick, “Annihilated, more like.”

(Patrick got ‘ANNIHILATE’ on a double word square last week for a total of thirty points. Jonny’s rejoinder was ‘TOE’ for three points. There has never been a mercy rule in the Kane house.)

“Listen, punk,” Patrick starts in, without any real intention of continuing.

On the screen, Jonny has Inception pulled up again. Patrick groans, but he gets snug under the covers and settles in, letting Jonny hit the lights. The room is just this side of cold, the way Patrick likes it, and his pillow smells like detergent and the sea salt toiletries the hotel offers. Patrick feels lit-up with the feeling that Jonny wants to be here. Genuinely wants to waste his night here with Patrick. The thought is like caffeine, jolting through Patrick’s system at random intervals through the night. Naturally, he directs the energy towards complaining about the movie.

They make it twenty minutes further in before Jonny gets fed up with Patrick’s whining. After gratuitous debate, they decide to just watch random episodes of House MD.

 

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“It’s gotta be a neurological thing.”

“Are you kidding me? No, it’s from the dog. She’s probably got, like, fuckin’ rabies or some shit.”

“That’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.”

“Fight me, Toews.”

“You don’t know shit about diagnostics.”

“Yeah, but it’s TV medicine, dude. They’ve shown the dog like three times.”

Jonny wiggles to slide down against his pillow some. When he rubs at his jaw, Patrick can hear the bristly scratch of his stubble. He smells like fabric softener and the dairy-free lemon froyo he had for dessert. Patrick suddenly regrets that he didn’t get a taste of it. Jonny’s muttering something about MRIs and all Patrick can think about is licking the fresh citrusy flavor right out of Jonny’s mouth.

Patrick is ultra-aware of everywhere he and Jonny are in contact. Jonny’s on top of the covers and Patrick’s got the blankets up to his chest. He tucks his hands under the covers, twiddles them together over his stomach as a distraction until he can focus on what’s happening on screen.

By the time the episode’s up, he doesn’t need any help finding a distraction because Jonny is being infuriating.

“It wasn’t rabies, Patrick.”

“Yeah, but it was still the dog. Is it so tough to admit I win at diagnostics?”

An impressive sigh. “But you don’t win because: It. Wasn’t. Rabies.”

“Tazer?” Patrick intones sweetly, widening his eyes to fix Jonny with a faux-earnest stare.

“Yes, Kaner?” He gives a sarcastic lilt to the nickname.

“Do you need to borrow some laxatives? Y’know, ‘cause you’re so full of—”

Jonny jabs him with an elbow to the ribs, where he’s still tender from a hit he took the night before.

“Oof!”

“You’re getting pretty high ‘n mighty, over there, Brain.”

Patrick hunkers down snug and away from freakishly sharp elbows. “Just playing my game, Toews.”

“Round two, champ,” Jonny stretches forward to press play on the next episode, but pauses. “You okay to keep watching or you wanna change clothes first?”

“M’good,” Patrick says, even though his jeans aren’t the most comfortable things in the world. He’s wrapped up perfectly and he’s not moving.

“You piece of shit liar, you hate sleeping in jeans.” Jonny shoves at him. “Go change.”

“Nooo." Patrick tries to burrow deeper into his cocoon till the duvet covers his head to escape Jonny. Some part of Jonny thwacks into where Patrick’s face is hidden beneath the covers and Patrick’s so startled he lets out an undignified yelp and defends himself with his teeth.

“What the fuck!” The thick covers make it sound like Patrick’s listening to Jonny from underwater. “Did you just fucking bite me?”

“You hit me in the face, dickweed!”

Jonny tries to dislodge the covers, clearly on a mission now, only he yanks the sheet Patrick’s on top of along with the one he’s under, and Patrick is seriously about to fall off the bed, fuck this guy. Fwump. Some mystery two hundred pounds are suddenly draped over Patrick’s back.

“Jonnyyy,” he whines. God, it’s just like being rookies again.

“Kanerrr,” Jonny mocks. Jonny is the worst. “Just go fucking change. I wanna put my sweats on anyway.”

“Oh, well since it’s all about you…”

Patrick gives up and busies himself taking off his jeans without leaving his hiding spot. His torso is immobilized by Jonny, but he manages to wriggle his pants below his hips and kick them to the foot of the bed.

There’s a lot of loud rustling until he finally gets his feet free, saying, “There. Done.”

Jonny shifts around, still smushing Patrick into the mattress. “You naked down there, Peeks?” Patrick can hear Jonny’s cheeks doing the thing. His face heats up under the blankets.

Patrick struggles under Jonny’s weight. “If I wanted to wrestle,” grunt, “I’d be in Seabs’ room.” Patrick rocks so that Jonny falls off of him. “Go get your sweats, d-bag.”

Jonny gives a yawn and swats at the lump of Patrick on the bed before getting up to head to his own room.

When Jonny comes back, Patrick has ventured out from the covers, which is how he realized that Jonny just left Patrick’s door open (“Ajar! Not open; ajar.”) and could have been responsible for anybody traipsing in. Like a complete stranger. Or a murderer. Or Sharpy. So that’s what they snipe about for the first part of the episode until they have enough information to argue about medical mysteries instead.

“It’s psycho-whatever.”

“Psycho-whatever?” Jonny echoes with finger quotes.

“Yeah, like, it’s a mental thing.”

“Her foot rotting away is a mental thing?”

Somewhere in the middle of their increasingly far-fetched claims to medical knowledge, Jonny’s hand ends up on Patrick’s head in a condescending gesture. Patrick isn’t fooled though, because the hand stays there. Jonny’s fingers idly comb through Patrick’s curls while he watches the screen. Patrick gets halfway through constructing a conspiracy theory in which Jonny’s realized that his ultimate weapon to get Patrick to shut up is playing with his hair, but then Jonny gets his nails into it and the theory drivels out Patrick’s ears with the rest of his brain. He lets himself drift.

 

“No way,” Jonny rumbles in an undertone.

Patrick lost the plot a little sometime after the baseball dude refused treatment. He has his face pressed against Jonny’s arm, barely making an effort to look at the screen. Some song with a lot of piano is playing and a lot of people on screen are staring at a desk or each other or whatever. Montage-y stuff.

When he tilts his head back a little, Patrick can see Jonny’s face, still intent on the show.

Patrick turns his head back to where he had his nose fit snug against the warm curve of Jonny’s biceps. Everything smells like conifers and safety. Like a campfire in an evergreen forest.

“Wake me up when I’m right.”

He can feel the movement when Jonny huffs.

“Might be a while, bud.”

 

It can’t be much later when Patrick blinks awake, but it feels like he’s had an entire sleep cycle. Jonny’s shifting around on the bed, getting up.

“Wussit?”

“Psycho-whatever,” Jonny says in a deep, mocking tone.

“Really?”

“No.” Jonny’s laughing at him. “Now go back to sleep.”

Patrick grumbles but he’s halfway there already. Hearing Jonny shut the door on his way out, Patrick rolls into the space Jonny left. It smells like him and Patrick is out within the minute.

*

Over the course of the circus trip, they get through an impressive amount of episodes. Patrick sticks with the controversial strategy of predicting psychosomatic until he’s eventually right. It drives Jonny bananas, but, whatever, he’s clearly enjoying himself.

The morning after a bad game in Vancouver, Patrick takes the stairs off the bus and into the private terminal blearily. Seabs is jawing amicably with a few other guys. “... and Father Time over here left two hours early to sleep, like he’s the one with kids. Jesus, Toews.” He gestures at Jonny, who’s clutching his thermos of tea like a lifeline. He rolls his sleep-heavy eyes at Seabs.

Patrick’s cheeks feel hot. A few of the guys went to have a postgame meal with some of Seabs’ family. Patrick wasn’t feeling up to it, so he’d opted to go back to the hotel. Maybe call his dad, go over the game. It had not been their best showing, Patrick included.

He’d told Jonny they could hang out after if they didn’t get back too late, if Jonny wanted to. Told him to just let Patrick know. Patrick grins helplessly into his water bottle. Jonny had showed up at his door in fresh sweats and a t-shirt, nose still pinked from the Vancouver wind outside. They’d watched TV and talked until late, despite both being exhausted.

At one point, Jonny turned to him and said, “Pat, I’ve been wondering what to do about the Good Clean Fun Campaign.”

“What, the teach-kids-to-recycle people? What about them?”

He sighed. “I was at an event for them last month and I couldn’t remember the guy’s name.”

“The charity rep?”

“Nah, that’s the thing. I remembered her name, and I’ve met her maybe once. I forgot Carl’s.” Jonny wiped a hand over his face.

Carl?” Patrick asked incredulously, mouth agape. “Carl from public relations?” Jonny dipped his chin slightly in a nod. “Carl, who we’ve worked with for seven years? Carl who literally went over to water your plants for you that one time? That Carl?”

“Yes,” Jonny confirmed miserably, “that Carl.”

Patrick just shook his head, and Jonny continued, “We were at a school event and I was meeting everybody and I blanked, so I called him—I called him ‘buddy.’”

“Jonny, no.”

“Yup.” Jonny rolled his shoulders. “So now we’re coordinating another appearance and he’s cold-shouldering me so hard, Peeks. He’s calling me ‘Mr. Toews.’ No idea what to do about it.”

“Well, what did Seabs say?”

Jonny looked incredulous. “Pat, I don’t talk to anyone else about this shit. No way,” he laughed out. “Seabs would give me so much crap.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Patrick intoned slowly, grinning. “You don’t wanna be judged by someone with the high ground, so you take this shit to me.”

“Yup,” Jonny said with a smirk, “Ya caught me.”

The only thing for Patrick to do then was smack him in the shoulder. They probably talked for another hour after that.

Go to bed early? Like hell he did.

In the terminal, Patrick has to school his face to walk past Seabs’ conversation and take a seat by the window looking out on the tarmac. He spends the rest of the day chewing on a straw, his nail, the chord to his headphones, the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling too much. It’s stupid. He’s stupid. It’s all so stupid.

*

They end the trip with a viciously satisfying 4-1 win against the Kings, and then they’re in the air, finally on their way back to Chicago. Patrick’s got a million things to do. They’re only in town for a week before they go back on the road for another week, so everyone’s got a lot going.

On the plane, Patrick’s got two lines of a song he can’t remember looping round and round in his head, and he keeps getting distracted from trying to mentally review his agenda for the week. Jonny has drool on his face again. He’s across the aisle from Patrick, getting his stuff together as the plane starts its descent. There are upwards of a dozen really solid reasons he’s not going to dab Jonny’s face with a towelette, but also it keeps nagging at him and breaking his concentration. And Patrick has shit to do. So, like an adult, he tosses a pack of Kleenex from his bag at Jonny’s head, calls, “Wipe your face, you sloppy bastard!” above the din of everyone shuffling around preparing to deplane, and gets back to business. Everyone wins.

 

When he and Richie get to their building, Patrick uses the duffel slung over his shoulder as a cushion and leans back against the elevator wall.

“Enjoy that rest, baby,” he grins cheekily, tongue tucked behind his teeth. Richie isn’t getting more than four consecutive hours of sleep in the next seven days and they both know it.

Richie laughs out a “fuck you.” He looks as exhausted as Patrick feels from the trip and the back-to-back games. Despite the bags under his eyes, Richie is psyched to get back to his newborn, Patrick knows.

“Tell little man I say hey, eh?” Patrick gives Richie a fistbump when they reach his floor, “And ask him to keep it down. I can hear ’im from ten floors up.”

Richie just shakes his head and hefts his bag down the hallway. And then Patrick is left alone with the looping mental shot of the puck going over Quick’s shoulder and hitting the crossbar as squarely as if Patrick had been aiming for it.

By the time Patrick reaches his door, the replays have devolved into missed shots from the Western Conference Final, the bad plays and the missed opportunities. If he’d caught that pass—

He’s startled by his phone buzzing. J Toews has played AQUA for 14 points.

Patrick cracks his knuckles and gets to it.

*

It’s a Thursday and he has the day off. So far, Patrick’s celebrated facedown on his bed thinking too much and too little at the same time.

It’s one of those days where the entire upper half of his building is obscured in a cloud. A cloud day. There’s nothing but opaque white outside his windows, a tempting illusion cutting Patrick off from all the things he needs to do. Everything is soft and quiet, like his whole life has been slipped inside of a cotton ball.

This Jonny thing is messing with him. It’s on Patrick’s mind all the time, but everything else in his life is just carrying on as usual. Yet every time he’s almost convinced it’s all in his head, he thinks of Jonny showing up at his hotel room door with a pink nose after lying to get out of dinner early. Patrick has no idea what’s going on. He isn’t certain about anything. It’s all up in the air.

It’s a cloud day. The world outside of his condo is a completely blank slate. He doesn’t have to be a hockey player, or even a person. He doesn’t have to be in Chicago or on Earth at all. All the details of his life are rearrangeable. Love life, ambition, childhood, mistakes. It’s all negotiable. Normally, it’s a feeling that calms him down. Makes him feel free and safe, to have all these options open. To feel limitless. To have a measure of uncertainty in his planned-out life.

Today he looks out the window and feels seasick.

*

Patrick’s sipping a coffee in his parked car, drumming his fingers against the wheel and watching the snow gather on his windshield. On the sidewalk, he catches sight of the back of some familiar shoulders holding up a well-cut wool coat.

Patrick rolls down his window and shouts, “Jon!” The coat pauses and Jonny turns, looking around.

Jonny apologizes for being late. He’d better be sorry; this whole thing was his idea anyway. Patrick can’t say he’s super enthused to spend his day off entrenched in Christmas shopping crowds in the snow. Jonny had been pretty convincing, though: “If you wait to buy presents next week when our schedule is crazy, you’ll just forget again and your sisters will beat your tiny ass up and you’ll be out for the season. Think of the team, Peeks.”

And so here they are. They handle their dads first with golfing gear, and then they duck into a jewelry store. Jonny’s been to this place before, but if Patrick has, he’s forgotten about it. It’s upscale enough that Patrick feels bad about tracking slush in. He owes Jackie a birthday present, so he figures some nice earrings might cover birthday and Christmas. He’s asking a sales clerk to look at a pair when Jonny comes up from behind him.

“Is that lady friend jewelry?” Jonny asks over Patrick’s shoulder, doing an unintentional Sharpy impression.

Patrick snorts and turns to him. “Well, it’s not for me, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Jonny just stares him down until Patrick rolls his eyes and says, “No, it’s not ‘lady friend jewelry.’ It’s for Jacqueline. Don’t have a lady at the moment.” He drops his eyes to the display case. “Not really looking.”

Patrick keeps on inspecting the earrings the saleslady pulled out for him and some citrine-whatsits through the display case. But after a beat, he notices Jonny still looking at him. Upon making eye contact, Jonny turns back to the jewelry display.

Patrick’s trying to figure out why anyone would want crystal avocados on their ears when Jonny says, “Yeah. Yeah, me neither to be honest.”

By the time Patrick’s mind has caught up to what Jonny’s even talking about, the saleslady returns with some other earrings for him to look at. He and Jonny work on ruling out the ugly pieces. Patrick gives Jonny a scandalized look when he suggests that Patrick just send Jackie a picture of some options and have her choose.

“The surprise is the most important part, man. She can pick jewelry out for herself, like, any time. One time in middle school, the girls all pitched in to get me these awesome sneakers for Christmas but they gave them to me a whole month early, on my birthday, just for maximum surprise.”

“Wouldn’t that just make it… a birthday present?”

Patrick shoots him a flat look and turns back to the jewelry. There’s something just downright un-Kaneish about Jonny. He is right about one thing, though: Patrick isn’t equipped to make a solid decision on his own. And for this kind of money, his choice better be solid. So they enlist the help of the saleslady, and after Patrick surreptitiously checks to make sure her suggestion isn’t just the most expensive pair, he gets them wrapped.

Jonny’s walking across the store with the saleslady, so Patrick meanders over to the timepieces to browse. Nothing here is really his style, so it isn’t long before he rejoins Jonny.

“I think she’d like emeralds. She definitely likes green.”

The saleslady pulls out several jewelry boxes. “Here are some emerald pieces, and a jade one here.”

“I like the cut,” Jonny says, fingering the center gem of a necklace. “I think she’d like this one.”

“I’m sure she’ll love it,” the sales clerk says dreamily. “Now, does your girlfriend have pierced ears?”

Jonny’s head snaps up. His face is trapped between blushing and frozen laughter. “This, uh… this is for my mother.”

Patrick teases him the rest of the day.

*

“Hey Kaner, have you seen my tie?” Jonny’s head is poking in through the door of the adjoining room. Patrick doesn’t know why exactly they’ve started receiving connected rooms with such regularity.

“Which one?”

“The plaid one,” Jonny yells, back in his own room again looking around.

“All your ties are plaid, Jonny,” Patrick calls, not getting up from his seat on the bed.

“The grey plaid one,” Jonny replies, at length.

“Jonny.”

Jonny walks back into Patrick’s room looking around, rubbing his neck distractedly.

“Jonny, all your ties are grey and plaid.”

Jonny finally stops moving around, standing by the closet with his hand on his hips, head tilted back.

“Yeah, well they’re all fucking expensive, too. I’ve gotta find that fucker before we leave.”

Patrick locks his iPad and swings his legs off the bed.

“I’ll help you look, it’s all good. Let’s maybe take a break first though. You wanna leave this hotel room for a bit?” Jonny seems a bit stir-crazy. It had been a short flight from New Jersey to Boston and they’ve been in the hotel since their early lunch.

Jonny thinks on it and shrugs. “Could.”

Patrick rolls himself to his feet and bypasses Jonny to grab his coat from its hanger.

“C’mon, let’s go get some motherfucking juice.”

Jonny just smirks and heads back to his room to put some shoes and a hat on.

Patrick doesn’t even bother with the charade of trying to find a juice place himself. Jonny’s already got two places in mind and makes up his mind about which in the elevator.

 

They get there twenty minutes later with all hopes of flying under the radar completely obliterated. The Epix crew had run into them in the lobby and asked to come along. They seem like good guys. After a month of them hanging around, they’ve become familiar faces, but nothing can quite overcome the trained response Patrick has to having a camera in his face, or behind him, or in the corner of the room. It’s just not comfortable. But the front office wants them to cooperate with the film crew as much as possible, and Jonny’s Mr. Team Player. Which for today makes Patrick Mrs. Team Player, apparently.

The two-person camera crew following them down the streets of Boston makes them conspicuous, but also seems to make people wary of approaching them, so they make good time.

The shop is standard Jonny territory, with old upcycled wood on the walls, minimalist furniture, and little plants everywhere. Patrick’s got his hands in his pockets, still tense, when Jonny bumps shoulders with him roughly, nudging him toward the counter.

Jonny, Patrick knows, will take a minute to read the whole menu and any literature the juice place has on their mission, or where they source their ingredients, or their milk cow’s blood type or whatever they put in those pamphlets. So Patrick takes a seat at a table near the counter and lets him do his thing, taking a minute to catch up on his group chat with his sisters. He’ll order when Jonny’s ready.

Patrick looks up from his typing when an arm reaches over his shoulder to place a drink in front of him. Jonny’s taking a seat and shrugging his coat off.

Patrick raises his eyebrows at Jonny, who just says, “What?”

Patrick eyes Jonny, pointedly flicking his gaze between Jonny’s face and the drink in front of him which is definitely greener than he’d prefer.

“The only strawberry drinks they had were strawberry banana smoothie shit, so I asked and they added a bunch of strawberries to the spinach pineapple cold-pressed.” He looks really pleased with this accomplishment, but Patrick can’t help but make the ‘ew spinach juice’ grimace. On principle.

Jonny looks offended (probably also on principle) and kicks him under the table.

“Just fucking try it.”

“I will, I will. Chill out.”

Patrick takes his time working up to tasting the drink just to piss Jonny off. Shakes the bottle thoroughly, unscrews the cap slowly. Swivels the bottle like he would (never) do with a glass of wine and pretends to sniff at it. When Patrick lifts the bottle up and holds it to the light to inspect it, Jonny gets fed up and steals the bottle from Patrick.

With his elbow firmly planted on the table, Jonny holds the bottle up to Patrick’s mouth until Patrick relents, wraps a hand around the bottle, fingers sliding against Jonny’s, and brings it to his mouth.

Not too bad. He takes a second sip. Jonny’s still staring at him.

Patrick wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, “S’good.”

Jonny does his smug little chin tilt and leans back in his seat to crack his own drink open and sip at it. Now Jonny’s making the ‘ew spinach juice’ grimace, only his drink is beet red and, knowing Jonny, his problem is that it’s too sweet. Freak.

Patrick focuses on his own drink while finishing a text and sending it. When he drops his phone to the table, he looks up to find Jonny staring at Patrick’s drink with the puppy eyes. Dark, unyielding puppy eyes.

Patrick picks the juice up to take another sip and Jonny just looks even more pathetic.

Patrick rolls his eyes up. “Oh my god, fine!”

Jonny doesn’t even have the grace to look ashamed. He snatches Patrick’s bottle right away and takes a long gulp. He nudges his reject juice towards Patrick (gee thanks). Patrick catches the words “chlorella” and “wheatgrass” on the label and decides to just drink it without thinking about it. He’s done way worse to keep his body in peak shape.

“Aw c’mon, this beet stuff isn’t so bad, you big baby.”

“Baby! This coming from the guy who adds his protein powder to ice cream? That’s rich, buddy.”

Patrick grumbles and flicks the cap to his drink at Jonny’s chest—bullseye—making him splutter. Jonny stomps on his foot.

Patrick’s preparing to go for Jonny’s calves when he hears a quiet snort from close behind him. He’s about to suggest they hit the road with their juice, avoid whoever’s creeping on them, but then he remembers. The cameras. Shit.

Jonny’s looking over Patrick’s shoulder with an expression that says he forgot about them too and Patrick’s reviewing the last five minutes in his head for any little thing that could make his sisters call him after they see it on television.

He takes a long, slow gulp from his drink to cover while he fixes himself into the mindset he needs. He exchanges looks with Jonny, who pushes his chair back and stands up. They gather up their shit quickly. While Patrick’s throwing their napkins away, he spots Jonny with a friendly hand on one of the cameramen’s shoulder, making small talk maybe.

When Patrick walks over, he hears, “Yeah, we wanted to just let you do your thing. More natural if we aren’t in the middle of everything.” Jonny’s just nods affably.

On the way back to the hotel, Patrick’s on edge. He wishes he could just put his earbuds in for this, block the cameras out like he does before a game. Next to him, Jonny’s pointing out some place he remembers visiting during the Finals two years ago.

Patrick wants to talk to Jonny about this, to see if maybe the camera crew could keep this bit out. But that would entail explaining why it feels like an invasion of privacy, feels like Patrick slipped up and started giving too much away. And Patrick doesn’t feel up to that conversation. Because the reality is that the cameras didn’t catch anything damning. What had they seen other than Patrick and Jonny being friends?

They only just got their friendship back on track; this is the closest he and Jon have been in years. So even though he knows there might be more, now’s maybe not the time to poke at it.

It doesn’t make him feel better, strolling down the streets of Boston, to imagine “Careless Whisper” overlaid onto a video of him and Jonny smiling at each other and swapping fucking drinks. How the fuck had they forgotten the cameras?

When they reach the hotel lobby, he waves at Jonny and the Epix guys before lengthening his stride, heading to the elevators alone.

 

He never says anything to Jonny about it, never finds out if or what Jonny told the cameramen. All he knows is that when the series airs, there isn’t a single frame from inside a Boston juice bar.

*

Things are a bit different after that. It’s subtle, but the vibe between them has changed and Patrick can’t put his finger on how or come up with the right word for it.

It hits him when they’re at some shitty bar in Columbus after a shootout loss. Next to Patrick, Saader is raising his voice over the Top 40 pulsing from the speakers. He’s subjecting Hossa to an enthusiastic explanation of how teams qualify for the Champions League, involving “club coexistence.” “Coefficients,” Hossa breaks in quietly. “Right, like I said. Anyway…”

Hossa just continues to nod along, patient and indulging as a saint. There’s really nothing to be gained by bursting Saader’s bubble, so Patrick sits quietly amused. He rolls his eyes at one point and happens to meet Jonny’s eyes across the table. Jonny’s as amused as Patrick is, sucking his lips in to suppress a laugh as he grins into his beer. Patrick makes a face and shakes his head real slow from his seat right next to Saader, who’s leaning forward onto the table and can’t see him.

They share another knowing glance before Jonny’s tugged into some conversation with Hammer, and Patrick finally pins down the feeling: Cahoots.

Well, maybe cahoots isn’t, strictly speaking, a feeling, but that’s it—that’s the different vibe between them. Patrick will meet Jonny’s eyes from across a room and feel a warm little thrill of connection. Something intimate and kinda secretive. They’re in cahoots.

He doesn’t really know what it means, in their situation. He and Jonny aren’t about to rob a damn bank, for crying out loud.

“Were Bonnie and Clyde fucking?” he wonders aloud in Sharpy’s general direction, without response. When Patrick turns to face him, Sharpy just raises both eyebrows at Patrick lazily, can’t be bothered to even try to answer his inane questions.

“They were, right?” Patrick presses.

Sharpy (who hasn’t absorbed any of Hossa’s infinite patience) ignores the question completely, huffs a weird little laugh through his nose, and stands to get another round and to “see about getting some decent music going.”

Patrick rolls his eyes. Across the table, Jonny is making the squinty old man face at Patrick and pantomimes a walker, dim orange light casting shadows on his face. Patrick’s nose wrinkles when he laughs. He twists his face up all exaggerated and cups a hand to his ear, leaning forward to rest his chest on the table.

“What?” he squawks over the bar noise. “What was that?”

“What?” Jonny parrots faintly in his best scratchy old man voice.

“Where am I?”

“What’s this racket?”

“Where’s Pearl Jam?”

They’re both snickering, but Jonny’s too far down the table for them to actually carry on a conversation without some real effort, so Patrick angles himself to tune back into the Saader and Hossa Show. A few seconds later, when he breaks and flicks the briefest glance back in Jonny’s direction, Jonny’s still looking, a conspiratorial grin on his face.

Patrick tries his best to concentrate on Saader’s conversation and not let anything weird happen to his own face, but he feels amped up suddenly. Not jittery amped, but, like, stirred or some shit. He wants to do something now. He’s exhausted, buzzed, and put out by the loss, but it’s the craziest thing. He really kind of feels like robbing a bank.

*

The cahoots don’t go away. It’s Christmas week and they’re all slammed with work and family. Monday is sandwiched between two games, so they definitely don’t have practice. Patrick’s watching Sportsnet in bed, just letting himself wake up, when he gets a text from Jonny:

help me i’m an idiot

Patrick snorts. He’s gonna operate under the assumption that this isn’t Sharpy with Jonny’s stolen phone, but the odds are split 50/50.

what did you do this time

Told my mom they could all stay at the house for xmas. house is NOT ready

‘The house.’ Jonny’s house. The one Patrick had an embarrassing drunk hissy fit over. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

of course its not you bought it like yesterday

There’s no immediate response from Jonny. Patrick can recognize that he isn’t being particularly helpful, so he sends:

so you need help or what?

Only if you’re free

depends. im not doing anything involving paint rollers or fung shwaapejxkxoskx w/o serious compensation

He adds a link to “Fuck You Pay Me” just for good measure.

Feng shui

Jonny is the most predictable human on the planet. Patrick’s phone chimes again.

And no none of that. text me when you’re otw

there better be food

He wasn’t planning on tackling his hair today, so he fits on a cap and goes to tie his shoes, humming along to Killer Mike all the while.

 

Jonny opens the gate for him half an hour later in a dark green jacket and a t-shirt way too thin for December.

“Hey, man, thanks for coming.”

“Yeah, yeah. We aren’t doing a-little-to-the-left-a-little-to-the-right, are we? Because I’m not gonna lie, that would suck.”

“Quit whining. I just need to decide between some furniture that whatsername picked out.”

“You’re gonna have to remember your decorator’s name; tip number one.” He steps past Jonny holding the door open for him and looks around.

Jonny takes him on a tour of the place. The house is really nice. Really Jonny. Tons of light and clean lines and shit. The patio is studded with wide planter boxes just waiting to be infested by Jonny’s gardening habit and the luxurious downstairs guest room is in the middle of a metamorphosis into an intimidating home gym. It’s a lot of space for a single guy, but Patrick can’t say a word about that without his own house being thrown back in his face. Which... fair.

The place really isn’t ready for houseguests. It isn’t just a matter of empty walls that need filling or paint smell. There’s a mattress deficiency with a linen deficiency to match, and the upstairs hallways are currently box city. At the kitchen counter, there are four mismatched stools and chairs to choose from. Same goes for the dining table, sitting rooms, patio tables. There’s no cookware, no dishes, and Jonny won’t move his spaceship coffee maker here until he makes the move himself.

Patrick slowly spins around in the kitchen trying to imagine this place ready for action in two days’ time. He can’t see it. From the look on Jonny’s face, he can’t either, but Patrick knows better than to be the one to say it out loud.

They go room by room debating chairs and area rugs. Patrick does not understand Jonny’s thing for daybeds. Like, that’s what couches are for, but whatever, Jonny. Jonny puts an orange post-it on the items he’s settled on. Patrick only moves one post-it behind Jonny’s back, and Jonny totally catches him anyway and switches it back (whatever, backless stools at the kitchen counter mean slumping, Jonny). “Have it your way, Quasimodo,” and they move on.

Somewhere between the third and fourth guest room on the third floor, Patrick reaches a point of critical boredom and wanders off to vet one of Jonny’s flatscreens for him.

There’s a small sitting room on the second floor that’s pretty much all furnished and Patrick is beyond comfortable. The flatscreen is sandwiched between bookshelves peppered with books that can’t be Jonny’s because none of them have motivational speakers on the cover. The couch that borders the room on three sides was specially made to fit Patrick’s back perfectly, he’s convinced. He finds the remote and stretches his back. Sunlight drifts in through the window in waving shapes made by the bare tree branches swaying outside. Jonny has trees outside his windows. He isn’t suspended above the city. Where Patrick’s sitting is maybe twenty feet off the ground at best. It’s just so different. Jonny’d never have cloud days anymore.

 

“Are you seriously watching Vampire Diaries at eleven AM on a Monday?”

Patrick doesn’t even glance away from the screen. “Hey, man, it’s five o’clock somewhere.” He mutes the TV and rolls his neck around. “How’s it coming?”

Jonny heaves himself over to the couch and flops down next to him with a gusty sigh.

“It’s not gonna be ready for them,” Jonny says.

“Mm.”

“They should just stay with me at the condo.”

“Makes more sense to me.”

“The more finished I made this place sound, the less my mom would butt in. She practically single-handedly decorated my first place and the second wasn’t much different. I mean, it’s nice,” he turns his eyes from the muted TV to Patrick, “that she wants to help and all, and she does a good job or whatever. But once she gets involved, she just,” his eyes bulge demonstratively, “goes for it.” He says it like the apple has fallen far from the tree. “It’s not my passion or anything, but. But I wanted to do this one, you know?”

Patrick nods easily.

“So she’s under the impression we’re a little further along here,” Jonny finishes, with a couple of hardy thumps to the couch cushion. Then he scoots over to the corner of the couch opposite Patrick and leans back, spreading out so that his feet brush Patrick’s thigh.

“Commuting between your condo and here on Christmas woulda sucked anyway. This is a better plan.”

“Yeah, probably.”

“This house is incredible, Jonny.”

Jonny’s eyes have slipped shut. He grins. “Yeah.”

They bask in the quiet for a moment.

“So, which’a these books do I pull to get into your secret garden?”

“Shut the fuck up, Kaner.”

“Nah,” Patrick yawns, “you’re right. It’s probably under construction anyway.”

Yer under construction,” is Jonny’s sleepy retort.

 

Patrick wakes up what must be an hour later with his and Jonny’s legs interlaced. Jonny’s stretching in his sleep, pulling one knee up, and then switching legs slowly. His socked feet brush the length of Patrick’s calves and back.

Patrick doesn’t want to devote energy to feeling weird about this. He’s too damn comfortable. So he ignores his goosebumps, does a little stretching himself, and snuggles his face back into the throw pillow.

 

“Pat.”

“Nnnnnnh.”

“Pat.”

“Nnnnnnnnnnnh.”

“Strike two.”

“Fngh you.”

Jonny pushes him off the couch.

Patrick thrashes, unceremoniously jerked out of this awesome dream where he lived in a giant sea anemone on top of a skyscraper. He splutters but stills, deciding to keep his face pressed to the rug. “I’m not feeling appreciated,” he puffs into the floor.

“We’ve got shit to do, c’mon.” Patrick hears Jonny’s footfalls leaving the room and padding down the hall.

“I’m not feeling appreciated!” Patrick calls after him, still prone on the floor.

Jonny’s in the kitchen pulling takeout boxes out of a delivery bag when Patrick finally pries himself off the floor. Patrick’s still pouting about being woken up. “What’s this?”

“Arami.”

“Feeling a little more appreciated,” Patrick allows, reluctantly, grabbing some chopsticks. Jonny grins at him and shoulders him into taking a seat at the island. They eat their sushi in silence for a minute. Patrick glances at Jonny’s oven clock and thinks about going home to wrap some presents. He feels weirdly comfortable in this half-furnished mansion he’d never seen before this morning.

“Alright, we should get back at it,” Jonny says.

He turns to where Jonny is sitting (slumping!) next to him. “What are we doing now? I thought you decided your family was staying at the condo instead?”

“They are. I wanted to finish up on furniture stuff though.”

“Eenie meenie miny…”

“Shut up, I bought your ass lunch.” Jonny’s standing now, stretching his back.

Fair point. But Patrick is sick of chairs. “I’m sick of chairs.”

“Cool. Japanese seating it is.”

“Har har. Seriously, let’s give it a rest.”

Jonny gives him an uncertain look. He’s tempted, Patrick can tell. Neither of them have completely woken up from their nap. Jonny’s still hesitating, half turned towards the stairs, but rooted to the spot. He squints. Still thinking this through and oh my god—

“Jonny, come on. Give it up. Let’s just go hang out at my place. Where we can actually eat on the couch since I own it.”

The line of tension in Jonny’s shoulders dissolves then. He’s still facing away from Patrick when he says, “Yeah, okay.”

“Friends don’t let friends, etcetera…” Patrick trails off, biting out a yawn. This house is dangerous. The sunlight, the fresh air, possibly the paint fumes. Patrick feels like a cat, slowly blinking. He smacks his face a little to wake himself up and grabs his keys before he can fall asleep again.

*

They’re in a bar in St. Paul after a win and guys are getting a little sloppy, ready to celebrate something. Shawsy’s resting his head on Patrick’s shoulder, and that’s usually a sign that he’s about to take a sharp turn from mellow drunk into bad-decision-making drunk. Patrick surreptitiously pours some water from Scotty’s glass into Shawsy’s drink and toasts Scotty when he laughs.

There’s some residual disappointment over the Winter Classic. Not only the loss, but the way they’d lost. Patrick has picked up on lingering frustration simmering inside Jonny for the past week, but he seems to have finally let it go. He’s leaning back one booth down from Patrick methodically shutting down every opinion Richie asserts about boating with a content grin on his face.

Bicks orders everyone another round and Patrick’s starting to feel pretty good, himself. He’s floating on dark liquor and his three-point night. Normally it’s embarrassing when he gets giggly drunk, but tonight everyone around him is about on par.

At some point when Scotty gets up to take a leak, Jonny slides into the booth next to Patrick. Patrick slings an arm around him. “Jonny! Oh, Jonny, please listen to Steeger’s ranking of Kardashians. And then his defense of it. Steeger! Say it again, man.”

Steeger obligingly makes his case, and it could be beer goggles, but Jonny’s judgmental face is just, like, the exact thing Patrick’s eyes wanted to see right now. It should be, like, a stock photo. Somewhere in the middle of Steeger’s monologue, Patrick gets distracted by the highlights Bicks is watching on his phone across the table. Bicks is visibly suffering through the multiple replays of Patrick’s first period goal, waiting to get to one of his own.

“Patrick Kane,” Bicks mocks the commentators. “Patrick Kane, Patrick Kane, Patrick Kane…”

“Hey! Hey, when you say my name fast enough, it sounds like an adjective! Patrickane.” He turns to Jonny. “Patrickane!” he says. “Jonny, put that shit on Urban!”

Jonny just stares at him. “Why would I put that on Urban Dictionary? Isn’t you existing in the world bad enough?” He takes a swig of his beer.

“Patrickane,” Patrick repeats, with awe and finality.

“Definition,” Steeger challenges, entertained.

Patrick instantly knows in his heart without a doubt what Jonny’s going to say and exactly how he’s going to say it.

“Make them boys go loco,” Jonny deadpans, and the table erupts.

When Jonny turns to him in the uproar, eyes sparkling, Patrick just gives him a sly wink, and Jonny, dear god, actually turns a little pink. Patrick is having the best night.

The table then turns its attention to where Nordy is making a play for this hot brunette at the bar. There’s speculation about what he is actually saying to her, leaning all casual on the back of a barstool. Which leads to Steeger doing his Nordy impression as a voice-over for their little peanut gallery. When it inevitably comes to Bicks doing his best high-pitched and nasally voice (“Oh, I just love that mustache, stud. Is it natural or do you dye?”), the conversation only deteriorates from there.

 

Half an hour later, Patrick’s flagging and the team shows no sign of slowing down or turning in. He finds Jonny at the bar with the Swedes and pulls him aside.

“Wanna head back?” Patrick’s not sure whether he’s raising his voice over the music or over the boozy static in his brain.

“For sure.”

When they get into the Uber, Jonny looks at his phone and gives a little groan. “God, it’s still pretty early.”

Patrick nods.

“We’re old.” Jonny says, the alcohol creeping into his voice a little. On Jonny, it’s endearing.

Patrick nods again.

“Been a while since we last stole all the rookies’ socks,” Jonny offers. It’s true. And no one ever suspects them, either.

Patrick just chuckles. Jonny leans into him heavily, smiling, “Do you wanna?” He smells like bars and clean sweat and Patrick wants him desperately.

Patrick lets himself have a moment, transported to the alternate reality where Jonny gets tipsy and leans into him and smiles, ‘Do you wanna?’ at him with lidded eyes, playful and easy because he wants Patrick. He snaps out of it soon enough, though, and they start planning their dumbass heist.

*

The All Star Weekend goes by quickly. He’s exhausted, though, by the time it’s over. He always drinks more than he means to at these things. Plus, the knowledge that everyone but them has been sitting on a beach somewhere for the last week definitely makes the fatigue worse. Or at least more sullen.

How was OHIO?? Sharpy texts, with a picture of his sandy feet crossed on a lounge chair in front of a sparkling ocean vista. Dick.

neon is all Patrick says in reply. But, fatigue aside, he’s not actually all that jealous of the players who got a real break. The All Star Weekend was fun—kind of a minor miracle, judging from the ones he’s attended in the past. But this time, it really was. And not just the drinking with future Hall of Famers part. Jonny was all up in his business the entire time. Always messing with him, touching him, fucking with his hair, going along with his bits. It’s not like Patrick was the only teammate Jonny had there and it wasn’t just a public entertainment thing either, because Jonny’s like this all the time now. It’s dumb, but it just makes everything better, being partners in crime again. There have been times in his career when Patrick has struggled and thought, how did this seem so much easier when he was a rookie? And, fuck, now he might know.

The break ends and the team ships out on a six-game road trip. They only win half, but morale’s decent. On the flight to St. Louis, Jonny loses his right to vote on hangout and meal locations for a week in a stunning game of cards, so when they finally get home to Chicago, Patrick is in charge. Translation: they’re hanging at Patrick’s. Jonny’s house is great, but Patrick objects to the parking (which wouldn’t be an issue if Jonny’s garage wasn’t filled up to the tits with gardening shit, just saying) and to the snack options. Jonny’s got a ton of space and all, but when it comes down to it, it’s still the same couch both places (Jonny put a new cover on his old couch and called it a day) and that’s all they’ve ever needed to bicker comfortably.

“So, House and Thai?” Patrick idles in his kitchen, looking through the online menu.

“How about Jeopardy?”

Patrick stops thumbing through his contacts for the Thai place’s number. Jeopardy? Since fucking when? Patrick twists around. Jonny’s sprawled out casually on his couch, like he didn’t just throw down the gauntlet in the middle of Patrick’s living room.

“Sure, that’s fine,” Patrick says evenly. If Jonny hasn’t had enough of Patrick kicking his ass, Patrick is more than happy to provide.

If Jonny managed a casual demeanor before the food arrived and the TV was turned on, it’s gone the moment the show starts. He’s got his fork loaded up with pad-see-ew and halfway to his face when the categories are announced, and he actually puts it down to focus. Real casual. Patrick’s got a premonition one of them is heading to morning skate with a black eye tomorrow.

Two minutes later, Jonny’s plate has been set aside on the coffee table while Jonny is perched on the edge of the couch, jaw clenched. Patrick thinks he can actually see a throbbing vein in his forehead.

“What is Valley Forge, suck it Trebek!” crows Patrick, only fueled by Jonny’s frustration. Patrick isn’t a Jeopardy god—neither of them are—but he’s clearly coming out on top of Jonny, who’d probably be sitting behind -$4,000 by now.

“Fuck you, this American history shit is biased.”

“You went to high school and college in the US, fuckface.”

Jonny just scowls.

Patrick continues, “And fuck you, ‘That’s biased.’ Was the Ancient China category biased, too? ‘Cause if I remember correctly, I also beat you in that one.” Patrick had only gotten one question right, and ‘What is the Han’ was a wild fucking guess. But Patrick would deny that to Jonny and to a court of law. Patrick’s worldly and shit. He knows stuff.

“And I got the Mike Myers one! Pretty sure he’s from Canada. And—” Jonny shoves a hand over Patrick’s mouth and muscles him into the crook of the couch.

Patrick flails and gets his knee up just in time to keep Jonny from completely crushing him. He tries to roll away, but Jonny catches him in a headlock from behind, breathing “You little shit,” in a deep undertone into Patrick’s hair.

Patrick wriggles an arm out of Jonny’s hold and makes two very efficient blind swipes at the ticklish part of his ribs. Several embarrassing noises later, Patrick’s got Jonny trapped under him and they’re exchanging jabs as Jonny tries to buck him.

“Developing an,” huff, “inferiority complex, eh?” Patrick puffs out, twisting to dodge Jonny’s knee. Jonny grunts and snatches Patrick’s wrist in a tight grip before he can reach Jonny’s ribs again. Patrick’s going for the purple nurple with his free hand when Jonny and his NHL regulation torso push up off the couch and dump both him and Patrick on the floor.

Patrick sucks in the air that was knocked out of him, puffing his chest into incidental contact with Jonny’s. Jonny plants his knees on either side of Patrick, movable as granite. When Patrick tries to knock Jonny off, he brings his full weight onto Patrick, hips to shoulders, shoving his face in close.

“Easy, there, sparky,” Jonny says, his voice infuriatingly level. Patrick can feel his breath, from the movement of his chest to the puffs of air. This close, he smells like laundry and fresh dirt and lime juice. Jonny’s giving him this asshole grin and if Patrick doesn’t escape soon he’s gonna have a problem. He rocks side to side, trying to get free. Jonny doesn’t budge. He traps Patrick’s arms and pushes himself up into some yoga pose that is the opposite of helpful for Patrick’s situation. He has been inside girls while making less contact with them than he’s making with Jonny right now.

He desperately tries to roll again.

“Stay fucking still for, like, five seconds, Jesus,” Jonny breathes, not giving an inch.

Patrick thunks his head back onto the floor. He’s almost sweating. Bad idea bad idea bad idea. He keeps as many body parts as he can control still. See, this is why he shouldn’t go for so long without getting laid. He knew there were legit reasons.

“There we go,” Jonny murmurs. Is he doing this on fucking purpose? Fuck.

Patrick risks a glance at Jonny’s face. He’s just smugly enjoying every ounce of victory he can squeeze from this, far overdue for a win. Taking his time because he can. Just being a dick. Patrick shuts his eyes again. He flexes his arms under Jonny’s grip and tunes in to the TV audio that’s been rolling along in the background.

“Who is Joe Namath,” Patrick manages, and, thank Jesus, it works. Jonny groans, smushing Patrick’s face with his hand before hefting himself up.

“Want anything from the fridge?” Jonny asks, stalking out towards the kitchen.

“Nah,” Patrick croaks. He elbows himself up and resists the urge to knock his head on the coffee table to clear it. Sometimes he can’t tell fantasy from reality trying to read the way Jonny looks at him. He settles back onto the couch with his plate. It’s a minute before he realizes Jonny isn’t back.

“You get lost, buddy?” Patrick calls out. He hears a distant “What’s that?”

“I said, you get lost buddy?”

Jonny pads back into the room, “Took a leak. You want the play-by-play?”

“Lay it on me.”

“Nasty.”

They keep trading barbs while they eat. Jonny’s honestly much better at the game show than Patrick is, he’s just saltier when he’s wrong. He keeps bitching about answers he ‘knew but didn’t want to say,’ but risk-free is no way to play the game, in Patrick’s private opinion.

*

There’s a lot of manhandling and pushing at morning skate the next day, but it’s hard to distinguish from Jonny’s normal behavior, especially on the ice. Either way, it’s nice, having all that heavy, blunt affection aimed at him. Dishing it back out in playful checks and slashes.

After skate, Patrick settles onto a couch in the players lounge with a bowl of soup. He doesn’t notice Shawsy sitting there until he’s sat down. Which means Shawsy has had his mouth shut for, like, at least thirty full seconds strung together. There’s a good chance Patrick knows what that’s about, too. They had a Make A Wish kid on the ice and in the locker room this morning. Jason. Mostly if Patrick can just focus on what he can do to help, focus on giving the kid a good day, focus on the present, he gets through okay. He’d noticed Shawsy talking to Jason’s mom, talking about his condition, and some days. Some days it’s really hard to let all that emotion roll off your back. Patrick knows how that is.

Like he said, though, it helps to focus on the things you can change. So Patrick pulls out his phone to show Shawsy some dumb videos he was telling him about last week. When Shawsy’s laughs start sounding sincere, Patrick hands the phone over and picks his soup bowl back up.

Out of the corner of his eye, Patrick notices Jonny looking at him. He’s sitting on the sofa across the coffee table but his face is miles and miles away. It’s soft and broken open.

Patrick clears his throat, but Jonny doesn’t react at all, still staring in Patrick’s general direction. “What?” Patrick says, a little laugh breezing through the word. Maybe Jonny is meditating for total lunchtime optimization.

Jonny shakes his head a little, reacting but still in a fog. His lips start to curl up and part, but Shawsy interrupts.

“Oh-ho! Text from Caroline.” He jabs Patrick with his elbow. “Is that that girl from the bar in St. Louis? The one with the,” Shawsy gestures in front of his chest. How he has a girlfriend, Patrick does not know.

“Yeah,” Patrick says, glancing back over to Jonny, whose face has gotten incomprehensibly stranger. Shawsy keeps chattering, but Patrick’s trying to figure out Jonny’s deal.

Patrick saw a documentary over at Jonny’s a few weeks ago about divers—cave diving and deep diving and all that. There had been this moment caught on film when a diver realizes all at once how far down he is, how much oxygen he has, and how little time he has to get to the surface. Patrick doesn’t know why he’s reminded of it, looking at Jonny’s weird, intense expression. Probably the fact that Patrick has to pull him up out of his thoughts. “Jonny?”

Jonny blinks slowly, rejoining reality, then blinks again more naturally. He stands up all at once and heads for the door. “I’m late. For a thing,” he says.

“Okay,” Patrick shrugs. “Bye,” he says, uselessly, since Jonny’s already bounced.

“So, this girl,” Shawsy prods.

“Yeah, to tell you the truth, I don’t even know why I gave her my number.” Patrick tears his eyes away from the doorway.

“Not interested?”

Jeez, Shawsy’s nosy today. Patrick’s never been the loudest in the locker room about his love life. He’s not prudish or anything, but most guys pick up on the fact that he shares what he wants to and that’s that. “Why?” Patrick laughs, intrigued by the meddling, “Are you?”

Shawsy punches him on the shoulder. “Don’t be stupid. We—I just noticed you haven’t been out there as much these days.” His voice trails, fishing for what to say next. “Dating, whatever.” He gives a few half-hearted hand gestures.

Patrick dips his chin and gives Shawsy and amused look. “You worried about me?” It’s at least a little funny. Patrick has his ups and downs, but he hopes he doesn’t flatter himself in thinking he’s got his shit together better than Shawsy.

“I mean,” Shawsy makes a weird face, “a little.”

“Well, you don’t need to be. Appreciate it though,” he adds, as an afterthought. In theory, he does appreciate it. In the moment, though, it’s still kind of funny.

They lose to the Canucks in overtime that night and Jonny, unsurprisingly, doesn’t join the small group of guys going for postgame stir-fry. Then on their day off, Jonny’s busy and has to cancel their vague plans to play video games. It’s a bit of a relief because it means after getting a little business and cardio taken care of, Patrick has the rest of Thursday to just veg out.

The homestand continues like that, packed with games. It’s the usual bustle, but the usual bustle is hectic enough. Hectic enough to distract Patrick from the fact that he and Jonny haven’t hung out in a while. Or rather, hectic enough to distract Patrick from the fact that it might not be a coincidence. They see plenty of each other at skate and games, and free time is precious. Jonny’s a little distracted and cloudy these days, in his own head a lot and quicker to frustration during games. But with all the demands on Jonny’s time lately, Patrick can’t blame him. The guy needs some rest. So he doesn’t take it personally when Jonny turns down lunch or an invite to watch a game because he’s busy. He doesn’t even take it personally when he hears about Jonny taking some of the Rockford crowd out instead, because that’s Jonny doing his job. Their game of Words with Friends has stalled out, too, but there’s always a good chance that’s just Jonny rage-quitting.

Patrick only starts to succumb to worry/uncertainty when he goes over to Jonny’s for a night of House and beer and finds Krugs and Oduya there, too. It shouldn’t be weird. Not at all. Jonny has always been tight with the Swedish mafia. If anything, the sheer normality of unwinding on Jonny’s patio with the guys should make the solo TV marathons he and Jonny were having before seem weird by contrast. That’s not how it feels, though. It feels like the careful insertion of space. It makes Patrick prickle with paranoia, like the proverbial empty movie theater seat is being put between him and Jonny. Like maybe somewhere along the line, Patrick slipped up, Jonny saw right through him, and now it’s a problem Jonny has to fix.

The doubt gnaws at Patrick for a few days, but he knows he’s overthinking it. Whenever he sees Jonny, it’s easy and light between them. But every time Patrick opens Messages to shoot Jonny a text and sees their recent chat history, it’s hard to ignore how much more blue there is than grey. Hard not to just close the app.

He doesn’t bring it up to Jonny. Either Patrick is reading too much into all this and he needs to chill, or Jonny is going through some stuff and he’ll bring it to Patrick when he’s ready. The current confusion admittedly sucks, but Patrick knows Jonny has his reasons. They’d be on the same page eventually. In retrospect, that was the problem with being in love with your best friend. The most dangerous kind of hold they have on you is trust. You trust them above yourself. You trust them even as they’re hurting you.

So Patrick soldiers through like it doesn’t bother him, even as the doubt keeps growing deep down. Lucky for him, the regular season is grueling and more than sufficient as a distraction from other shit going on in any given player’s life. Patrick decides to be patient and let hockey fill his head like it always has until he and Jonny are back to normal. He lets himself idly imagine down the road as a comfort in the meantime.

Now, he normally tries not to think too far ahead about the off-season. Feels like a jinx, since his schedule then, playoffs-wise, is always far from guaranteed. But bored one afternoon, he ends up falling down the internet rabbit hole of Top 10 lists, etcetera. He starts clicking around articles comparing the craziest resorts around the world. And then the next resort list. And the next one. And that’s when he sees it.

His teammates make fun of Patrick for being so invested in having perfect relaxation set-ups. One summer, he’d texted a bunch of the guys a picture of this genius pool design with loungers and gardens in the water at his hotel in the Bahamas. Jonny had texted back a picture of him holding some pond-scum coated fish whose bulging face said it couldn’t care less about being strung up by the lip. Patrick didn’t think they compared. And Jonny, as someone who fell in love with some sheets at a spa and special ordered a several sets for each one of his residences, had no room to cast stones on Patrick’s passion for luxuriation.

So when he stumbles across it, Patrick spends a solid twenty minutes clicking through galleries totally enamored. ‘It’ is an insane and remote resort on the eastern coast of Mexico. Remote and small but ridiculously nice, with prime scuba real estate, private beaches, awesome villas with private pools, and guided hikes to shit like swimming holes and beautiful ruins. There are times when Patrick will see something and it’s like looking right at Jonny. Like that time he saw an eight foot-tall grocery store display of organic champagnes. Or that ‘namaste, bro’ snapback.

Patrick laughs out loud when he scrolls by the website’s proud description of their famous outdoor guided meditation and various yoga classes. They have one of the largest private collections of tequila in the world and their spa restaurant’s raw menu might as well have Jonny’s name printed at the top. And of course guests are invited to book local charter boats for deep sea fishing expeditions.

To sum it up: This place was sent to Patrick from god. As he clicks through their villa packages, so susceptible to the Caribbean blue all over the place, he realizes he’s been putting together a plan in the back of his mind. Jonny takes his family on a vacation pretty much every summer like clockwork. He’s taken a girlfriend only once, to Patrick’s knowledge; they haven’t tended to last long enough for that to be routine. Of course, the Kanes often clump together for offseason expeditions, but it isn’t a thing like it is with the Toewses. And this place would be perfect. Plus, since Patrick didn’t buy that snapback, he still needs a birthday present for Jonny.

 

As soon as Patrick surreptitiously nabs David’s number from Jonny’s phone the next morning, he sends David a link to the resort’s website and asks if he thinks it’s something the Toews clan would be down for.

Gratifyingly, the answer is FUCK YEA.

The basic plan is to run it by Jonny’s parents, book some villas for late summer, miscellaneous Kanes and Toewses included, and (provided they’re still in the playoffs) reveal it all to Jonny on his birthday. Jonny, who’s been looking stressed and worn. Who could probably use a bit of a pick-me-up.

It settles something inside Patrick to have plans so far ahead like this, since recently things with Jonny feel… fragile. And at any rate, the resort alone is something to look forward to.

*

It’s mid-February and they’re on a mild two game skid. Jonny’s been kinda high-strung, so Patrick takes it upon himself to be a gem of a friend and bring him some grade A takeout, fully intending to endure the nature documentary of Jonny’s choosing. It’s been weeks since he was last over at Jonny’s, but Jonny is all smiles when Patrick suggests it. Patrick could kind of use the company, himself, tonight, feeling beat-down and tense even after a visit from some of the Buffalo crowd last week and a session with Dr. Katie this afternoon. He doesn’t have to explain himself to Jonny. He can just complain a little, eat a little, and watch a few hours of either Kings vs Sharks or humanity vs sharks.

They compromise, watching the marine life conservation documentary during intermission of the Sharks game. To Patrick’s delight, they watch in the room he’s started calling ‘the peninsula room’—surrounded on three sides by couch. It’s pretty much the perfect setup until he comes back from the bathroom to find Jonny on the couch holding Patrick’s phone, lit up with a notification.

Jonny meets Patrick’s eyes with a mystified, unhappy look on his face.

“Not to be an asshole, but why is my brother texting you about flights? Since when do you even have his number?”

Patrick sighs. “You would ruin your own birthday present.” He rejoins Jonny on the couch and takes his phone back.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Wellll, David and I were kind of planning a surprise trip to Mexico this summer. Mostly David,” that last part is a lie, but Patrick doesn’t want to be the ringleader if Jonny’s face is going to continue looking like this. “Like, for both our families. As a birthday present.” When Jonny doesn’t say anything, Patrick specifies, “For you.”

Jonny looks so uncomfortable. Honestly like something has crawled up his butt.

“Look, Patrick,” and the minute Patrick hears those words is when he knows this is gonna be some bullshit. Jonny has his eyes shut, like he’s visualizing, steeling himself to give some talk he isn’t psyched to give. “That might not be the best idea.”

“No? Well, I haven’t booked the flights yet, so no sweat.”

“Oh. Okay, cool.” Jonny still looks constipated. “It’s just. Yeah.”

“You should check out the resort, though. Place is unbelievable.” Patrick takes a sip of his water bottle and gargles it to be obnoxious, to try and break the tense mood Jonny seems intent on creating. Because, hey, it’s not a big deal. Or it shouldn’t be. Really. A man should be able to spend his summer vacay any way he wants.

“Venue’s not the problem,” Jonny says quietly, perhaps to himself. And, goddamn, is Patrick the only one trying to keep this conversation tolerable?

“Nah, man, I get it. You’re sick of me,” Patrick jokes lightly with a teasing grin.

“No! No, Pat, you know that’s not it.”

And that’s what does it. Jonny’s emphatic, defensive response to Patrick’s joke is what pushes Patrick from easygoing disappointment to the actual hurt that Patrick has been fending off for weeks now. It’s sharp, so sharp, when it hits him. Involuntarily, Patrick has stood up. When he realizes his jaw has gone slack, he snaps his mouth shut again.

“Good talk,” Patrick says on autopilot and stretches his back.

“Look—”

Patrick cuts him off, “Seriously, Jonny, we’re good. Stop trying to make this into a thing. You don’t need to explain yourself to me.” Now that Patrick’s done ignoring the hurt, it’s like all that energy he had been spending evading it is diverted straight to the combative part of him, always simmering in the background. It’s boiling over, now, spoiling for a fight. Because the truth is, times like now, the instinct to get a good jab in, to make Jonny really flinch is right next to the usual desire to make him relax or guffaw. Both are a kind of winning, and winning is what Patrick does. Patrick should leave.

Patrick keeps trying for casual, keeps trying to get them back to safe waters, but Jonny can read him too well these days. He must see the hurt Patrick isn’t skilled enough to mask. That’s the only explanation for why Jonny keeps defending himself against accusations Patrick isn’t making.

“It’s just. I mean, don’t you want some time off from our work life in the summer?” Jonny tries, standing to join Patrick. In spite of himself, Patrick hears, You’re part of my job.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Jonny says.

“Why are you so intent on me being upset with you? Jonny, I’m telling you, it’s fine. Leave it.”

But Jonny just keeps on. “A trip like that is the kinda thing you run by somebody first, don’t you think?”

Because Patrick just has to be the villain, apparently. He’s abruptly sick of it. “Well sorry for assuming you wouldn’t mind some beach time with your family and friends. How stupid of me. How dare I.”

“It puts me on the spot, Pat! It makes me look like the bad guy for just wanting…”

“Wanting what, Jonny?” Patrick challenges steadily, fed up with being in the dark. Something acidic burns through his veins. Emotion sits bitter on his tongue, but that contrary aggressive part of him is rising to the occasion, enjoying the chance to finally stretch its legs.

“Wanting some space! Fuck! You have a healthy ego, I feel like I can tell you that and you won’t misunderstand me. Just some space. Real time off to decompress, away from everything.”

Patrick’s eyes narrow and his voice lowers in register. “Space? That’s what you’re going with? I’m not trying to start something, because what-the-fuck-ever, but have the decency to be upfront with me. I think you owe me that. I mean, since when do you need to be a hermit all summer?” He inhales slowly.

“It’s not even that big a deal,” Patrick continues, looking away. “You don’t wanna go, that’s fine.” Patrick pockets his phone and heads for the hallway. “But I’ve been putting up with this cagey shit for weeks now, and it’d be really awesome if you could get your shit together and decide whether we’re friends or not.”

“Pat!”

“See you tomorrow,” Patrick says tonelessly without turning around. He grabs his shoes and coat downstairs. On the frigid walk back to his car, he tries not to think about how he doesn’t feel any better.

*

The ‘tomorrow’ in question is a matinee homer against the Bruins.

It is a disaster.

Afterward, they get laid into for the better part of half an hour, the locker room closed off from press or reprieve. They sit bruised, exhausted, and foul smelling to endure the well-deserved tirade.

Jonny gets up to give his piece on discipline, being one of the few in the room who hasn’t taken or come perilously close to taking a stupid penalty today. He makes eye contact with the main offenders as he speaks. He doesn’t look at Patrick, even though he’d been called for a hook barely a minute after the Bruins’ last power play and ensuing power play goal. The only direct eye contact they’ve made all day has been on the ice. They’d had a beautiful PPG of their own late in the first period, but as soon as the celly was over, it was back to business. Back to that feeling of premature defeat. Patrick’s gotten to be pretty cozy with the feeling, lately.

All day, Jonny’s been watching him when he thinks Patrick isn’t paying attention. Watching him with this baffled, curious look like their argument last night overturned everything Jonny knew about Patrick. It shouldn’t take long for Jonny to put the pieces together. Patrick’s bottled up frustration and hurt blew up on him, and his reaction last night was a lot, but here’s the situation: There’s no way he was imagining Jonny backing off now. And that means he’s either getting a ‘no homo’ brushoff from Jonny or a reprise of their first falling out, years ago. Patrick isn’t fond of either option. If Patrick has it wrong, Jonny is free to explain himself. But Jonny doesn’t. Just keeps glancing at him like he’s a timebomb.

Just thinking about last night burns Patrick up. Jonny talking about Patrick’s healthy ego like he knew anything about it. Like he had any idea of the power he has over Patrick. It’s fucked. The whole thing is so fucked. He needs to take a big step back from the whole situation, unless Jonny offers him some alternate explanations. Patrick isn’t holding his breath there. After he left Jonny’s last night, Jonny didn’t text, didn’t call. Hell, maybe Jonny thinks Patrick’s the one who needs to explain himself, for getting too close and too attached and making Jonny uncomfortable. The thought of that makes Patrick feel queasy with anger and regret, so he shuts that part of his brain off point blank.

Patrick turns his attention away from Jonny and unlaces his skates. Regardless of how the team played tonight, Patrick’s having a career season, tied for the league lead in points. Regardless of how his personal life is going, work has always been most of his life, and right now, he’s extremely grateful for that. People deal with this shit every day, Patrick tells himself. And he has a shitton to look forward to. He knows how to deal. He undoes a knot in his laces with an overzealous tug of his finger. Patrick’s healthy, he’s on a hot streak, and they’re getting down to primetime in the schedule, precariously sitting at third in the division. He has plenty to keep him occupied. He just needs to focus on the ice, do what he does best, and keep his feet under him.

*

The second he leaves his feet, he knows it’s bad. Even before he hits the boards, those moments in the air feel slow and heavy as cement, like what follows is unstoppable. The shock of immense pain to his system is everything except surprising by the time it hits. His nose is still pressed to the fabric of his gloves where his hands are resting on the ice. He’s hesitant to get up because he knows, knows, what’s coming.

He isn’t noticing much besides the pain when he’s trying to skate off the ice. Paul’s flanking his left side by the time he reaches the tunnel. Patrick grits his teeth as fiercely as he’s able, trying to keep his mind off everything else, aside from protecting the place where his collarbone is on fire.

Before he’s spirited away for examination, he catches a glimpse of Jonny’s face staring after him through the glass. He registers the weighty press of Jonny’s flinty eyes following him as the glass door shuts between them with a thunk. His season is over.

*

The next few weeks of Patrick’s life, as gleaned from his Google search history:

brken collarbone sleeping positions best
south park seaspn 8
toradol side effects
david.after.teh.dentist
b campbell collarbone revovery
patrick kane
zeno chara good or jsut tall?
atheletes w collarbone injuries
vermette trade
capfriendly hakws
collarbone plate and screws removal
patrick kane highlights 2014
taylor swift best remixes plylist
ben smith trade
pkane prayer mural
chi weather
azul claro resort
azul claro resort quinton roo
azul claro resort quinatana roo
azul claro resort QUINTANA ROO
chi to cancun flights
southpark season 9

*

Mexico is Mexico. He gets some sun and some sleep. Doesn’t drink much because of the painkillers. Endures Jackie’s bubbliness as bravely as he can. They don’t go deep sea fishing (a sailfish wouldn’t suit his living room, anyway) and they don’t do yoga on the beach. There’s a bike in the resort gym that he gets real familiar with, having been advised against running on the sand. Patrick is past the worst part of rehabbing his shoulder, when he wasn’t allowed to do anything and his head was all soupy from the drugs, but it’s hard to get used to the metal plate and screws literally holding his fucking bone together.

He’s still a little surprised the front office approved the trip, but he’s too grateful to look a gift tropical vacation in the mouth. Maybe they’re just thankful he had the good grace to be injured before the trade deadline so they could use the extra cap space to get some fresh blood. At any rate, it works out neatly enough. His mom said she would feel much better about the whole thing with Jackie tagging along (Jackie being the only Kane whose schedule fit the bill), so Patrick goes with it. They don’t see each other enough these days, anyway.

The villa at Azul Claro is amazing. There’s a bathtub big enough to swim in and an unreal ocean vista (that he’s not really allowed to swim in). Cloudless skies and fresh air. He’d do the asshole thing and send a bunch of pictures to the boys, but it’s only bragging if this is where he’d rather be, and they all know that’s not even close to true. So he watches the games from his mattress and then from the bike when he can’t stand it any more. He notices the interested glances thrown his way from some eye-wateringly gorgeous women, but doesn’t do anything about it. It isn’t exactly a party, but then again, he didn’t come to Mexico with his baby sister and a bum clavicle to get crazy.

Frankly, he thinks he’s allowed some frustration. In every soundbite and check up, he says the same stuff he’s supposed to about looking forward and being patient and staying positive. But the fact is, he was having a career season. He was on pace for the Art fucking Ross. He was going to make history. And if hockey was the only thing going right for him, at least it was going really really right. Now, there’s a chance they’ll wash out in the first round of playoffs before Patrick’s cleared and he won’t be on the bench again until October. October. Or, they could really shit the bed and not make the playoffs to begin with. He isn’t letting those fears overtake him, but he’ll admit it does feel odd to be on a beach like it’s the off season. Like he’s already given up.

All things considered, though, it’s still a relief to be so far away from everything. His comparatively empty days feel intentional at a resort, like it’s what he wanted. Where he wanted to be. If he has to spend so much of his day staring outside a window, it might as well be at an ocean vista. If he has to watch games he can’t play in, it might as well be from a hammock. If he’s going to avoid replying to texts, it might as well be because the wifi is spotty from the front deck of his villa. Boo hoo, right?

*

By the time the trip is over, he’s sick of Jackie’s prying, she’s sick of Patrick’s moping, and they’re both glad to be home. He comes into town as the team is leaving for Dallas, so the ice is completely free when he’s finally, finally cleared to skate (about a full month ahead of schedule).

At last, with ice under him, he’s got enough to keep his mind occupied. When he reaches the locker room after, he shoots Jackie an apology text for being a downer on their vacation.

sorry for being a butt all week. hope you got home ok

She replies, Sorry for calling you a gap-toothed bitch

He’s tapping a response when an incoming text interrupts him.

Jonny writes, Heard you’re back on the ice, how you feeling?

It isn’t the first text Jonny has sent him since the injury, but it’s the first Patrick responds to. Hopefully it will satisfy Jonny, because Patrick doesn’t have the energy to deal with his hot and cold streaks right now. And the absolute last thing he wants from Jonny is his pity, for the injury or his ill-advised feelings for Jonny.

Patrick clenches his jaw and hits send on not bad

Jonny writes, Get better soon bud

Patrick simply types, it’s my job. and gets back to peeling off the layers of his uniform.

*

A week later, the team is back in town and Patrick heads over to Duncs’ to see some of the boys and catch up. He’s been mostly incommunicado. He’s pretty sure the last time most of them heard from him personally was when, doped up, he’d sent everybody a pic of his post-op x-ray showing off his new hardware with the caption im screwed haha a month ago. So it’s good to reconnect with the boys. He can’t have alcohol with some of the meds he’s on for his injury, and he can’t have anything extra for his headache either. How he’s got such a headache while he’s on prescription painkillers is beyond him.

Yesterday, when he asked Duncs who was going to be there, he said Jonny would be sleeping off a cold. So, given the way Patrick’s life tends to go, it should be no surprise that Jonny shows up anyway. By the grace of god and good reflexes, Patrick gets pulled into a conversation every time it seems Jonny's heading his way. He tries to focus on those conversations, but he can feel Jonny’s eyes on him, even though he refuses to look. At this point, their conversation history on his phone is a string of grey bubbles and Patrick would like to keep it that way.

Also splitting his attention is the headache. It’s not so bad at first. He takes his cap off to relieve some of the pressure on his temples while he talks to Bicks. He hangs out in the kitchen, further from the noise of the TV or the music from the speakers, where Patrick gets to really talk to Desjardins for the first time since he was traded to Chicago. Desjardins is hilarious, but still, by ten o’clock the throbbing is pushing any space for fun out of his skull.

A few of the younger guys are there and Sharpy likes to amuse himself seeing how drunk he can get them (as if they need his help). Saader’s listing a little already, which Patrick notices just before he also notices how Saader keeps glancing at Patrick and then across the room at Jonny throughout the night, perceptive little fucker. It rankles Patrick to think he’s been anything less than subtle and chill. He is the most chill of anyone. Fight him.

So, he heads over to the couches to join the group Jonny’s sitting with just to avoid making a whole thing of it. Oduya’s talking about his girlfriend or something and Patrick does his best to participate. His head is pounding. It isn’t until Oduya’s phone rings and he gets up to take the call that Patrick realizes everyone else has drifted off to other conversations and what-have-you. It’s just him and Jonny on opposite couches.

“So, how’s the rehab going?” Jonny says, pretty convincingly normal. He doesn’t sound congested. His cold isn’t showing at all beyond a general air of fatigue.

He’s wearing a cap and one of those sweaters with the three buttons at the collar. Jonny’s being normal and it’s infuriating. If Patrick responds, they’ll have a whole normal conversation or Jonny will even address the tension between them and Patrick cannot allow it. He knows what’s coming. They’ll catch up, get comfy, and then Jonny’s going to ask him ease off, to stop making their friendship uncomfortable for Jonny. He’ll say it in some carefully architected, inoffensive way, but it will boil down to ‘I need you to stop sending gay vibes at me okay pal.’ Patrick would rather not go down that road.

So, like a self-respecting adult willing to pay attention to his own needs, Patrick ignores Jonny’s question, says, “Gotta piss,” and leaves the living room, evading Jonny’s wide eyes.

He goes to the bathroom for show, splashing some cold water on his forehead to little effect. When he comes out and makes his way to the kitchen, Jonny’s sitting in the same spot by himself just staring into the middle distance. Patrick resolutely pushes the image out of his mind and joins Seabs at the kitchen island.

He and Seabs chat for a minute, but pretty soon Patrick’s headache has him pinching the bridge of his nose. It feels like his eyeballs must be bulging out of his head, like his whole head must be visibly throbbing. He’s trying to focus on his breathing, but it isn’t helping.

“Alright there, Kaner?” Seabs is giving him a concerned look.

Patrick wipes a hand over his face. “Headache,” he says simply.

“I’m sure Duncs has got some—”

“Nothing I can take on top of what I’m already on,” Patrick interrupts, chagrined, patting his clavicle softly.

Seabs winces. “Sucks.”

“Mmhm.” He takes a breath. “May head home, actually.”

“Ought to listen to your body,” Seabs shrugs. “You at the UC tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I’ll see you in the weight room, Seabsie. ‘Night.”

Shawsy spots him when he reaches the door. “Get better soon, Kaner!”

“Right back atcha, buddy.” He makes a face that’s more playful than he feels at Shawsy to let the burn sink in before traipsing out the door. Shawsy squawks in outrage, but the door swings shut behind Patrick before he can retaliate.

Walking out to his car, he feels eyes on his back but he keeps his gaze forward. Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

*

He doesn’t see Seabs in the morning. His stint in the gym for PT overlaps with the team’s ice time. His goal is to be be ready for Game 1. Series 1 Game 1. And there is nothing passive about recovering six weeks ahead of schedule from a broken bone. PT’s grueling but it beats being bed-ridden. By the time his session’s up, all he wants is a cool, quiet place to be horizontal. He unlocks the door to his apartment, takes care getting his coat off his shoulders, and settles in on the couch, his shower-damp hair dripping onto the cushions. He gets about five full minutes to himself before there’s a knock on the door.

He couldn’t say what he was expecting when he opened the door (the list of people who the doorman will let up without calling him is a very short list), but it certainly wasn’t Jonny standing there in his winter coat, shifting from foot to foot with a shopping bag in hand. His hair is shorter. He was wearing a hat last night, so Patrick hadn’t noticed.

“Hey,” Jonny says with a stiff-looking grin.

“Uh… hey,” Patrick says. “Come on in.”

“Thanks.”

It’s… not comfortable. Why is he here, again? Jonny’s on his couch across the coffee table from Patrick before he knows what’s happening.

“I, uh… brought you something,” Jonny says.

He pulls something out of his bag and places it on the table. It’s… a jar?

Patrick continues to stare.

“Seabs mentioned you were having headaches, and I found this stuff,” he gestures to the jar, “when I was out a few years back.” During his concussion, Patrick fills in.

Jonny parts his lips to say something else when “When did you cut your hair?” tumbles out of Patrick’s mouth without any permission. At this point, he’s probably not allowed to blame painkillers for this kind of shit, but he’s going to anyway.

To his credit, Jonny only looks thrown for a moment. “Uhhhbout a week ago.”

“Mm,” Patrick supplies, shifting in his seat. His head is fuzzy and he doesn’t have anything to say; Jonny has him cornered, here. Patrick can’t just bounce from his own place like he did at Duncs’. He’s bracing himself for a Talk; at best, a sympathetic rebuff. Pressure builds behind his eyes and Patrick rubs his temple warily.

When Jonny doesn’t say anything else, Patrick lifts his chin to study him. He doesn’t see Jonny with dark circles too often; maybe he’s still sick? Jonny’s eyes are glued to the hat he has grasped in his hands. His eyebrows are knit and he’s nodding ever so slightly, like he’s listening to and digesting a piece of criticism from a coach. Patrick isn’t saying anything, though. Jonny’s dark eyes flick upward.

After a smear of eye contact, Jonny eyes where Patrick is rubbing his forehead and then Jonny’s suddenly on his feet, coat still on.

“I…” he starts, but deflates with a sigh. “I should probably get going. You need your rest.” He fiddles with the toque in his hands.

“Um, sure,” Patrick responds, even though it’s barely two o’clock. (He’s right, though. Patrick will probably head straight for bed once Jonny’s gone.)

“Yeah.” And Jonny’s out the door, as quick as that. What the hell was that?

 

The whole interaction leaves Patrick so mystified that it’s a full day before he remembers the jar of pale yellow something. His temples are throbbing in a mild precursor to an oncoming tantrum. When he picks it up off the coffee table, he realizes it doesn’t have a label beyond ‘headache’ and ‘8 oz.’ scrawled on the side. When he shifts the jar around, he finds that the contents are thick, nearly a solid. Is he supposed to eat it? Rub it on his skin? Dissolve it in tea, bathwater? Snort it? Cautiously, he opens the container and sniffs at it. Peppermint. Which narrows it down not a damn bit.

His headache has been in full swing for half an hour when he caves. He hopes this homeopathic shit is the gesture Patrick interpreted it to be, because he needs some directions from Jonny. The gesture, Patrick’s desperation, and Jonny’s recent behavior go a long way to defrost Patrick’s attitude—basically, it doesn’t feel right to be so cold when Jonny has clearly lost his mind.

“H’llo? Pat?” Jonny’s voice is low. He’s probably propped up on his hotel bed in Winnipeg.

“Hey man, need your help real quick with this headache stuff. Do I eat it or—”

“No! No, Pat.” Jonny’s laughing at him.

“Well then, help me out here!”

“Okay, here’s what you do: Run a hot bath.”

“This is a bath oil?” Patrick eyes the jar skeptically. “Really?”

“Did I say that? No. Now just run a hot bath. Only a few inches full. And get an ice pack—a small one.” The awkwardness of the day before seems to be buried by Jonny’s automatic contrary reaction to Patrick doing basically anything.

The water rushing out of the faucet is just one more noise layered onto Patrick’s brain, stressed and uneasy. He strips down to his boxers because it seems like the thing to do. In the mirror across from the tub, Patrick can see clearly where he’s lost muscle mass, lost weight. If he got any sun in Mexico, it isn’t showing.

“Okay, now when the tub’s like a tenth full, stop the water.”

“What the fuck am I doing here, Jonny?”

“Trust me.”

Patrick turns the water off and awaits further instructions.

“Now get the ice pack and the salve.”

Patrick figures he means the jar and brings both to the tub.

“Okay, now sit on the edge of the tub. Y’know, with your back leaning up against the wall. And put your feet in the water.”

Patrick hisses involuntarily when his feet hit the hot water.

“There you go,” Jonny says.

“Fuck’s sake,” Patrick hisses.

“Bear with it for me,” says Jonny. “Now put the ice pack behind your neck and lean back.”

Patrick does.

“Open the jar and scoop some of it out.”

Patrick does.

“Rub it between your fingers to warm it up.”

Patrick does.

“Okay, now get some on your thumb. And rub it into your temple. Little circles.”

“Now the other one.”

“Now across your forehead.”

“Between your eyebrows.”

It feels cold in a penetrating way. Like a vapo-rub for his brain.

He must make a noise, because Jonny says, “Yeah, it’s good, right? I like to get some up behind my ears and work it in with my thumbs. Just make sure you wash it out of your hair after.”

Patrick tries this, pressing his thumb into the divots and working the salve in. When the last barb of tension is unknotted, he’s aware of the sound he makes, if not in control of it. He readjusts his perch on the side of the tub a bit, trying to ignore the one of the stranger boners in his personal history.

He clears his throat, "So, having fun back in the ‘Peg?”

“Sure,” Jonny chuckles. “I’m actually at my parents’ now.”

“Oh!” Patrick interrupts. “I’ll let you get back—”

Jonny interrupts him right back, “Nah, I’m here for the night. Just doing some reading before bed now. Don’t worry about it.”

It’s quiet then.

“How’s,” Patrick pauses, “...your family?” he tries. It’s a question for the wrong reason. Patrick isn’t sure if that’s what he wants to ask. He kind of wants to be off the phone. Plus, the last time he talked to anyone in Jonny’s family was texting David that the trip wasn’t going to work after all and he doesn’t want to think about their speculation.

Jonny huffs out a laugh. “Nosy. Very into ‘life direction’ this evening.” He sounds wry, a little raw maybe.

“Yikes,” Patrick commiserates, having had his share of family sit-downs. He can’t really picture them in the Toews household—what do you chastise Jonny Toews for? Skipping dessert? But Patrick can relate, all the same.

“Yeah.” The syllable is drawn-out. Tired. “All good things though. Just, a lot.”

Patrick pictures the cozy grey bedroom he’d seen once their first season together. He pictures its warm wood furnishings and crowded wall of awards surrounding grown-up Jonny like a dollhouse. “Mm,” Patrick says, because it’s the only thing he knows to say. Because for the last month, all of his sit-downs with Dr. Katie have been about Jonny.

Patrick hears Jonny say something like, “I wanna talk to you about something,” when Patrick’s salve-covered fingers lose grip of the phone and it clatters onto the tile by his thigh.

“Shit.” He grabs the phone, which—thank god—didn’t fall into the tub. “Jon? You there?”

“What the fuck was that? You drop your phone?” Before Patrick can reply, Jonny goes on, “Professional athlete, ladies and gentlemen.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“See if I pass to you next time.”

Patrick sees himself grimace in the mirror across the bathroom. The metal plate under his skin stands out among the fading bruises and surgical scar.

“Yeah, whenever next time is.” He wants to be ready for the first round so bad that the anxiety wilts what little was left of his stiffy.

“You’ll be back when you need to be,” Jonny says in his steady, one-with-the-universe voice.

“You cry in the showers every night I’m gone,” Patrick says. “Don’t lie.” Then he winces. It’s too damn easy to slip into their patterns. Since he got back into the habit this year, it’s too damn hard to not be available to Jonny. Still, Patrick chides himself; difficulty isn’t an excuse.

Jonny abandons Patrick’s levity, anyway. “The team’s resolved, Kaner. We are gonna stay in this thing until you’re back on the ice. Hell or high water. I don’t care if it takes until June. You let us worry about staying in the game; you just worry about healing up. You’ll be back out there,” he says with grave conviction. “And you’ll give ’em hell.” And with that, Jonny hangs up.

*

There’s a home game against LA two nights later and Patrick watches the victory from the box. After, he goes downstairs to talk to Kitch but gets held up, stuck in the middle of an argument between Steeger and Hammer about the locker room playlist. When he manages to extricate himself, calling over his shoulder, “Leave the music to me and you wouldn’t have these problems!” they just laugh at him. Rude. Turned back to make a face at them, he runs smack into a familiar chest.

“Peeks.” Jonny catches him with a hand on his good shoulder, eyes round. Patrick doesn’t know what Jonny’s making a face about; they’d seen each other that morning, reviewing tape with the team.

“Hey man,” Patrick says, glancing at Jonny’s hand on his shoulder. It would be weird to shrug it off, right? Probably. “I’m looking for Ki—”

“You have plans tomorrow night?” Jonny doesn’t even seem aware he’d interrupted Patrick, eyes intent on his face. His forehead’s still red from his helmet.

“No?” Patrick says, brain scrambling to catch up.

“You do now.” Jonny claps his shoulder for punctuation and screws up his face a second later like that wasn’t what he’d meant to say. But before saying anything else, he walks off past Patrick in the direction of the bikes.

Patrick looks through the space Jonny occupied a second ago to where Turbo’s doing postgame stretches on the floor. “Has he gone,” Patrick pauses delicately, then makes a ‘cuckoo’ sign with a spinning finger.

Turbo cranes his neck to stare after Jonny’s retreating form for a moment. Turbo turns back to Patrick and shrugs his shoulders with a helpless expression. Turbo probably thinks they’re all nuts. Which is probably fair. Patrick takes a deep breath and continues down the hallway.

 

Twenty hours later, Jonny is sprawled out on Patrick’s couch. They’re eating grilled chicken with some kind of magic herb sauce that Jonny ordered, watching the Devils play the Blue Jackets like nothing ever happened. When Jonny first arrived, Patrick kept glancing sideways at him wondering what exactly had caused some of his screws to go loose. But since then, it’s felt so normal—Jonny complaining about the amount of plastic bottles in Patrick’s fridge, both of them arguing over which game to watch, both of them arguing about the game itself—that Patrick has just kind of settled into it.

He and Jonny signed matching eight year contracts last summer. They’re going to have to find a middle-ground friendship that will work for them. Jonny gives a goofy laugh at a dumb penalty on the screen, and Patrick wonders how they’re going to get to that middle ground. Especially when Patrick still has unresolved feelings and a bitter taste in his mouth from the past month. He’s trapped between wanting an apology and fearing an explanation. It’s hard to settle on a stance when there’s such a large and stubborn part of him that’s embarrassed of caring in the first place. It’s like, part macho bullshit embarrassment and part embarrassment that he, a self-respecting adult, is still caught in this stupid cycle with Jonny.

Jonny’d brought him some beer to celebrate Patrick being able to drink again, and they’re both nursing a bottle. Jonny’s taken to shooting him these relieved looks whenever Patrick cracks a joke or fucking smiles. It would piss Patrick off to think that Jonny was, what, worried about him? Except Patrick’s just as relieved. This is going to work. They’ll be fine. It might take some adjusting, some effort, but they’re fine, and that’s a huge weight off his shoulders.

By the time Patrick’s fetching them a third round, the game is over and they’ve switched to House. Jonny’s faux-earnestly explaining to Patrick all about how glass is actually recyclable, like magic, Pat! As long as you know your colors real good, it’s a breeze! Patrick comes up from behind him and pours the dregs of his last bottle right on Jonny’s head. And when Jonny rears up and comes after him Patrick just tilts the full bottle in his other hand ever so slightly in warning above Jonny’s (definitely mega expensive) wool sweater.

Jonny gives him a pained look and yields. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?” Jonny says on his way to the guest bathroom to wash his hair. Patrick just snickers and starts cleaning up their takeout.

When Jonny emerges from the shower, damp and fresh and smelling like Patrick’s shampoo and wearing Patrick’s clothes, Patrick feels a tug in his chest he’ll have to get used to. He focuses on finding where they left off the last episode instead, even though this is normally the time of night Jonny starts talking about sleep being part of their job.

“Hey, so listen—” Jonny says from behind him, just as Patrick is hitting play to resume the episode.

“Yeah?” Patrick prompts, turning to look at Jonny over his shoulder. But Jonny’s walking around the couch now shaking his head, apparently intent on the screen.

“Nah, never mind.”

 

Forty minutes and some shit about porphyria later, Patrick stretches carefully. It got late so fast. Jonny’s snoring softly off to his left, bare feet poking out from under his blanket. Patrick tosses his own blanket over the one on Jonny and heads to his bed. This is going to work. They’re fine.

He slips on some fresh boxers and finishes a glass of water with his vitamins, buoyed by relief. He’s bone-tired from PT. The sheets are cool and he’s allowed to sleep however he likes now, collarbone be damned. The lights of Chicago dance outside his window and lull him under.

 

Click. Patrick pulls the covers higher to block out the noise.

“Pat.” It comes in a whisper from the doorway. “You up?”

Patrick groans softly. It’s still dark outside his window, very dark. It can’t be past three. Patrick rubs his eyes and moves to sit up. “Jonny?”

The screensaver playing on the living room flatscreen leaches soft blue into his room through the open door. Jonny’s silhouetted in the doorframe. He looks strange to Patrick’s adjusting eyes, hand still on the doorknob like he might walk back out again.

“Jonny?” Patrick repeats. He absently wonders if he should be worried, but none of this is really ruffling him, like it’s a dream. The song playing in his head while he slept is still circling around between his ears, muted.

“Yeah,” Jonny says. “Yeah, it’s me.” He steps inside and the soft blue envelopes them both. Patrick’s eyes keep trying to adjust to make out Jonny’s face, but he keeps getting closer, harder to see. Patrick’s mattress is fancy so the bed doesn’t rock when Jonny heaves himself onto it but Patrick can feel it all the same. Patrick lets himself sink back down under the covers.

“Can’t believe you let me fall asleep on that couch,” Jonny murmurs. “M’back’s all fucked up.” When Jonny’s tired, his mouth gets lazy forming his words, more Quebecois somehow. It’s frustratingly endearing.

When Patrick doesn’t respond, Jonny rolls over. “Pat? You awake?”

“No.” It’s sleep-rough and a little petulant leaving his mouth.

Jonny shifts around some more. “I’ve been trying to talk to you. Y’know, about everything. But it never seems to be a good time.”

Patrick heaves a sleepy sigh, “And now’s a good time?”

“Well,” Jonny yawns, “Maybe not. Just. Don’t let me put it off, ‘kay? You ‘n me. Gotta talk.”

“You me,” Patrick agrees, mumbling into his own forearm, “talk.”

“I’ve been an asshole,” Jonny breathes, like air leaving a balloon.

“Mm.” Patrick rolls over to face the window and get more comfortable. “Don’t talk to me too soon though.”

“Nn?”

“C’s you’re either gonna be awful and we do this whole thing over again,” he fluffs his pillow with a couple of hardy thumps, “or you’re gonna be decent ‘n apologize ‘n I won’t be able to stay mad at you. Never can. That’s kind of the problem.” His words are increasingly inaudible, lost in his pillow somewhere. The room is nice and quiet for a minute.

“S’not just an apology—”

“Bitch it better be,” Patrick huffs out. He’s barely awake enough to follow this conversation, let alone awake enough to be delicate about it.

“I mean, it is an apology,” Jonny blearily amends. “Just, also, y’know. Other stuff.”

“Mm. Other stuff. Cool.”

Jonny groans low in agreement. He’s face-down on the mattress, on top of the covers, and it must be working for him because he falls asleep like that. Patrick doesn’t take long to drift off next to him, either.

 

He can’t have been asleep for long when he resurfaces. Jonny was moving around on the bed, getting comfortable, and it woke Patrick up. His eyes flick open and it’s like all at once he’s awake. Not awake-awake. Dream awake, it feels like. Everything’s still soft hazy blue. The screensaver in the living room is still going.

He props himself up on an arm and looks over to Jonny, stretched out on top of the blankets in Patrick’s t-shirt and shorts. Jonny’s gripping one of his own wrists like he’s trying to hold his own hand, face nestled next to them. He’s breathing deeply through his nose. After a beat, his eyes slit open and focus on Patrick. That should startle him, really, but it doesn’t.

Jonny sits up to mirror Patrick’s posture. Patrick can’t quite make out Jonny’s expression in the dark, as close as he is. He leans in to get a better look but the more he sees the less he can put it all together. He catches surreal disconnected details of Jonny’s face. He notices the slightest crescent of light coming off one of Jonny’s eyes and it’s the last thing he sees before Jonny has caught his lips.

Patrick’s head is swimming. Time has slowed down somehow. Jonny’s beside him, dark and warm and his lips are getting lighter by the millisecond. They’re barely there now, just a suggestion frozen in the moment. Patrick presses into the contact, stretching to feel the full bow of Jonny’s mouth against him.

And then the world is moving again, moving in waves, steady and sure. There’s a hand warm on his jaw and movement and knees on either side of his and Jonny’s hair is soft when Patrick’s hand runs through it. God. He responds fluidly to Jonny’s every motion, catching him as he rolls into Patrick’s space. He’s not spending a single thought on it, yet everything feels like it’s taking place in Patrick’s head. Jonny’s legs are interlaced with his from above the covers now, solid anchors Patrick feels whenever he moves.

Jonny breaks for a breath, stroking his thumb along Patrick’s jaw and Patrick’s addled brain tries to understand how Jonny can breathe when they’re underwater. He shuts his eyes against the blue, against the city lights floating around the room and brings Jonny’s mouth back where he wants it. He has to let out the breath, the tension, he’s been holding for years through his nose against the plane of Jonny’s jaw. Jonny licks into his mouth so sweet that Patrick has to clench the hand in Jonny’s short hair and the one on Jonny’s neck.

They break away and there’s a heavy smear of eye contact before Jonny dips his head to press soft, loose kisses to his jaw, pressing his teeth into the last one like he’s urging Patrick to understand something. Patrick digs his nails into Jonny’s shoulder and rolls them back over onto their sides. Patrick’s hair is ruffled against the pillow as he kisses Jonny soft and wet. It devolves into simple contact, cheek to cheek. Everything is so muted, so quiet. Patrick should be shaking, should be awake; this should be the loudest, biggest, most frenetic moment. But it’s like the best kind of dream, vivid and velvet on all his senses. Jonny’s curled into his space from on top of the covers and his face is finally comprehensible again. He grips the wrist Patrick has on his neck and shares a look with Patrick so open and heavy in the dim blue light.

They breathe. Patrick knows they do because he can feel the movement of Jonny’s chest, but nothing can break the quiet. Jonny traps Patrick’s lips, gentle, and Patrick’s consciousness dissolves as they drift off together.

*

He’s jostled by movement on the bed again and blinks his eyes open. Warm sunlight is coming through the window. His shoulder is stiff and it’s about nine AM and Jonny’s in his bathroom and Patrick is missing a sock and oh. Something happened. Oh.

Jonny pads into the room and slides under the covers. Before Patrick can turn around to face him, Jonny’s already planted himself close behind Patrick, not quite touching.

“Didn’t mean to wake you up,” Jonny rumbles quietly, though Patrick hasn’t given any indication of being awake.

“Strike three for you,” Patrick manages, before realizing that he’s already indirectly brought up the thing. Are they talking about the thing?

Jonny just laughs though. Patrick can feel it. “Am I out, then?”

“Fuckin’ right, you’re out.” Patrick considers kicking him off the bed to punctuate the pronouncement, but it seems a bit cruel to them both considering Patrick just got comfortable again. Jonny’s warm. Patrick realizes he has snuggled infinitessimally backwards into him.

Slowly, Jonny brings an arm to rest around Patrick’s middle. Last night happened. It really happened. Jonny’s quiet. Patrick can’t even hear his breathing, which means he might not be doing any.

“Don’t make it weird,” Patrick says, snuggling tighter into Jonny’s embrace to make sure it’s clear he isn’t asking Jonny to back off. Hysterical laughter burbles up behind him, shaking Jonny’s whole body.

“Don’t make it weird,” Jonny repeats to himself. “That’s what you have to say?”

“Seems like that’s what needed to be said.” Patrick shrugs a little. His eyes have slipped shut.

“Really? That’s what needed to be said?”

“I thought so,” Patrick says, turning under Jonny’s arm to look at him. “Why? What did you want to hear?”

He sees Jonny’s eyes drift down from his own, drawn to his collarbone. The morning light and his threadbare tee don’t do much to hide the bruising, the protrusion of the metal plate holding his bone together, the thin surgical scar. Jonny brushes his thumb lightly just below the healing bone, making Patrick shiver.

“Oh, I forgot to say,” Patrick bites out through the shiver.

“Mm?” says Jonny, still distracted by the remnants of Patrick’s injury.

“I start practicing with the team again today.”

Jonny’s eyes immediately snap upward, all lit up and shit. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Patrick grins, and that of all things is what shatters the distance between them. One second they’re just in a loose embrace and the next Jonny’s kissing him soundly.

In daylight, everything’s different. It’s impossible to ignore how big Jonny is, up close like this. He kisses with a sturdy confidence that Patrick finds annoying but also frustratingly intoxicating.

“I’m sorry,” Jonny huffs against his cheek. “I meant to wait, but—” Patrick cuts him off with another kiss without a second thought. They’ve waited long enough.

It isn’t technically his first time kissing a guy, that was last night, but it’s definitely the first time he’s really aware of it. It’s a little sharper and a lot pushier, but he’s pretty sure that’s just because it’s Jonny. He’s as bossy as ever, not the least bit shy about putting his own hands, as well as Patrick’s, wherever he wants them. Patrick pushes his body in closer, straining for more contact, and Jonny yields to lie back so that Patrick is on top of him. The long planes where they’re pressed up together are heaven, warm and electric.

At first, it’s perfect. Patrick settles into a deep, searching kiss, rubbing the exposed skin at Jonny’s hip with his thumb. Jonny’s got his arms around Patrick’s back, holding Patrick to him like he’s going to float away. When that pressure doesn’t seem to be enough, Jonny pulls away from the kiss and moves to sit up, tugging Patrick along with him. Patrick’s just focused on getting Jonny’s mouth back on him. He grounds himself with hands on Jonny’s broad shoulders and sinks into a sharp-edged kiss.

But as Jonny’s arms surround him once again, Patrick realizes he’s in Jonny’s lap. Jonny has access to him everywhere, from the hand at the crook of his knee to the mouth at his ear to the insistent heat of Jonny’s dick, just under Patrick’s ass. It’s abruptly too much, being so surrounded by someone, putting himself in their lap, at their mercy. He’s used to being in control, with one night stands and long term girlfriends alike, but he always imagined relinquishing it would be easy. Faced with Jonny’s broad, confident physicality, Patrick is forced to reevaluate. The sensation of being in Jonny’s lap is startling to the point of being scary.

He pulls back from the shock of it. He must have made a noise, because Jonny meets his eyes, questioning. Patrick just rolls them back onto their sides, even-steven. He licks into Jonny’s mouth until Jonny’s eyes slip shut again and finds he doesn’t mind the pressure of Jonny’s dick when it’s right up against his. Jonny gives a soft groan and slips a hand underneath Patrick’s shirt, brushing light fingertips up his spine that send him into a ticklish shiver. Jonny grins against his mouth and breaks the kiss. A curl has fallen across Patrick’s eye and Jonny sweeps it back with his thumb.

“So we’re doing this?” Patrick asks quietly, a little out of breath.

“Yeah.”

The ‘finally’ sits between them unspoken but keenly felt. Patrick’s flush with Jonny now, and he’s feeling a lot of things. He leans into the sensation, but then his head snaps up.

“I’m coming back to practice today.”

“Yeah, you said.” Jonny’s eyes are trained on Patrick’s mouth. When Patrick doesn’t move to put said mouth back on Jonny, Jonny moves his head to pay attention to Patrick’s neck.

“And you’re coming to practice today.”

“Yeah.” Jonny’s barely paying attention; his voice has slid somewhere deep and thick that Patrick has never heard before. It’s such a shame that Patrick’s awake-awake brain has to ruin this.

“So we’re both late.”

Jonny stills.

“Fuck,” he says under his breath, still throaty. “Fuck fuck fuck…”

They separate and Patrick checks the time on his phone. They’d be fine if they were anyone else. But Jonny normally gets to the rink over an hour early and as far as Patrick knows, all he has with him is yesterday’s clothes. Patrick normally gets to the rink around forty-five minutes early, minimum. Coming to the rink at the same time as most everyone else for once would be a forgivable offense. Except.

Except it’s April Fool’s Day. A big one. He doesn’t like to think about how it’s most likely Sharpy’s last season with the Hawks, but with that in mind, it’s practically the fucker’s farewell tour wreaking havoc in the locker room, which ups the ante. And someone has tipped the rookies off about the socks, which does not bode well for him or Jonny on this day of days. And Patrick is guaranteed some welcome-back pranks even on a non-holiday. They’re basically walking into a warzone.

Patrick is in his closet scrambling to pull some jeans on while yelling to Jonny about all this when Jonny walks in wearing his soft sweater from yesterday and kisses him mid-sentence. A soft, simple kiss. And then he walks back out again.

It’s a full thirty seconds before Patrick snaps out of it and goes to find a shirt.

 

It’s the most zen April Fool’s Day he’s ever had. When Patrick’s Gatorade is salty, he spits it back into the bottle and laughs. When his stick tape has Hello Kitty all over it, he uses some to give his stall a little pizzazz. When his helmet is filled with shaving cream, he just scoops it out and discreetly relocates it to Shawsy’s shoes—pressed into the toes where you can’t see it. When the locker room speakers play a frankly stunning recording of the last time Patrick was too drunk to karaoke but did it anyway (the Golden Girls theme song, in case you were wondering), he sings along. His tennis balls have something sloshing around in them, his socks are filled with mustard, and by the time he reaches the tunnel, he’s somehow got a streak of pink in his hair. It’s how he knows they care.

Sadly, he doesn’t have anything elaborate planned for anyone. He’s been distracted with getting back into game-ready form. Still, he manages a well-timed text to one of the equipment managers to ensure that Sharpy’s jeans get a little makeover while they’re all on the ice.

Thank god it’s a closed practice.

When he skates over to the puck pile where Jonny is and pats him on the shoulder, a little cloud of glitter is released into the air.

“Towel?” Patrick asks.

“Helmet,” says Jonny, then grins.

Patrick grins right back. “Ain’t that the way.”

Jonny gives an odd little cough then, and Patrick turns around to find Nordy with a shaving cream pie slowly approaching. These guys must have been real attached to their socks, Jesus Christ. If Patrick gets pied, he’s going to have to go towel his face and visor, and god only knows what’s in the towels today. He’d prefer to get some actual practice in at some point.

“No,” he says, holding his stick out in front of him. “No no no. You see this white jersey, Nordy? That means no contact. Do not,” he skates backwards a bit when Nordy doesn’t slow down, “Do not contact me, Nordy!”

The pie goes flying but Patrick is quick enough to duck. He hears a splat and slowly turns around.

When he meets Jonny’s gaze, it’s at eye level because they’re both crouched down. Then they both move to look behind Jonny and see Crow, who had been innocently stretching on the ice, pied right in the profile, shaving cream slowly falling in through the cage of his mask.

Practice pretty much goes downhill from there.

 

“Assless chaps, Peekaboo? Really?” Sharpy noticed the alterations right away, but, true to form, he put the jeans on anyway to admire the handiwork. Vermette’s changing next to him, trying his best not to look traumatized.

“They were assless,” quips Bicks. “But now that you’re wearing them, I think they’re just chaps. Boom.” He high-fives himself.

Sharpy’s craning his neck, trying to see his own ass in the jeans. “These were four hundred dollars,” he says, but he’s still smiling. “I’ll think of you every time I wear them, little man.”

“Do that,” says Patrick, turning to his own stall and completely refusing to choke up. He’s gonna miss that asshole so much.

He’s good to go now, grabbing his bag and putting on his cap, when all of a sudden, the world goes glam rock.

“Hey Tazer,” Patrick calls, and then gestures at himself. “Twinsies!”

*

Jonny had driven them both to practice that morning, which is a shame since the glitter really would have suited Patrick’s ride better than it suits Jonny’s. Jonny is handling the glitter in his car with surprising equanimity. Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising since Patrick’s pretty sure they’re both thinking about the possibility of Patrick giving him a handjob. (That could just be Patrick projecting, though.) The keyword there is thinking, because while Patrick thinks they talked about talking, they haven’t actually talked.

Jonny likes to rest one hand on the gear shift when he drives, knobby knuckles casually splayed out. He’s tapping his fingers now, silent against the black leather of the knob. He clears his throat. “You want to help me plant some stuff? Won’t take long.” There’s glitter behind his ear, even after showering.

It’s not what he’s expecting Jonny to say, so it takes his brain a second to catch up.

Now, Jonny can only have one of three motives, because he has to know there’s no way Patrick is going to be any help with gardening. Either he A) needs to have a serious chat with Patrick but can’t just say that, B) wants to make out with Patrick but can’t just say that, or C) all of the above.

Patrick doesn’t have a good reason to interfere with any of those motives, so he says, “Um… sure?”

“Cool,” Jonny says, low and inscrutable, and changes lanes to head towards his house.

When they pull into the garage, Patrick can see that Jonny’s been busy. Most of the soil and fertilizer that was clogging the second parking spot is gone.

Jonny slides out of the car and pulls off his sweater to reveal the thin grey t-shirt underneath. The day had warmed up considerably while they were in practice and Jonny wouldn’t need two layers. Patrick catches himself eyeing the snatches of skin revealed, remembering how they felt under his fingertips just this morning. He startles when the car door on the driver’s side swings shut between them. When he climbs out of Jonny’s car, he finds the man himself puttering around the garage tossing different supplies into a box and waving Patrick over.

Oh. So they’re actually gardening. Bummer.

“Help me carry this,” Jonny says, tossing some gloves into the box.

“So what are we working with?” Patrick follows him up the stairs. He keeps his eyes ahead of him and not on Jonny’s ass out of habit. When he reaches the top of the stairs he blinks, realizing that he probably has implicit permission to look now. Since Jonny seems pretty okay with him touching.

“Carrots, swiss chard, some asparagus, some herbs. Kohlrabi,” Jonny is saying, toeing off his shoes. He opens the patio door on his own and holds it open for Patrick. They set their supplies down. Patrick can see now where all the soil went. All the planters on the patio are filled with dark, fresh earth. There’s a number of sprouts poking out already. Jonny’s garden has evidently seen a lot of attention recently.

Jonny directs him to where he’ll be sowing the carrot seeds and explains what they’re doing. It’s immediately obvious to Patrick that Jonny doesn’t need his help at all, as suspected. With the intimate size of Jonny’s garden, there’s barely any labor to these tasks. And his grow towers inside don’t look like they need any work. Patrick plays along, though, fiddling with seeds but mostly watching Jonny work on the planters where he’s sowing parsley with his back to Patrick.

Jonny clears his throat inelegantly. “I’m really happy you—Last night, I mean, I—” he breaks off again. Jonny glances over his shoulder at Patrick who gives him a little encouraging grin. A bit of tension escapes from Jonny’s broad shoulders. He turns to work with some evil-looking alien creatures Jonny had called ‘asparagus crowns.’

“I’m really happy we’re doing this,” Jonny says, still facing his asparagus. “And I owe you an apology.”

Patrick doesn’t know if he’s expected to reply to that, so he goes with his gut and keeps his mouth shut. He can hear Jonny patting dirt and moving supplies around on the deck. It is magnificently sunny, even shaded by the trellis overhead. After a minute, Jonny speaks up again.

“I know you said you wanted to wait to talk, but then last night…” He trails off. “I thought since last night happened, maybe we could talk and you could just hate me for a bit longer anyway.” Jonny’s voice is strange, like he himself doesn’t know whether he’s joking or not.

He must take Patrick’s silence as acceptance of his terms, because he continues speaking. “I… It’s always been hockey, you know?”

The statement comes out of nowhere, so no, Patrick doesn’t really know. His face is screwed up with confusion when he turns to look at Jonny, still sitting cross-legged in front of his asparagus plot, mostly turned away from Patrick. Jonny’s shaking his head as if in answer to his own question.

“Let me back up,” Jonny says. “I was an asshole. About the trip, vacation thing. And before that too, being, I don’t know, all weird and cold.”

“It’s not like it was the first time,” Patrick says before he can stop himself. He turns back to his carrot seeds.

Jonny is very quiet behind him until he says, “I knew I was different, or whatever you wanna call it, from a young age. And, you know, I wouldn’t take it away from anybody else,” his voice rises like he’s making a helpless hand gesture. “But you’re told all the time that there’ll be sacrifices.”

Jonny’s still being scattered and vague, but Patrick is starting to catch on. Jonny’s normally more articulate. It’s like he’s barely had time to process what’s in his head, worlds away from the confident, fine-tuned locker room speeches.

“They always told us,” Jonny repeats, “that you’d have to make sacrifices if you wanted to make it. And that’s all that ever mattered to me. I mean, not all—” he breaks off with a frustrated sigh, “You know what I mean.”

He continues, “That’s what we do, we give up everything to get this, and. And it’s worth it,” he says in an odd tone, turning to catch Patrick’s eyes like he needs to know Patrick agrees with him. Patrick does. Jonny turns away again, somehow still planting asparagus.

“It’s worth it,” Jonny picks the thought back up, “but it kind of becomes a habit.” He pauses.

“I’d hooked up,” he says, “with guys at Shattuck, but after a couple of times in college I knew I had to reel that in. I had all this ahead of me and it’s not like girls were a hardship.” He glances to Patrick in a quick aside, “I do like girls, by the way.” He says it with this tone like, ‘in case it’s ever relevant.’

“But, so, I get to the show and we’re on the same team and it’s…” Jonny just gives up on the sentence because Patrick already knows what it was like. It was unbelievable.

“But being made captain was like everything became real, you know? You make it to the show and then you realize that’s just the fucking start. I mean, you know that before, but you don’t know know it, you know?” It’s comforting to Patrick how all over the place Jonny is. Jonny’s hunched a bit now, head in one hand, with his eyes closed like that’ll help him remember better.

“So it’s real all of a sudden and I have these two things—these two huge things in my life and I didn’t have room for both of them in my, in my head, Pat. I mean, how was I going to learn to lead a rebuilding team when I was constantly thinking about the other thing, a thing I couldn’t share with the team, a thing that set me apart from them? It was hard enough just as a player, and not as a, as a leader. And fuck, I didn’t even know how you felt about—I mean, you were Kaner. How could I know?” His voice has gone raw. Patrick realizes it’s been forever since he last said anything.

“And you were there. All the time. Being… I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t fair to you, but I couldn’t do it. I’ve always been told there would be sacrifices. Since I was really little, I knew that. But I think. I think I made a mistake, this time.” He’s pinching the bridge of his nose. It seems to be popular opinion that Jonathan Toews doesn’t make mistakes a lot, but what most people doesn’t know is that that’s actually pretty much the truth.

Jonny finally puts down the asparagus crown in his hand and turns to face Patrick, leaning back against the wooden sides of the planter box with an air of finality.

“You weren’t—” Patrick clears his throat at length, “You couldn’t have known, back then.” He looks at Jonny for a brief moment, as long as he can stand. He’s shit at these conversations. “I didn’t know. About me. I mean, don’t put that on yourself, is all I’m saying. I can’t blame you there.” It’s not the most important part of what Jonny said, but it’s just about the only part he has a response for at the moment.

In a fit of daring, he scoots himself gracelessly across the patio to sit next to Jonny, leaning back against the brick and wood. “That shit years ago… I didn’t know how to say anything about it so I never did. But you should know how much that sucked,” he punches the word out, hoping the feeling he puts behind it makes up for the fact that he can’t find the right words.

“Like, I get it,” Patrick says, only half sure he does because he’s still processing what Jonny said. “But you were my best friend.” If his voice hits a few road bumps, he thinks it’s understandable. “And I was like old news.”

Jonny drops a hand to Patrick’s knee and clenches hard, leaving smudges of soil behind on Patrick’s jeans. It’s like he’s trying to make up for the eye contact neither of them can manage to make. “I’m so sorry, Patrick,” he says, rough.

“I just don’t get how you thought it wouldn’t affect me.” He’s squinting at the planters across the deck like they’re the ones he’s talking to. “I mean, we both know how dumb you were as a rookie, but last month?”

“I,” Jonny says, and it’s so long before he continues that the word is more of a placeholder, just to let Patrick know he’s planning on saying something.

“I got so used to the idea,” he says, “that it couldn’t happen. And I remembered how hard it was the first time. And you kept getting more and more tangled in my life. It was like every single thing that happened this year was going to make it that much harder when I inevitably couldn’t handle it again.” He’s picking up steam like he’s gone through this in his head often. “I kept feeling closer and closer to reaching that point, and the longer it went on, the more—” More hand gestures.

“The more you were fitting into my life, and the more our families were going to hang out, and the more I was depending on you. For everything.” His hands drop to his lap. “It got to the point where all I was ever thinking about was how much it was gonna suck when I had to,” he glances at Patrick, “you know.”

The breeze has picked up a little and Jonny’s warmth against his side is a welcome, if tenuous, comfort.

“And then I did, and—and I am talking so much, Kaner,” he breathes out, hanging his head.

“Keep going,” Patrick says, with an encouraging nudge to Jonny’s knee, just to let him know he’s with him.

“And then I did, and it was awful, and you went off and broke all your bones and left—”

“What the fuck, it’s not like it was on purpose,” Patrick objects.

Jonny continues undeterred, “And then that was awful. When we… talked. About the surprise trip. That was the first time I thought I might not be alone in this.”

“I wasn’t too subtle there, huh,” Patrick says. “Look, I don’t know how you think I am with other people, but I’m not like this,” he presses their knees together for emphasis, “with anyone else. Don’t really know how you missed that.”

“Guess it felt like wishful thinking. By the time it felt like a real possibility, I’d screwed everything up. Royally. And you were gone. In Winnipeg, when my parents sat me down to talk about my goals, you know, after hockey, what they could be doing to help and all that, I kind of. I was kind of bowled over. Not like I hadn’t thought about all that before, but it was strange. It was like I could suddenly see the pattern all laid out, you and me, and it had never occurred to me that it could work before. It just kind of hit me over the head in the middle of that conversation. My mom,” he laughs, “she thought I was in crisis over the thought of retiring. Telling me to breathe, telling me to take my time and think it over. Basically sending me to my room. And then you called,” he finishes simply.

It’s a lot to digest. Patrick’s feelings are a cocktail of old anger and new affection with little in between. It’s like Patrick is fundamentally incapable of feeling just one way about Jonny.

“I’m sorry,” Jonny says again, looking Patrick in the eye. Patrick meets his eyes for a moment before he has to shut his own. He inhales deeply through his nose, lips pressed together tight, and nods slightly, processing.

“We’ll get past it,” Patrick says. It’s as close as he can come to forgiveness in that instant, but he finds, hearing the words from his own mouth, that they’re true. He lets himself lean more heavily against Jonny. Jonny exhales slowly and it’s like a sentence all on its own. Patrick has never known anyone as well as he knows Jonny. And god, there’s still so much he doesn’t know.

There’s another brief silence. “We’ve been very grown up today, huh?” Patrick manages, figuring they both need a break from gravity.

Jonny lets a wry laugh loose. “Sure. Unless you count the pies.”

And the glitter. And basically everything else that’s happened today, Patrick agrees internally.

“I say we’ve earned a drink,” Patrick says instead and stands with a soft grunt. He offers a hand to Jonny, who stares at it a moment before taking it. Patrick pulls him up with his good arm, cool earth smudging between their fingers.

They head inside. Patrick keeps a hand on Jonny’s back, because he’s still upset with Jonny, but if Patrick had just said all that shit he’d need a hand on his back. Patrick was kidding about drinking, but Jonny goes for the drink fridge and pulls out a Heineken for himself. There’s a massive container of quinoa salad in the fridge, so they wash their hands, sit down at the island, and tuck in. The salad is completely devoid of any of the things that normally make food good, but Patrick has to admit it’s tasty, against all odds. He leans back with a satisfied burp.

Patrick blinks from his comfortably reclined position. “You got the comfy counter chairs.”

“They don’t look as nice,” Jonny insists, pointing his fork at Patrick, “but I was slumping.”

“April First,” Patrick tests out, “National Patrick Was Right Day.” Jonny flicks a goji berry at him.

Things get quiet again. Patrick sips at his juice and taps at his phone. He gets the perverse impulse to say ‘so, what now?’ but he suppresses it. He’s not on a TV show. The quiet is weird, though. It’s like neither of them were prepared for a scenario where they didn’t end up crushed.

A thought hits him. “So wait. You’ve been hooking up with dudes since high school?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says easily, like it’s the first thing he tells people about himself.

With his usual amount of tact and grace, Patrick blurts, “Do you miss it?”

Something about the way he asks must be telling because Jonny turns to sit sideways in his chair and asks Patrick, “You’ve never? With guys?”

Patrick’s caught off guard. God, what a blast from the past, to feel weird and virginal for the first time in ten years. He scratches his chin to cover, pretending to think real hard about it. He opens his mouth, shuts it again to fake think another moment before saying, “Nope.” He tilts his head to send a saucy sideways glance at Jonny, “Unfortunate side effect of not knowing any attractive dudes. Real shame.”

Jonny just gives him an amused smirk with raised eyebrows, head leaning on the hand he has propped on the counter. He’s stretched out, lax, and completely aware of how good he looks. Asshole.

“Mmhm,” Jonny says, blinking slowly. The tissue thin, dirt-stained t-shirt he’s wearing is riding up.

“I hate you,” Patrick breathes and gets up to get some water.

“Mmhm.”

“Honestly, how you’ve ever gotten laid is beyond me.”

“Mmhm.”

“Beyond,” Patrick insists.

And that’s the story of how Patrick ends up pressed firmly against Jonny’s fridge, biting back breathy sounds as Jonny releases his mouth to pay attention to the underside of his jaw. He runs his hands up and down Jonny’s broad back, pressing him closer. His hands clench when Jonny takes to brushing feather-light back and forth along the scar on Patrick’s clavicle, the way he had that morning. Patrick honestly never thought baiting Jonny could get any more fun, and he is so, so happy to be proved wrong about that.

“You’re so lucky I’m willing to settle,” Patrick bluffs as steadily as he’s able.

“Mmhm,” Jonny hums into his neck.

Jonny gets his calloused thumbs pressed to the spots Patrick’s always rubbing on his jaw, coaxing his mouth open. It occurs to Patrick that Jonny’s kissing him like he’s thought about it. Like he’s thought about it a lot.

Jonny has him completely wrapped up, big hands tucked into the back pockets of Patrick’s jeans. Whenever Jonny’s hands flex, Patrick gets this thrill like they’re doing something daring. He knows Jonny was trying to make some kind of point about his moves or whatever, but the guy is clearly distracted now, just feeling out how his mouth fits against the corner of Patrick’s. How Patrick’s lips feel against his tongue. Patrick gives him a moment, just seeing where Jonny takes things. Neither of them had time to shave this morning, so the kiss is edged in sandpaper. It’s a new sensation for Patrick, and the rough scritch of it against the tender skin of his neck makes his toes curl.

“Why—” huff, “Kaner, why is there pink in your hair?”

“Shut up, Jonny.” Patrick abandons patience then and pulls Jonny’s mouth back to his so he can bite at the distracting scar on his upper lip. If the sounds escaping Jonny are any indication, he’s really partial to Patrick’s teeth on his lips. His arms flex against Patrick’s sides as he leans into it. Jonny hauls him forward by the hands on his ass and everything gets amped up.

Times like these, Patrick wishes he never gave in to the pressure to wear jeans that actually fit. The constraint is starting to get painful as his dick swells. He slips his hand between them to adjust himself. Jonny hisses as Patrick’s knuckles incidentally graze his dick. They break the kiss. Jonny stares at Patrick’s hand and Patrick stares at Jonny, slowly, deliberately dragging his knuckles back and forth, relishing the way Jonny pushes into it. When Jonny pulls his hands out of Patrick’s back pockets, Patrick makes a mournful noise he’d rather forget, but then he sets nimble fingers to the fly of Patrick’s jeans.

After Jonny pulls them out of their jeans, it doesn’t last long. There’s no way it could, not when it’s Jonny panting into his ear and Jonny’s dick, pulsing fever hot under Patrick’s fingers. The only thing keeping Patrick in the game is the dryness of Jonny’s hand, and he can’t resist the urge to pull Jonny’s hand up to give it a broad lick, palm to fingertips, sucking two digits in his mouth for a glorious moment before tugging Jonny’s wet hand back down to his dick.

Jonny replaces his fingers by slipping his tongue into Patrick’s mouth and twists his wrist, grip tight and slick with Patrick’s spit. Patrick gives it up pretty quickly after that, sweet heat slithering up his spine as he comes. He leans back against the fridge, the awareness of being totally surrounded by Jonny falling on him all at once. After all his pallid fantasies, it’s astounding, the weight of Jonny’s touch and warmth and attention. Patrick pushes his pelvis upward one final time as Jonny wrings the last of his orgasm out of him. The sight of Jonny’s fingers wrapped around his spent cock is too much, suddenly, and Patrick looks away flexing his jaw.

He slides a leg around one of Jonny’s, pulling him in so he falls in just a little closer, arms braced on either side of Patrick’s head. The veins stand out on Patrick’s forearm as he jacks Jonny. The kiss they share is distracted on Jonny’s end and Patrick takes it as a sign he’s doing okay at this handjob business. “You look so fucking good like this,” Patrick whispers, breaking the kiss. He does. Jonny’s face is wide open and every muscle in sight is working towards pushing him closer to the brink. Jonny’s eyes slip shut and it’s like he was born to be at Patrick’s mercy. And this is just what Patrick can see with all Jonny’s clothes on, fuck. “Jesus,” Patrick rasps and Jonny gives it up. Patrick is somewhat spellbound watching the come pool and spill over Patrick’s fingers.

He’s still staring when Jonny tips his head up with a finger underneath his chin and kisses him sloppy and slow.

*

The next day, Patrick joins the team for morning skate, and it feels so close to being back for real that it’s making him want it even worse. He watches the game that night feeling underdressed in his suit and tie. Watches Jonny’s greasy tie-breaker push the team past the Canucks and clinch them a playoffs spot. It’s a relief, of course, that Round 1 is a definite, that Patrick has at least that much time to get back, that Jonny and the team delivered on their promise to stay in it for him. But the desire to be down there on the ice is so potent he can’t taste the relief at all. The craving is so strong now it’s practically an injury all on its own. The team has back-to-back games, so there’s no real time to celebrate. They hop straight on a plane to Buffalo.

Patrick has to stay behind in Chicago and work on easing back into shape for contact. Some of the trainers have selflessly offered to push him around on the ice while the team is on the road. He’s getting close to being ready. He wakes up every day feeling ready and it just gets harder and harder to convince himself to be patient. They’ve clinched a playoffs spot, though; there’s no discernible reason to risk putting Patrick back in the lineup for a handful of throwaway games. He’d harbored some lofty hopes of recovering soon enough to get a few regular season games under his belt and shake the dust off his skates, but that’s not happening. So he focuses on Series 1 Game 1, focuses on what Jonny said on that phone call from Winnipeg: ‘You’ll be back out there. And you’ll give ‘em hell.’

Patrick’s up early the morning after the Hawks win in Buffalo, doing some stretches and testing his shoulder. He cleans out his email and his DVR. Deletes spam voicemails—he doesn’t know how they get his number, but as long as the wider public doesn’t have it he’ll survive. He’s got the phone pressed to his ear, learning all about the cruise he just won, when it buzzes with a text:

You left your scarf at my place. Want me to bring it over?

Patrick’s tempted to tell Jonny they probably don’t need to come up with excuses to see each other anymore now that they’re, y’know, sucking face. But then he’d miss out on the shit Jonny comes up with, and entertainment is entertainment. Patrick types out a simple sure man come on down and unlocks his door. He’s just fucking around on the floor, laid out flat on his back staring through the window upside-down, doing some idle butterfly stretches to Tha Carter III, when Jonny knocks and lets himself in.

“Trying out some yoga there, Peeks?”

Jonny’s out of sight already when Patrick sits up, but he can hear Jonny’s keys and bag as he drops them in the kitchen. Instead of responding, Patrick just flops back down and starfishes out. Jonny pads in, somehow already barefoot, and drops down to the hardwood next to him.

Patrick lolls his head to face Jonny. “Good game last night.” It was a good game for him. Two goals and a 68% faceoff percentage.

“Thanks, buddy.”

“Just had to pass my point total,” Patrick sighs.

“Yeah,” Jonny scoffs, “And all it took was you breaking a bone and missing six weeks. I’d like to thank the NHL, my coaches, and also my parents—”

Pat snickers. He’s started butterflying again. “So what yoga pose is this?”

Jonny turns to give him a once-over. “Reclining goddess.”

“Fuck off.”

“I’m serious.”

“And I was serious about you fucking off.” Patrick slides a hand over to tickle Jonny high on his ribs and Jonny gives a spastic jerk in an effort to get out of Patrick’s reach.

His words come out rushed, high and uneven, through an uncontrolled laugh, “Quit it! Quit that gay shit, man!”

Patrick turns onto his side with a grin. “Buddy, if that’s the gayest shit we do today, I can guarantee you’ll be disappointed.”

“Do you think about even half of the shit that leaves your mouth?”

Patrick shrugs, still grinning. “I stand by that one.” He pushes himself up off the floor and heads over to the couch to pause the music and check his texts. Jonny seems content to just zone out on the floor behind the couch, so Patrick tucks into some NHL highlights from the night before.

“I, uh, saw your family at the game,” Jonny says.

Patrick’s lasered in on Nashville’s penalty kill. “Oh yeah? Who?”

“Just your parents and Jacqueline.”

“Cool. Everybody good?” It’s a cursory question. He’s in pretty close touch with all of them.

“Yeah.” Jonny’s voice is sliding a little. “You know your parents are always crazy nice to me. I swear your mom remembers every sick family member I’ve ever had.”

“Mind like a steel trap,” Patrick confirms. Once the highlights move on to the Eastern Conference, Patrick asks, “And Jackie?”

A pause. “Yeah, Jackie was there.”

Patrick squints up from his phone. Then turns to face Jonny over the back of the couch.

“What, was she mean to you?” There’s laughter in Patrick’s voice.

‘Was she mean to me?’ What am I, seven?”

Jonny’s sneering at him, but that’s not a no. It’s not like Patrick said anything to her. Whatever she might have pieced together in Mexico isn’t on him. Subtlety is a tricky thing on painkillers, okay?

“Look, they don’t know anything. Jacks is smart though. We spent a lot of time together in Mexico, I don’t know.” Patrick shrugs. Jonny can stand a little derision, anyways. Things are going well between them, but Patrick would be lying if he said he wasn’t harboring any leftover bitterness and distrust from all of Jonny’s bad decision making.

Jonny starts to say, “Listen, it was fine. I didn’t mean to bring it up—” but Patrick interrupts him.

“Plus, even if I was badmouthing you to my family, you’d totally deserve it, don’t give me that face.” Jonny exaggerates his frown even more. “For real, if I wanted my parents to hate you, I’d just invite you over for game night,” Patrick says.

Jonny gives a little “hah” and heaves himself up to join Patrick on the couch. “You have an x-ray today, right?”

Patrick makes a face. “How’d you know that?”

“Asked Paul how you were doing.”

“You got spies? Creeeeeep.” He kicks at Jonny’s thigh until Jonny plants his forearm across Patrick’s ankles to immobilize them. “Yeah, it’s at eleven.”

Patrick tries another kick to get his ankles free. Jonny refuses to let go and tickles his feet in retribution. God, they are gay.

“Watch it, big guy, I’ll kick you out.” Patrick’s able to free his feet, drawing his knees up to his chest and out of harm’s way in one swift movement. Jonny just follows Patrick’s legs up the couch till Jonny’s on his knees looming over him as if the bulk of him will intimidate Patrick (wrong). As if intimidating Patrick has ever gotten him to shut up (also wrong).

“Kick me out, eh? Please, I’m dying to get out of here. Just putting in my time with the invalid.” Jonny leans in close to smush a condescending noogie on Patrick’s head.

“Yeah? You’re dying to leave?” Patrick challenges, smiling. “You don’t wanna be here?” he prods, jutting his chin out. “Hey Jonny, where’s my scarf?”

Jonny ducks his head. “It’s, uh—”

“Jonny, where’s my scarf?” Patrick repeats louder with a wicked grin. “Did you bring my scarf, Jon?”

“Fuck you,” Jonny mumbles petulantly.

Patrick’s laughing outright at this point. “Whole reason you came over, right? Since you think I’m such a scrub. Where’s my scarf, Jonny? I need it!”

“I hate you so much.” Jonny leans over Patrick’s knees and kisses him to shut him up, but the laughter’s still wracking Patrick’s shoulders. Jonny breaks the kiss. “So much."

“Yeah, I can see that.” He catches Jonny’s lips

He lets his knees fall open so Jonny can crowd in between them, arms on the back of the sofa behind Patrick’s head. The kiss escalates thoughtlessly and it isn’t two minutes before Jonny’s pushing at Patrick’s shirt hissing, “Get this shit outta here.” Hopefully when Patrick gives Jonny’s collar a sharp tug, Jonny gets that he means, ‘you too, fuckface,’ because there isn’t enough blood left in Patrick’s brain to string the words together.

Patrick’s just wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt, so it’s easy to stand and swoop out of them. He gets distracted at the finish line, though. Before he can pull off his briefs, he glances over at Jonny and finds him lying on the couch without a stitch on.

“Fuck,” Patrick breathes, and climbs on top of him.

Patrick’s never been allowed to look, let alone touch. Jonny’s warming under his attention, biting his lip. He’s got his dick in his hand, barely working it as he watches Patrick watch him. When Patrick gets his thumbs on the soft skin of Jonny’s hips and below, he’s mesmerized. Even as late in the season as April, the contrast of tan and pale skin there is eye-catching. Not even the sun gets to touch Jonny there, but Patrick does. Patrick licks his lips. He’s got plans. Last night when he was jerking off, he caught himself with his fingers in his mouth just imagining it.

He slides eager fingers along Jonny’s cock to get familiar. He takes his time, not even really trying to get Jonny there, but rather just learning his way around. Jonny indulged Patrick’s questions about having an uncut dick when they were rookies, but now Patrick can really satisfy his curiosity. Last time, in Jonny’s kitchen, everything happened too quickly to absorb. He messes with the foreskin, pulling it up and back and swiping a thumb over the head in a way that would feel nice to Patrick but wouldn’t drive him crazy or anything. So it surprises Patrick when Jonny jerks and groans like Patrick’s killing him. It’s an impossibly sexy look for Jonny, sprawled out on Patrick’s sectional, head tossed back, neck stretched and throat working. And that’s only what Patrick can see from up close. If his hands weren’t magnetized to Jonny’s skin, he’d be tempted to get up just to see the whole picture, the long planes of Jonny’s body.

“Oh fuck,” Jonny breathes. “Fuck, I’m close.”

Patrick’s head snaps up. “What?” he says, a little dismayed and a lot turned on. He must have gotten distracted for longer than he thought. “I was gonna suck your dick.”

Jonny’s whole body tremors as he comes with a feeble “oh my god.” Come spills down Patrick’s hand as he watches, enthralled. He’s still a little peeved at Jonny—he wasn’t done here.

Patrick can’t help but touch his thumb to his tongue, curious about Jonny’s taste. Then he sits back, kneeling over Jonny and slipping that hand into his briefs, watching Jonny’s chest heave. The feeling is amazing, hot and slick and messy. It’s a good thing he knows they’re both clean.

Jonny gets his hands on Patrick’s thighs and tries to tug him forward, so Patrick goes. He stretches out alongside Jonny and lets himself be pulled in close by a firm hand on his back.

Jonny latches onto his mouth for a filthy kiss, sliding his hand in between them to yank down Patrick’s briefs and cover the hand Patrick’s still jacking himself with. After Patrick moves up the couch a little for better access to Jonny’s mouth, the hand on his back comes to rest on his ass. Jonny’s just groping, really, but a couple of his long fingers incidentally slip between his cheeks. Whether it’s a tease or an accident, it’s a completely foreign feeling to Patrick. He has a flash of sense memory from the other morning, that cold wash of fear and embarrassment at finding himself in Jonny’s lap. Jonny keeps his fingers there, but he doesn’t go any further, like the rest is out of bounds. Patrick’s half grateful and half annoyed.

He opens his mouth to say something about it, but the words won’t come out, and then Jonny’s kissing him again. Their hands work together to bring him off, making obscene sounds as Jonny tightens his grip. Patrick comes with his teeth on Jonny’s shoulder, overcome and thrusting into the tight heat.

He’s late for his x-ray.

*

He’s been busting it, doing everything he can to get back into the lineup, even when that means not doing anything. It’s hard fucking work, but it’s starting to pay off. He joins the team for morning skate before a home game against the Wild and Paul hands him a contact jersey, under Dr. Terry’s orders. Patrick nearly cries.

Of course, Jonny and Sharpy take the jersey as blanket permission to interfere with him all practice. Jonny’s stick is probably on Patrick more often than a puck. Being more at ease with each other doesn’t mean they’re any less prone to goading one another like kindergarteners. Like, there was a chance all the reputation-threatening bickering was repressed emotions or something semi-forgivable. From where he’s sitting now, though, it’s starting to look like they’ve been douchebags for pure love of the game all along. Where he’s sitting is down the hall from the locker room, taking a breather after a session with the rollers. He’s on a massage table two down from Jonny’s. Jonny, who has committed brazen sacrilege.

“I cannot believe that you A) had never seen Happy Gilmore before last night and B) fell asleep during it.”

“Couldn’t connect to the protagonist,” Jonny says haughtily, primly un-taping some ice from his ribs. “He was a Bruins fan.”

“And good at golf,” Patrick says under his breath.

Jonny scowls at him.

“It is a classic film!” Patrick insists. “Gotta show some fucking respect.”

“Says the guy who farted during the saddest part of We Are Marshall!

Patrick stands and looms over the table separating them to defend his honor. “Yeah? And what about the time on the plane we all nearly suffocated just because there was an ounce of yogurt in your salad dressing?” He crosses his arms; he has Jonny beat.

Jonny shoots to his feet and points a finger at Patrick. “I have a condition,” he says hotly like that means it doesn’t count. Like Patrick’s cheating at their absurd argument.

“Uh, guys?”

They both look down.

Krugs is lying forgotten, face-down on the table between Patrick and Jonny. He’s got a collection of heat packs precariously balanced on different parts of his back and is visibly trying to keep them still without turning over, making doomed attempts to counteract the way the exam table is being jostled.

“Oh,” Jonny says at a normal volume, remembering himself. “Sorry Krugs.”

“Yeah, Jonny, look what you did to Krugs!” Patrick says. Jonny shoots him a dangerous look, but Patrick just raises his eyebrows, like ‘what are you gonna do?’ It’s a question he’s more and more interested in these days.

 

What Jonny’s gonna do, apparently, is corner Patrick in the hallway as soon as they get to Patrick’s place and destroy him with wet, bone-melting kisses that go on and on and on before dropping a hand to where Patrick’s tenting his compression pants-basketball shorts combo. It’s unaccountably good, what Jonny’s doing, just groping him through his shorts with such casual confidence. And that’s before he gets his fingertips tucked into the back of Patrick’s spandex. It’s like being shocked, just the suggestion that Jonny might move his hand lower, touch him there. The thrill of it makes Patrick buck forward, pressing into the hand on his dick.

“You’re so easy for this,” Jonny murmurs low and appreciative against his lips. Patrick protests when Jonny takes his hand away from his dick, but it’s only to slide firm fingertips up Patrick’s thigh under the slinky fabric of his shorts. Like he’s trying to get his hand up a girl’s skirt. Patrick is still constrained by the compression pants, but the material is thin for all its tensile strength, and Patrick can feel the heat of Jonny’s hand like there’s nothing there at all. He tries, not for the first time, to get a hand on the bulge in Jonny’s shorts, but Jonny smacks his hand away. Jonny’s dark eyes are locked on Patrick’s face when he stretches the looser fabric of the crotch over his shaft. Patrick’s eyes slip shut. He can feel where he’s beginning to form a damp spot, hidden by his shorts.

He’s rocking into Jonny’s hand, into the tight circle of slicked elastane his grip forms, and with every rock the hand Jonny has spread wide on his lower back moves just a little lower until one of his fingers is barely tucked into the cleft there. It’s maddening and he still doesn’t even know if it’s on purpose. Jonny’s hand flexes and Patrick trembles a little. He’s simultaneously dying for Jonny to just go for it and scared of what’ll happen if he does. He’s done the same thing a few times now, gotten so close and just stopped right on the precipice. It’s driving Patrick crazy. He can’t tell if it’s just reverse psychology or what, but he can’t stand the anticipation.

He wants to say ‘Go for the fucking gold or make that hand useful elsewhere.’ Or a more achievable sentence, like ‘Just fucking do it.’ But when he opens his mouth, all that falls out is, “Fuck.”

Why is this so hard? He has genuinely never had trouble asking for what he wants before. Some might say he was too good at it, in fact. Patrick makes a frustrated noise that Jonny beautifully misinterprets as a signal to sneak a hand down the front of Patrick’s pants and, hey, that works too. His grip is warm and perfect, even with nothing but precome to slick the way, and within minutes Patrick caves, coming in his pants like high school all over again.

“Look what you did to your pants, Kaner,” Jonny says, and he was clearly trying for snarky. Trying to gloat. Trying to throw Patrick’s words from earlier back at him. But Jonny is looking now, tugging at the waist of Patrick’s shorts to see the obscene and unmistakable stains underneath. Being looked at like this makes Patrick’s eyelids heavy. Gives him a heady confidence.

“You wanna see?” he murmurs looking Jonny dead in the eye. Jonny swallows and looks back down. Patrick guides the hand Jonny has on his shorts to the waistband of the pants beneath and tugs them down just enough to reveal the glistening head of his flushed cock. He’s softening in spite of the punch of arousal Patrick gets from the look on Jonny’s face. His dick twitches feebly. When Jonny reaches out to touch, Patrick has to catch the hand out of self-preservation.

He threads his fingers with Jonny’s and leans in to taste the slack curve of Jonny’s lips. Just as Jonny’s really getting into it, rubbing himself against Patrick’s thigh, Patrick moves their joined hands to his hair and drops to his knees. He gets Jonny’s fly undone, but his thighs are tensed. It’s looking like too much effort to try and push his shorts down, tight as they are around Jonny’s thighs and ass. So Patrick skips it and simply pulls Jonny’s dick out of his briefs so he can finally get his mouth on it.

It’s all a blur. The low noises of approval are as heady as Patrick had imagined, but he’s also surprisingly into the way Jonny stretches his mouth, the way his knees burn. The blowjob is neither neat nor practiced, but Patrick can hear the wet sounds Jonny’s mouth makes as he opens and closes it above him and figures he’s doing okay. Patrick will learn the finer points later, he reasons, giving Jonny a sloppy lick. For now, he’s just out to have fun and be himself. (Another bonus is that, with a dick in his mouth, he finally has insurance that he isn’t saying this shit out loud.)

When Jonny’s thighs start to tremble with the effort to not thrust forward, Patrick pulls off with an obscene noise and jacks Jonny by hand, muttering encouragement and pressing his tongue to the soft head of Jonny’s dick. Over the past week, he’s been getting better at figuring out the way Jonny wants to be touched. He slips a hand into the open vee of Jonny’s shorts to cup his balls. Jonny makes a plaintive sound and Patrick’s head tips up instinctively. Jonny’s head is positioned dead level, like he can’t bear to tilt it down and take in the whole view, but his hazy eyes peer down his cheeks at Patrick, unable to look away. Jonny’s eyes squeeze shut suddenly and he makes a mess of Patrick’s shirt as he’s stroked through it.

Jonny’s returning to Earth while Patrick’s returning to his feet, and they meet in the middle for an uncoordinated kiss. Once Jonny manages to convince Patrick (more by pushing him around than anything else) to move to his bedroom, they clean up and sink onto the bed for Jonny’s pre-game nap. Patrick sleeps like the dead.

Hours and hours later, after they’ve separately woken up, gotten dressed, driven to the U.C., and then driven back again, they find themselves curled up the exact same way. Patrick leaves a panel of his bedroom window cracked and the cool air lets him get comfortable like that, with Jonny wrapped around him like an overzealous electric blanket.

Patrick has to read a few emails on his phone before he conks out for good, but Jonny doesn’t seem bothered, wrapped around Patrick and breathing deeply. The slow rhythm is heartrendingly familiar; it was practically the soundtrack to Patrick’s first five years in the League. Patrick taps at his phone quietly, brain gradually slipping closer to quitting time. He thought Jonny was already out, so it startles him a little when Jonny’s voice breaks the quiet.

“I used to hear you sometimes,” Jonny says softly, words breezing through Patrick’s hair.

“Hm?” Patrick tips his head back a little, but Jonny’s tucked in too close to see.

“I used to hear you,” he repeats, “talking. On road trips. In the hotels with thinner walls.”

“Phoenix,” they say in unison, sharing a sleepy chuckle. Everyone on the team has been scarred by their neighbor in that hotel at some point.

“Talking to people,” Jonny continues, “the way you used to talk to me. Honest, tired, loopy, whatever. None of the pretense. Just you. Couldn’t even hear the words half the time. Just your voice. Laughter sometimes.” He pulls Patrick closer to him with an arm around his middle.

“One time I fell asleep with my ear pressed to the wall,” Jonny confesses. Patrick’s heart is pounding like it’s trying to get out but he doesn’t move an inch.

Jonny exhales through his nose so slowly and steadily that he could be talking in his sleep. “I’m glad you’re here,” Jonny says. They’re in Patrick’s condo, so of course Patrick’s here, but he gets what Jonny means.

It’s all Patrick can do to swallow past the lump in his throat and whisper, “Same here.”

*

Patrick shuffles into the kitchen for coffee and finds Jonny sitting in his briefs splay-legged on one of the stools, leaning with his back against the counter. There’s a banana peel and a spoon by Jonny’s elbow, but he isn’t eating. Just sitting, breathing, waking up. With Jonny’s head turned away from him, he can just barely see a smudge of what looks like peanut butter by Jonny’s mouth.

Patrick’s opening his mouth to call him out for being a sloppy two-year-old when Jonny becomes aware of Patrick’s presence and turns to him with this look. His eyelids are still weighted with sleep like heavy curtains, and his hair is still sticking up from his pillow. Underneath all the sleep and languor and peanut butter, there’s the barest twitch of his lips and brightening of his eyes when they light on Patrick and Patrick can’t help it.

He’s got his hands fitted to the sharp curve of Jonny’s jaw in seconds, body planted firmly between Jonny’s knees, so incapable of keeping his distance it’s like he’s simply forgotten how. And why would he try when Jonny’s lips are so soft and pliant, when his hands are so warm smoothing up the back of Patrick’s t-shirt. He sinks into the kiss warm and sunny, and loses the plot until Jonny eases his head back. Jonny’s dark eyes are hazy for a moment, then flick down to Patrick’s lips. His face screws up all at once. Eyebrows quirked, he chuffs out a baritone chuckle that Patrick can feel through his hand on Jonny’s neck.

In a hoarse morning voice, Jonny rumbles, “You’ve got food on y’r face, you fucking two-year-old.”

Patrick is so indignant that he can’t get a reply out before Jonny continues, “Can’t take you anywhere,” and wraps him in his arms, forehead thunking to Patrick’s good collarbone. His breathing begins to slow again.

 

Eventually, Jonny has to hit the road. He’s got a flight in a couple hours to St. Louis for the second to last game of the regular season. Patrick, on the other hand, has a mandated day of rest from conditioning. The trainers have started dangling firm return dates in front of him like a carrot, and he’s following their directions to the letter.

It means Patrick basically has the whole day wide open, and he decides to keep his appointment to get fitted for some new suits. It’s been a while since he mixed it up and he’s been thinking about trying out a suit with one of those dope shaw collars. (“Shawl collars,” Jonny gently corrects. “Right,” says Patrick, “Like I said.”) So he goes to the fitting, catches up with Jessica over the phone, gets his car washed, and jerks off. Time ticks by in slow-mo. It’s not that Jonny’s gone—though that doesn’t help—it’s that he wants hockey back. It’s too last minute to set up a hospital visit or drop in on a peewee practice (plus Gapski said if he saw Kaner in a pair of skates today he’d break his other clavicle). But if he watches another minute of Netflix his head’s gonna explode. No more screens. He falls back on ol’ faithful: listening to hockey radio while cleaning out his closet. And then Wednesday’s finally over.

Thursday, he has training to occupy him again. On the ice with the other IR players, he decides to invite whoever’s available over to watch the Blues game that night. It ends up being a very small get-together, just him, Richie, and Carbomb. Patrick would be pretty surprised if Stan found room in the cap to sign Richie over the summer and it’s going to be a real bummer when he goes—and not just because Patrick was growing accustomed to the lifestyle of a winger with a consistent line. And then he never knows what’s going to happen with Carbomb, so Patrick tries to enjoy him while he’s around.

Still, he keenly feels the gaps in his days over the measly three-day road trip. He’s doing a lot of what an OHL teammate used to call ‘playing a little five-on-one,’ and that’s one of the things that have changed since he and Jonny started… whatever. Remember the days when Patrick could just jerk off to some vague daydreams and his discrete folder of porn? Because Patrick doesn’t. Now that he has firsthand experiences, the fantasies refuse to stay detached. He thought his dreams were bad before he and Jonny started hooking up, for fuck’s sake. It’s like being fifteen all over again.

He catches himself pressing a hand to his lower back, fingertips spread wide, the way Jonny had done. Catches himself sliding the hand lower, like Jonny had. Only Patrick doesn’t stop.

*

“H’llo?”

“Did I wake you up?”

“Mmhm,” Patrick lies. He’s home, in bed, in the dark, doing a little of what an OHL teammate used to call ‘sleeping.’

“Sorry, I’ll let you go, then. Get some—”

“Don’t worry about it, what’s up?”

“Just checking in.”

It feels weird to jerk off to Jonny’s voice without him knowing, so Patrick wipes his hand off on his shirt and sits on it to avoid temptation. “What, you aren’t getting my condition updates live-texted to you? From all your spies?”

“They’re slouching,” Jonny says, in a warm ‘humor me’ tone.

When he doesn’t say anything else for a beat, Patrick catches on that Jonny actually is waiting for a status report, on Patrick’s clavicle and on Patrick’s day. So Patrick tells him about IR practice and having Richie and Carbomb over the night before. Jonny tells him about finding the most overpriced sushi in Denver and how Vermette learned that Desjardins actually doesn’t speak French instead of just being a man of few words. It segues back to game talk, as always, so then they talk about last night’s game a little.

“We could use a pipsqueak out there, looks like,” Jonny says, referring to Patrick because he’s the worst.

Patrick ignores the jab and takes the validation instead. “Thought you were enjoying the freedom to be yourself out there?”

“It might be nice to have you back, after all,” Jonny reluctantly allows.

“Easy, tiger. Keep on like that and people’ll start to think you actually like me.”

“Can’t have that, now can we.”

Patrick grins stupidly because there’s no one there to see it and shifts around a bit on the bed. He’s still hard, which he supposes isn’t too shocking because, to date, he’s never had a boner wilt from happiness before.

“So what were you really doing when I called?” Jonny says out of fucking nowhere.

“What?” Patrick chokes, shocked.

“Oh please, Pat. I wake you up and you say ‘Don’t worry about it?’ When has that ever happened? And you’re forming full sentences and everything. No way I woke you up just now.”

“Maybe I’m just nicer now that you’re blowing me.”

“Okay bud, I’m gonna ask you a question, and I’m going to hold you to your word here: Is your dick out?”

Patrick doesn’t answer quickly enough and Jonny artfully enunciates an unimpressed “woooow.” And Patrick almost got away with it, too.

“It’s your own damn fault,” Patrick snaps. “Stirring shit up and then leaving town. Leaving all these damn hickeys—what is that about, by the way? No judgment, genuinely curious—and I’m just left sitting here with my dick in my hand. Literally. Haven’t popped boners like this since juniors.”

Jonny doesn’t immediately say something when Patrick pauses for breath, so Patrick adds, “And relax. It’s not like I was jerking it while we were talking. I’ve been sitting on my hand, like a gentleman.”

“You’re sitting—Kaner, that can’t be good for your hand. Or your wrist.”

“Oh shit.” Jonny kind of has a point, there. He hates it when Jonny has a point. Patrick lifts his hand and tries to shake the feeling back into it.

“Wait,” Jonny says. “Is it asleep?”

“My hand?”

“No, your dick,” he deadpans. “Yes, your hand!”

“Uh, yeah.” Patrick flexes it a little to confirm.

“Settle a bet for me. I had a teammate at Shattuck who used to swear that if you sat on your hand ‘til it fell asleep and then jerked off, it felt like someone else giving you a handy.”

Patrick’s mouth curls into an amused grin. “Are you asking me to touch myself, Jonny?”

“Sounds that way, doesn’t it?”

“Gonna have to ask nicer than that,” Patrick sing-songs, already reaching for the lube.

Jonny doesn’t miss a beat, but his voice is thick and low when he says, “Touch yourself for me.” Patrick bites his lip.

There’s silence then as Patrick palms himself and Jonny waits, listening. There’s some totally not-suspicious rustling from Jonny’s end of the line. Patrick dutifully gives his cock a few good strokes. It’s frighteningly good, but not because of any dumb middle school hand trick. His hand’s barely numb anymore, anyway. Jonny in his ear, though. That’s doing something.

“Well?” Jonny croaks.

“Kind of? It’s kind of different? Nothing special, to be honest.”

“Then you can probably do better than that,” Jonny challenges, using one of Jonathan Toews’ greatest superpowers: saying completely absurd things with utter conviction. “Slow down,” he says, and now it feels like someone else’s hand is on Patrick’s dick, Jesus, because Patrick can’t help but automatically comply. “Nice and loose, Peeks.”

Patrick is sucking in quick breaths, unprepared for what that casual bossy tone would do to him. “What about you, huh?” he covers. “You doing your taxes over there?”

“Something like that,” Jonny says, gruff.

“Tell me about it.” Patrick’s in his element here. There are plenty of aspects of their relationship that are new to him, but phone sex isn't one of them. He likes to think he has kind of a talent for it, in fact.

Jonny laughs. “Tell you what? What I’m wearing?”

“No, fucker, I roomed with you for like five years. I know what you’re goddamn wearing.” That doesn’t mean he’s immune to the image of Jonny testing the limits of his briefs, though. “Tell me what you’re thinking about,” Patrick presses, unwavering.

“You really wanna know?” Jonny asks, and Patrick is three seconds away from hanging up on him and finishing the job himself, the way god intended.

Before he can, Jonny says, “Thinking about the other day. Your mouth.” Patrick groans, remembering. “How it looked after,” Jonny continues. “Anyone would’ve known, looking at you, Peeks.”

Patrick bites down on one of the lips in question, remembering how his mouth had been tender afterward. How he was forced to relive it all day, the feeling of Jonny on his tongue. “Fuck,” he breathes, squeezing the base of his dick.

“That what you want, Peeks? You want it written on your face?” Patrick can hear slick noises slip through the connection in the spaces between Jonny’s words. Patrick gives a helpless groan. “What are you doing?” Jonny demands.

“Stroking myself. Thinking about how you do it. The way you get all handsy with my ass.” Now that he’s talking about it, Patrick does drop his hand to trail behind his balls, light—the way Jonny does it. He’s drunk on the sense memory and Jonny’s attention. “Tease,” he accuses lightly, breathlessly, because it’s dark and Jonny’s far away and Patrick wants to know—

“Tease?” Jonny echoes, out of breath.

For some reason, the words he can’t seem to get out in person flow through him like air now. “You ever gonna follow through, there?” Patrick brushes over his hole, just passing back and forth where it’s still tender from earlier that day. “You always get so close. I know it’s not an accident.”

Jonny makes a low sound. “You want follow through?” he asks, all questions tonight in his sandpaper voice.

“Gonna make me beg?” Patrick asks, just to hear the way Jonny groans.

“Maybe I should,” Jonny says slowly. “But I probably won’t,” he admits, giving up the bluff right away. “Not if it’s something you think you’d be into me doing.”

Ever since they started all this, Patrick hasn’t hidden the fact that paying his ass any real attention is new to him. Which was true—up until, like, two days ago, that is. So Jonny’s working with some outdated info.

“It is something I’m into, it turns out,” Patrick says frankly.

In keeping with the rest of the conversation, Jonny just volleys Patrick’s words back. “It turns out? You—fuck. Fuck.” The rhythmic string of slick background noises picks up in pace.

Jonny gives a shattered groan and Patrick grins into his phone. He is killing this. He’s got his hand wrapped around his cock again because he’s only got one hand free, and this is gonna come to a head soon. Jonny must hear Patrick chuckle at his expense because he chokes out, “Shut the fuck up, Kaner.”

Patrick’s torn between two extremely strong urges: to make fun of Jonny and to get him off. He decides to do both because he didn’t get to where he is today by being an underachiever.

“You sure you want me to shut up?” Patrick purrs, getting cocky. “You don’t wanna hear how I touch myself thinking about you? How I got three fingers in today just thinking about what it’ll be like when you nut up—” Jonny makes a noise like he wants to argue but he can’t form words “—when you nut up and fuck me.”

There’s a strange noise over the line that fades like Jonny’s phone has fallen from his face and Patrick wishes fiercely he was there in Denver, even if he couldn’t get these words out in person, just to see Jonny come for him in surround-sound technicolor. He settles for vivid mental images and speeds up the hand on his dick ever so slightly.

Patrick gives an involuntary groan that brings Jonny back to the conversation. “You are without a doubt the rudest person I have ever had sex with,” Jonny accuses, and there’s a chance Patrick is imagining the sprinkle of fondness in Jonny’s disbelieving tone.

“Excuse me, but who came first here?” Patrick swipes a thumb over the head of his dick, spreading the precome there down the shaft. “Thought you were more of a giver than that. You let Canada down.” He’s always gotten his kicks giving Jonny shit, but never like this. He feels like the first person to combine ice cream and soda—A) in that he has combined two amazing things to make a more amazing thing, and B) in that Jonny is not having it.

“I can hang up,” Jonny lies flatly.

Patrick lets out a pointed faltering sigh, only exaggerating slightly for Jonny’s benefit. He’s twisting his wrist, thinking about what Jonny must look like right now, all messed up. About what Jonny looked like on his knees last week.

“Are you making fun of me?” Jonny rasps weakly, in reference to the filthy noises Patrick’s feeding him over the phone.

Fucking up into his hand, Patrick can feel a twinge in his ass from fingering himself earlier and the sensation is so unexpected and good that he gives a low, desperate moan completely on accident.

“You’re so lucky I’m not there right now,” Jonny croaks, a dangerous edge to his voice, like he legit thinks Patrick is mouthing off just to make him blush. (First of all, if Jonny is blushing right now, Patrick can’t see it and that’s a bummer, and second of all, Patrick passed the point of being performative like ten strokes ago and he’d appreciate it if Jonny would get with the program.)

All the same, Patrick breathes, “Yeah? What would you do?” His dick is very interested in the answer.

“I’d wreck you,” Jonny promises, and the way he says it leaves no room for doubt. The same way he said the team would play until Patrick came back, full stop.

“Fuck, Jonny.” Patrick’s voice is gone. He’s hurtling towards the finish line now, hand nearly a blur on his dick.

When Jonny rumbles, “God, the way you sound, Peeks,” all awe-tinged and honest, Patrick loses it. Patrick isn’t aware of the noise he’s making then, although there is an embarrassing-yet-sexy moment when he hears the tail end of it echoing over the phone just as his brain is catching up. He blinks with some effort. There might be jizz as high as his sternum. He pants into the receiver for a moment, giddy with release.

“You know, plenty of people don’t want to be chirped in bed,” Jonny says conversationally.

“Are you one of them?” Patrick asks genuinely, still catching his breath. Because if Jonny isn’t enjoying himself, the whole thing’s worthless.

“Seems not.” The exasperation more than anything else is what reassures Patrick.

“Wish you were here,” Patrick says, drowsy and candid.

“Yeah,” Jonny sighs.

There’s a long moment, and Patrick starts to think, oh no, they’re going to be that couple that can’t hang up, before Jonny says, “But I’m coming back tomorrow. So you’d best be ready.” And then he hangs up.

*

Patrick is distracted all through resistance training the next day. The team plays the Avs tonight with a red-eye back to Chicago after. It’s just. He knows what he wants but the way the words dry up in front of Jonny is kind of emasculating. Also mystifying, considering he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with taking it up the ass. And considering he clearly demonstrated the ability to talk about it over the phone. Maybe after last night, the mute spell will be cured. But, as he’s heard a million times from trainers and coaches and motivational muscle tees, hope for the best and train for the worst.

He glances around the weightroom, mulling it over. That Under Armour t-shirt over there is right, Patrick thinks: His biggest competition is in the mirror. He shouldn’t give future Patrick—the squirrelly bastard—the opportunity to avoid Jonny just to save his pride. And that Nike t-shirt is right, too: He should just do it. So when he gets out of the locker room shower and into his clothes, he doesn’t think. He just grabs his keys and lets the rest happen on autopilot. If he can’t get the words out, he’ll just eliminate the need.

He knows Jonny’s alarm code (it’s the same password Jonny used to have on his flip phone), so there’s no fuss about letting himself in. The house is dark. Patrick toes off his sneakers makes his way upstairs to Jonny’s bedroom. The TV in there is hidden behind a wide wooden panel. The Avs game is a late one, won’t start for a while, so Patrick turns it to Flames vs. Jets and sinks into Jonny’s fancy spa sheets.

He manages to stay awake until puck drop, but it’s not much easier to keep his eyes open even then. It’s the last game of the regular season. Q is resting the usual suspects, Jonny’s out of the lineup as Patrick suspected, and Colorado’s got nothing to lose, so it’s not a particularly suspenseful affair. Chicago’s lines and plays aren’t representative of playoffs scenarios, so it isn’t even that interesting from an analytical standpoint. Halfway through the second period, Patrick hasn’t moved a muscle and Jonny’s energy saver kicks in. First the lights go off and then ten minutes later, the TV, too. Patrick can’t be bothered to turn them back on, and it isn’t long before he drifts off, nose pressed into Jonny’s pillow.

*

The next few hours of Patrick’s life, as gleaned from his voicemail inbox:

Beep. “Hey, respond to your texts, doofus. What are you doing tonight? I don’t wanna fuck up your… resting schedule or whatever, but.” Cough. “But we should hang out. I miss you. These trips are still weird without you. Flight’s delayed by weather, but whatever. Text me.”

Beep. “Patrick, honey, it’s Mom. Just calling to remind you about plans for next week. Right now, it looks like we’re just coming to the home games, so the nineteenth and the twenty-first. You’ve got a lot on your plate, so we booked The Drake. Hope your shoulder’s feeling okay. Take your time, sweetie. We’re so proud of you. See you soon.”

Beep. “Hey, Pat. Where are you? Flight was delayed but we just got back and you aren’t answering your door. Or your phone.” Pause. “Answer your phone.”

Beep. “Congratulations! You have been selected for a free trial of—”

Beep. “Hey, me again. I don’t know if your phone is dead or you’re—” Exhale. Muffled sound interference. “We don’t have to… anything. You know that, right? Anyway, I was waiting by your door but your neighbors were looking at me funny, so. I’m gonna,” grunt, “head out now. You’re probably,” dismissive huff, “probably just in the gym or sleeping or something. Ignore these.” Elevator ding. “But text me when you get this so I know you aren’t dead. I warned you about headphones in the bath.” Click.

*

Click. It’s bright all of a sudden and Patrick rubs his eyes.

By the time his eyes adjust, Jonny’s already sitting on the edge of the bed next to where Patrick is curled up.

“So this is where you were,” Jonny says, so so soft. He runs a calloused thumb along Patrick’s cheekbone and Patrick leans into the touch, sleepy and shameless. Patrick just gives him a small smile, brain slowly coming online. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep. Jonny’s in a game day suit with his tie undone. Patrick moves to sit up, but Jonny holds him in place with a hand on his shoulder.

“No, don’t get up.”

Jonny looks like a mirage perched there, up close and shadowed by the light on the bedside table. Jonny leans in and brushes his lips against Patrick’s forehead, and all Patrick can do is stare up at him through heavy lidded eyes. Jonny breathes out what sounds like a curse under his breath and stands, padding towards the closet and out of sight.

Patrick sits up and knuckles his eyes. He really hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but in retrospect he didn’t plan so well. He’d been picturing a more cinematic, running into each other’s arms, fucking against a wall type of meeting. He turns to the bedside table where Jonny’s (stupid analog) clock reads 3:45.

“Fuck, it’s late.”

“Yeah,” Jonny rumbles from his closet, “Flight was delayed.”

“Mm,” Patrick says. “Get in here.” Because, c’mon Jonny, it doesn’t take that long to hang up a jacket.

“Hold your horses.”

As Jonny walks in, Patrick hears his phone buzz from across the room and turns his head.

“Don’t worry about that,” Jonny says. “They’re all from me.” He’s in a soft t-shirt and underwear. It's more covered up than he'd normally be, Patrick knows, but it’s hard for Jonny in briefs to be anything less than obscene because he has thighs that would make a professional rugby player cry.

“Sorry. Guess I slept pretty deep, there.”

“Must’ve needed it.” Jonny slips under the covers to sit by Patrick’s side. “Should I hit the lights? You probably wanna go back to sleep, right?”

It’s hard to tell if it’s Jonny giving him an out or Jonny coming back from a roadie at three in the morning desperate for sleep. Patrick didn’t come here for beauty rest, but if Jonny’s tired, Patrick won’t keep him up. He decides on a casual diplomatic response, but his brain is still gummed up with sleep and it does not go as planned.

“It’s whatever,” Patrick lies affably, “You do me.” His eyes fly open. “YOU. You do you,” Patrick amends in a hurried, choked voice, turning wide horrified eyes to find Jonny frozen on the verge of delighted laughter. Patrick covers his face with his hands and mumbles a small, fractured “oh boy” to himself.

Jonny’s full-on belly laughing now, wraps his arms around Patrick, who refuses to come out from behind his hands. “Oh man,” Jonny sighs on the tail of a laugh, “showed your hand a bit, there.” Patrick just groans despairingly from behind his hands. He’s so used to having complete control over his body, totally unprepared for the way his mouth has gone rogue the past few weeks. Jonny is actually making him go haywire.

Jonny pulls back a little and Patrick feels his eyes on what little is visible of Patrick’s face. “You can come out now,” Jonny confides. “I think the coast is clear.”

Patrick groans again and pulls his hands down slowly so that they stretch his face into a contorted mask of discontent. Jonny rubs his back. “Hey, you got your laughs in at me last night,” he points out.

“I kicked your ass last night,” Patrick says, a little nonsensically, into Jonny’s neck.

“Oh, you fucking wish.”

“I destroyed,” Patrick objects. “Remember when you were all ‘Ah, ah, ah, fuck,’ and I was all, ‘Yeah, that’s right— Ow!” The pinching is uncalled for, Patrick thinks, recoiling.

“When was that, again?” Jonny wonders aloud, fingers pressed to his chin. “What were you telling me about?”

Patrick grins, only too happy to recount his glorious victory. “I was telling you about how I was dying for you to—” And it’s like his lips keep moving but the air just stops. Fuck, really? This is still fucking happening?

“Mmhm,” Jonny serenely responds to the words Patrick isn’t saying. “Not so high ‘n mighty now that I’m here, eh?”

Patrick’s mouth works uselessly for another moment before he deflates. “Yeah,” Patrick answers matter-of-factly. He confides, “I don’t know what that’s about.”

Jonny’s eyes go soft at Patrick’s unexpected honesty. He repays it in kind, flexing the arm he has around Patrick waist to pull him back in and saying, “Look, you know it’s okay if you’re not ready for all that, right? Or if you don’t want it at all. I mean, hey, you could even f—”

Patrick cuts Jonny off because he thinks (hopes) he knows where that was going, and if they go down that path, Patrick is going to get eleven different kinds of distracted and he has goals tonight. He’s visualized his goals. He’s going to meet his goals. “It’s not that. I don’t know what this,” he waves a hand in the vicinity of his mouth, “is all about. But, trust me, Jonny,” he looks him dead in the eye, “I want to. A lot.” He says the last part almost to himself because it’s genuinely still a little surprising to him how true it is.

A heavy exhale escapes Jonny’s mouth, just barely shaped into a curse. “Tonight?” Jonny asks, even though it’s really pretty much morning by now.

Patrick grins at him and affects a disinterested shrug. “You do me, Jonny,” he jokes.

“You do me,” Jonny replies in agreement with crinkled eyes, laughing against Patrick’s lips before finally giving him a proper hello. Jonny’s basically impossible to look at in public now that they’re fucking. His lips are so much more distracting now that Patrick knows what the soft top one feels like when he tugs on it. Patrick refreshes his memory, but it isn’t long before Jonny has taken complete control of the kiss, holding Patrick’s head so Jonny can slide his tongue in just the way he wants to.

It would be easy to get carried away with just this. Jonny’s learned the hard way that Patrick can just make out for hours when left unchecked. But Patrick’s attention is split the whole time, tensing, wondering when Jonny will make his move. They break the kiss to strip and then immediately reconnect, warm skin brushing warm skin. The weight of Jonny pressing down on him makes the anticipation bearable, like the fact that he can’t fidget means he can’t be nervous. So he takes the moment in: the way Jonny’s breath hitches when Patrick uses his teeth; the sweet electricity when Jonny scrapes across a nipple; the way the tight curves of Jonny’s abdomen brush against Patrick as he moves, different from anyone he’s ever slept with. Patrick settles in under him, knees on either side of Jonny, waiting for the moment he goes for it.

Jonny slides light fingertips down between Patrick’s legs. He fiddles with Patrick’s junk and traces around his perineum. It’s nice, but Patrick’s holding his breath for the next step. The next step doesn’t come. They’ve talked about it and around it, yet Jonny is still hovering short of where Patrick wants him.

“I want you to—” his breath abandons him. “Shhh,” Jonny says quietly. “I know what you want.”

Jonny’s fingers keep rubbing around the tender valley of skin, though, never giving more than feathery friction and turning back when they reach his rim. Patrick wants to punch him. Jonny ignores his squirming, letting the anticipation build as he wrecks Patrick’s mouth. When Patrick’s on the brink of taking the reins and prepping himself, Jonny pulls a bottle of lube out.

The feeling when Jonny finally gets a slick fingertip pressed against his hole is disproportionately good. It feels like Jonny is crossing a line, like he’s breaking the rules for him. Jonny works his finger in and suddenly Patrick can’t hold in a single noise that rises in his throat. He has to bite his lip to keep quiet. The stretch is sublime. It’s just sensation, not exactly pain or pleasure. Jonny takes his time, slowly in and slowly out, kissing Patrick’s knee where’s it propped up near Jonny’s head. It takes so long for Jonny to work up to two fingers that when he finally gets to three, the rim of Patrick’s hole catching on his knuckles, Patrick barely gives him a minute before pushing him away and tossing the lube at his chest.

Jonny grumbles about being micromanaged, but doesn’t miss a beat. While he’s slicking up, Patrick stuffs a pillow under his lower back because he is informed. Jonny’s eyes soften when he notices, like he was witness to Patrick googling taking it up the ass helpful hints. One site suggested riding your partner the first time so you could control the pace, but it would essentially be sitting in Jonny’s lap and Patrick still feels weird about that one. He lets his knees fall apart as Jonny comes closer, feeling more exposed than he ever has. Then Jonny’s spreading his cheeks and pressing in and it’s a lot, wow. A whole lot. Jonny doesn’t have a porn dick but he isn’t lacking by any means. Patrick bites his lip and palms his dick, just a little softer now than it was three minutes ago, as he tries to stay relaxed.

“Okay?” Jonny rasps. Patrick can only nod. “God, you feel amazing,” Jonny says.

As Patrick adjusts, he rolls into Jonny’s easy, shallow strokes, encouraged by the truly gorgeous sounds Jonny’s making. Jonny’s thrusts lengthen quickly and Patrick’s mouth is a mess, literally and figuratively. His lips are swollen from biting and they spill all kinds of nonsense and sighs. Especially when Jonny finds what is apparently Patrick’s prostate. Jonny’s hands are busy, so Patrick stuffs his own fingers in his mouth to stop the embarrassing noises. It mostly works. He sucks on them hard and groans at a particularly brutal thrust. When he opens his eyes, Jonny’s heavy gaze is glued to his mouth. Without permission, Patrick’s other hand moves down from Jonny’s hip to wrap around his own dick, like it’s his body’s instinctive reaction to being looked at that way.

The combined sensation is even more overwhelming and Patrick struggles to process everything that he’s feeling. It’s so much that it floors him when he realizes he’s seconds away from coming—inches from coming like this, with Jonny shoved deep inside him and a tight, familiar hand on his dick. It hits him suddenly and fiercely that he’s not ready for it to end. So he pries his hand off his cock and stretches it above and behind himself, feeling around for the headboard to use as leverage to push back against Jonny’s dick. He leans into the bright, thin edge of pain that limns Jonny’s movements in hopes of buying himself more time.

Jonny lowers himself, trapping Patrick’s dick between their abs. Jonny’s arms are still under Patrick’s knees, and as they slide up the bed with Jonny, they push Patrick’s thighs flush to his torso. Moving his arms to cradle Patrick’s head, Jonny presses hot kisses and mangled exhales into his neck. Patrick has to pull his fingers out of his mouth so he can kiss Jonny properly, but he gets loud again immediately. His other hand leaves the headboard and he reaches to grab at Jonny’s ample ass with hands spread wide, pulling Jonny in deeper with his heels and hands and moaning into his mouth at the feeling. He’s pinned on Jonny’s dick and wrapped around him everywhere else, too. What a picture they must make.

Jonny breaks the kiss for air and finds an angle that has Patrick seeing white. He has to shove a hand in his mouth again, the moaning is so over the top. He tells himself to pull it together but it has no effect. Jonny’s encouraging, muttering, “Fuck, Pat,” and various obscenities, groaning whenever Patrick clenches around him.

Patrick’s got two fingers curled in his mouth, sucking desperately, when Jonny slips his hand down to Patrick’s leaking dick. Patrick tries to tell him to stop, to tell him that he’s trying to hold out longer, but he can’t get the words out quick enough around his fingers and after a teeth-rattling thrust, Patrick comes with a high, desperate sound. His legs tremble, holding Jonny flush to him like his life depends on it. It’s a whole different flavor of orgasm than he’s ever experienced. Patrick’s strung out, plucking the fingers from his mouth to avoid biting them off, totally unable to control his body.

The way he contracts around Jonny’s cock only makes it feel bigger, only makes the feeling stronger. Jonny’s dying above him, muscles clenching and unclenching trying to stay still, trying to be good. Jonny looks down to where he’s stretching Patrick open and his thought process is written on his face: Should he keep going or pull out and finish? Patrick doesn’t know where he stands on that issue, himself. A little aborted thrust slips through Jonny’s control and the friction of it against Patrick’s raw, tender skin is crazy. But not... bad crazy. Patrick feels lit-up, in every sense of the word, completely unconcerned about which side of pain it falls on. He groans at the movement and Jonny apologizes, starts pulling out, but Patrick holds him in place with the legs curled around his ass. Patrick’s head tips back and he lets his legs do the talking. He gets Jonny to fuck him like that, slow and overwhelming, so that Patrick’s cock jumps weakly between them, overwrought. Jonny’s breathing is all over the place. Patrick’s never felt anything like this.

After a couple of minutes, the feeling is really too much and he has to reluctantly tell Jonny to pull out. He jacks off above Patrick, eyes roaming all over his body. There’s a moment when Patrick wishes Jonny would lean down so he could feel how Jonny’s lips are trembling, but he absolutely can’t take anymore contact to his dick and sitting up feels impossible, so he watches from the mattress as Jonny loses it. He spurts come across Patrick’s abdomen and chest with a dying sound, mindlessly working his cock for long moments afterwards just watching Patrick.

Patrick would like to say that they managed to get up and clean each other off like decent members of society. He’d like to report that they woke up clean and refreshed and let singing birds dress them. But they didn’t and they don’t. What actually happens is Jonny wipes a couple of tissues across their stomachs in a woefully inadequate cleanup attempt and starts prodding Patrick to get up so they can get under the covers.

“Can’t do it, coach,” Patrick groans. He’s going to die right here and have his likeness carved in stone to lie forever in this spot like one of those knights in Indiana Jones. Jonny, predictably, just pushes him around and yanks the blanket out from under him so they can cover up. Stretching carefully, Patrick settles into the familiar feeling of future-tense sore in unfamiliar places. Jonny hits the lights and curls around Patrick, who presses his face against Jonny’s chest, mumbling, “We are doing that all the time.”

Jonny laughs sleepily and slides a hand down Patrick’s back. He traces a finger down to where Patrick is still hot and swollen. Patrick hisses feelingly and amends, “All the time after I’ve had a few years to recover.”

Jonny presses his lips to Patrick’s hair and yawns. “Sounds like a plan.”

*

He has a session with Dr. Katie the following Sunday morning and he walks out of her office feeling pretty great. They talked, as best as Patrick was able, about Patrick’s weird inability to talk in person about Jonny doing him (Patrick is calling it ‘butt stuff aphasia,’ but Dr. Katie has yet to pick the habit up from him). He’s not too worried about it now, more baffled than anything. She pointed out that just because he intellectually and in practice doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with ‘taking it up the ass,’ as he puts it, doesn’t mean he’s unlearned all his social conditioning, blah blah blah, which is as good an explanation as any, as far as Patrick can tell. He hasn’t gotten past the lap thing either, but it isn’t a big deal. Jonny, for his part, will plant himself in Patrick’s lap at the drop of a hat, completely unbothered. Patrick keeps waiting for Dr. Katie to reveal some repressed Santa Claus complex or something, but it’s more likely that Patrick is just weird. He knows it’s a girl thing, like, not wanting to feel like one. But why is sitting in a dude’s lap the uncrossable line when getting tenderly nailed missionary-style is fine? What the hell?

He and Dr. Katie also talked about the looming Preds series. He still doesn’t know if they’re going to clear him for Game 1. Things are looking good, but he feels like even if they weren’t, he’d be doing okay. With hockey and with Jonny. Which is a pretty all-star feeling, Patrick finds. He’s actually whistling as he takes the elevator down to parking and pulls out his phone to text Jonny.

DOC SAYS BUTT STUFF APHASIA’S NORMAL JONNY

DOC SAYS IT’LL PROB WEAR OFF JONNY

LIVE IT UP WHILE U CAN

Jonny takes an hour to respond because he’s in a yoga class, and when he does it’s with his usual levels of predictability.

Butt stuff aphasia

Really kaner

Patrick replies, BSA to medical professionals

Jonny writes, I’m just glad doctors are finally studying you

 

Monday, the team has a very light optional skate followed by a non-optional movie marathon, except there’s no butter or sugar and all the movies star the Nashville Predators. Patrick’s reviewed a lot of it already so his chin is planted pretty firmly into his palm. His phone buzzes, tucked into his pocket. He feels like a high schooler, discreetly checking it.

J Toews has played SCREAMER for 14 points.

His head pops up and swivels to find Jonny in the dimly lit room. Jonny glances over at him and, when he sees Patrick looking back, snaps him a quick wink. Patrick smothers a chuckle and pretends to focus on the reel for a minute. Scrabblefinder.com says his best option is ‘FREAKING’ on a double word square for thirty-six points, but Patrick thinks ‘FAKING’ is a sharper response. He’s still beating Jonny points-wise, anyways. Across the room, Jonny’s phone lights up and he lifts a quiet middle finger in Patrick’s direction, eyes intent on the game tape.

They fly out to Nashville tomorrow, so Patrick and Jonny have already agreed to split up after practice to pack for the trip. Most of the team has already rolled out by the time Patrick’s at his stall getting his stuff together. Sharpy pats him on the shoulder on his way out to parking, but pauses before he reaches the door, snapping like he’s just remembered something.

“Oh, Peekaboo, I almost forgot,” Sharpy says from over his shoulder, “I looked into it for you, and Bonnie and Clyde were fucking, turns out. In case that was keeping you up at night.”

Thrown, Patrick can only watch as Sharpy turns back to the door with a grin, waving as he strides out. He’s still staring at the doorway when Dr. Terry pops his head in through it and motions for Patrick to follow him down the hall towards Q’s office. Patrick swallows his anxiety and goes.

 

The first thing he does when he leaves Q’s office is drive to his apartment to pack. The second thing he does is drop in on his barber. The first thing he does when he leaves his barber’s is put a fucking hat on. The second thing he does is chart a course straight to Jonny’s house. He parks his car in Jonny’s garage and leaves it loaded up with his bags. Jonny must hear the door shut from upstairs because he calls, “Hey, you’re late.” Patrick just toes his shoes off, adjusts the cap on his head, and pads up the stairs to the living room where Jonny’s on his computer.

“You get lost?” Jonny cajoles, fingers darting to finish up an email. He shuts his laptop with a satisfying ‘click’ and finally looks up.

Patrick must look how he feels because Jonny’s face turns curious right away.

“Jonny,” Patrick breathes. “Jonny, I’m back.

*

They shave in the morning and then lock their razors away in a drawer in Jonny’s bathroom. Patrick rolls the windows down as they drive to the airport. The breeze ruffles through his hair, the ugliest haircut under the sun. His phone keeps humming in his pocket; the texts are starting to roll in now that his return has been made official. It all speeds by him, the flight and phone calls and hotel and morning skate and interviews and meals, and before Patrick knows it, they’re getting ready to take the ice.

The visitors’ locker room in the belly of Bridgestone Arena is relatively quiet as they march closer and closer to start time. The sound is building in the arena down the tunnel and for stories and stories above them. Patrick absorbs it all greedily, thrumming with how much he missed the feeling of enemy territory, how he thrives on it. As the team suits up, Patrick revels in the way the energy crackles in the air and makes his hair stand on end, even under all the layers of his uniform. He locks eyes with Jonny when they go to line up in the tunnel, and they exchange firm nods.

His heartbeat picks up with every step closer to the fray and then he’s finally there, on the edge of the rink. Jonny’s words echo in his ears, ’Give ’em hell give ’em hell give ’em hell,’ and he steps onto the ice.

*

Everything hurts. His calves are sore, he’s got a headache, and his shoulder’s still recovering from surgery.

Patrick should qualify, though: His calves hurt because Jonny is competitive about everything, even runs on the beach; his headache is a lingering byproduct of getting white girl wasted via margaritas and a Mexican sportscasting drinking game; and the surgery was to get the plate and screws removed from his collarbone.

Squinting into the sunshine, Patrick sneezes and the force of it causes his sunglasses to plop down from on top of his head to the bridge of his nose. His problems are mostly blessings right now. It’s like, hypothetically, you’re allowed to sprain your finger hoisting the Stanley Cup; you just aren’t allowed to complain about it. He adjusts the laptop on his stomach and lets his head fall back onto the hammock pillow.

The villa at Azul Claro is amazing. Again. Patrick told his family they got a sweet package deal for the villas (not a lie), which is how he and Jonny got the idea to go together (kind of a lie). And he and Jonny were able to make the trip a week before most of the rest of them, so they’d share a villa, of course. For practicality’s sake (definitely a lie). The facade is paper thin, and he finds that he’s okay with it. It’s like… a way of telling anyone who wants to be told. If his dad doesn’t want to hear it, he can just keep not hearing it. It isn’t a forever plan, but it works for now. It works really well, actually.

He worked hard to earn this moment of peace and he’s going to enjoy it. Patrick doesn’t want to think about family conflict or trades or contracts or the salary cap or the UFA market. The Cup summer will be over before he knows it. He keeps trying to slow himself down, slow everything down around him.

He’s started putting together an album of screenshots and videos and photos because two previous Cup wins have taught him that the experience can slip through your fingers. Part of it’s the just being drunk all the time after the Final, but it’s also the fact his brain can really only absorb so much at a time, and the heat and culmination of the Stanley Cup playoffs are everything he’s worked for his whole life. It’s what he lives for. So he’s resolved to make the most of his time and to remember it, too.

The collection ranges from the sentimental (official league pics of the team during anthems, a picture Jackie sent him of his parents watching a game, seas of people on the route to Soldier Field) to the inane (a video from a buddy’s Buffalo watch party for Game 4 vs. the Wild that shows the whole crowd swaying and singing ‘Aw sweep sweep mothafuckaaa, aw sweep sweep goddamn’ like a drunk church choir; a picture of Jonny from behind, waiting in line to order at that place he loves in Tampa; a video of Patrick sleepily rocking a magnum of champagne captioned ‘where’s the party at’).

There’s game tape, too, obviously. He hasn’t combed through all of it yet, but he’s spent plenty of time on the highlights. Truth be told, Patrick has jerked off to tape from the Ducks series. Of course he has. Not, like, with Jonny though. He’s not weird. And then, to round it all out, he’s been compiling a playlist of songs they were listening to, in the locker room and clubs and shit, throughout the playoffs. Even the shitty country stuff, because memories are memories.

“At some point, you’re gonna have to stop lying to yourself and just buy the scrapbooking supplies.”

“Fuck you. This collection is awesome. And that’s a terrible idea. The videos are the best part!” To illustrate, he hits ‘play’ on one of his videos from the Jimmy Buffett concert. Within three notes of the song, Jonny smacks the laptop shut. “Hey!”

Jonny slides a hand into Patrick’s hair to fuck it up completely. Patrick just scowls and endures it, still sore and less than eager to leave his hammock for a slapfight.

“Think I’m gonna explore some,” Jonny says. “Maybe do another few miles.”

Patrick groans. “Don’t get kidnapped or anything, I’m taking a nap.”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll save that for when you’re awake,” Jonny says, voice fond. Patrick has to crane his neck to see past a potted cactus, watching Jonny’s ass as he walks back through the villa and leaves through the front door.

There’s another concert video in his collection, one his sisters sent him after seeing it on Facebook. In it, he and Jonny and the rest of the team are on stage with Mumford and Sons and there’s a lot of embarrassing touchiness going on in public. Jonny’s hanging on Patrick and framing him with an arm like he’s presenting Patrick to the crowd for applause. Watching the video, Patrick thinks Jonny would’ve hoisted Patrick if he could have. He watches it kind of a lot.

It’s a sunny afternoon, but he’s in the shade, so there isn’t much danger involved in napping right here in the hammock. But as he stretches, he decides a hot soak should happen first. Bath, then nap, then achievement of total nirvana.

He lowers himself into the bath slowly with a loud sigh of mingled pain and relief. He knows Jonny will give him grief for making it a bubble bath, but, in Patrick’s opinion, Jonny doesn’t have a leg to stand on, there. Not after the Pedicure Scandal of ’08.

The water temperature is punishing, but Patrick makes himself relax. He is making the best of this tub while he has it. It’s huge, with a design comfortable enough for the long soaks his muscles need and a cushion for his head. And fuck what Jonny thinks, Patrick’s going to come out of this tub smelling like a golden balsam god, a goddamn lumberjack miracle. Plus, bubbles, come on.

He’s got a window flush to the full length of the tub looking out onto the ocean through some trees. Patrick eyes the yellowing sky as he sets his beer down on the ledge of the bathtub. He doesn’t normally like to drink in the tub, makes him lightheaded, but he’s going to nap right afterwards anyhow. Patrick even brought some reading material within reach, some old Sports Illustrated’s he found in a cabinet on standby just in case. He’s all set.

Sweat runs down his temples as Patrick shuts his eyes, leans back, and tries again to will himself lax.

 

When he comes to—he doesn’t know how much later, but the water’s still warm, so within the half hour—Jonny’s standing by the tub in his running shorts with his sweaty shirt hanging around his neck and a fresh beer in hand. He looks, to Patrick, like he didn’t just arrive, but like he’s been watching Patrick for a minute or two.

Jonny’s eyes go warm and his lip curls, “Kaner, if you drown in a bubble bath, I’m not even gonna try to stop Sharpy from selling the story to Deadspin.” The afternoon light is spilling through the trees and the window, painting the contours of Jonny’s upper body adoringly, bright and unreal.

Patrick shuts his eyes again. The picture Jonny makes right now is too much for Patrick’s sanctum of serenity and his bubbles are long gone. “Yeah, yeah,” he says sleepily, making a little satisfied noise as he stretches his mostly restored muscles.

Jonny is still eyeing him speculatively before he straightens his back with a nonchalant, “Can’t have that on my conscience.” He sets his beer on the windowsill next to the tub before dropping the dirty shirt from his shoulders and toeing out of his socks and shorts without hesitation.

Before Patrick has really gotten with the program, some clutch self-preservation instinct kicks in and makes him curl his legs to himself and pull the bath plug as Jonny steps into what could more honestly be called a small pool. As Jonny seats himself opposite Patrick, the water still sloshes dangerously high, but the villa’s floors will live to fight another day. Patrick’s less sure about his own fate. Somehow, this all still feels so new to him. Something like adrenaline combines with the heat of the tub and the beer to make him lightheaded all over again.

Glancing at Jonny briefly, Patrick tries to keep his attention on the drain and water level. He lets it go down a little lower than it should be. He’s trying to hide his startled and clumsy arousal under the guise of sleepiness and languor, with questionable results. After fiddling the drain back shut, he starts some fresh hot water running from the faucet that sits exactly halfway between them. Patrick risks a glance in Jonny’s direction just as Jonny unfolds his legs, stretching both to Patrick’s right side. Even in this small pool of a bath, Jonny’s calf touches Patrick’s crossed legs as high as his thigh. Jonny’s face says he’s aware of having flustered Patrick and not displeased by it in the least. Bastard. Patrick wipes some of the sweat from his forehead, probably leaving his hair at some improbable angle. Jonny takes a swig from his beer, just biding his time.

Patrick turns the water off, and the following silence is pronounced. The rising steam paints Jonny’s head in foggy pastels while the faint green of the bath oil gives his tanned skin an attractive olive color. Patrick looks down to his own legs, simply pale green in the tub, and stretches them out so his feet are pressed to each other, touching slightly to the side of one of Jonny’s improbable thighs. Jonny takes another swig of beer, apparently affected by the heat, but says nothing. He leans back against his end of the bath and slips his eyes shut, content to play the long game of whatever it is he’s playing at. He keeps still, shoulders relaxing.

It’s hard to measure time, but at length Jonny meets his gaze with slitted, secretive eyes like a little kid checking to see if his sleeping act was convincing enough and betraying himself in the process. Patrick waits him out, happy to prune away, until Jonny’s beer is all gone and Patrick can see the sweat on Jonny’s brow even through the steam.

The room is quiet. The ocean is calm.

Jonny stirs to movement all at once, murmuring a “fuck it,” sloshing water around as he sits up and, to Patrick’s surprise, leans over to stick his head under the faucet, turning the cool water knob.

“Jonny—”

“Fuck!” He turns the water back off immediately, scrubbing his hands over his face.

“Dude, we aren’t in some fucking metropolis, you’ve got to give it a minute to switch temperatures!” Patrick can’t keep the laughter out of his voice. Jonny’s face is red, and it pleases Patrick to think that it’s only half because he was just scalded.

“Here,” Patrick says, turning the cool water knob again and letting it run until it he sees condensation on the metal tap. “Okay, now…” Jonny can do... whatever it is he’s trying to do.

Jonny gives Patrick a look and he can’t tell if the shark eyes are grateful or sulky. Then Jonny shocks Patrick again by just opening his mouth under the faucet, gulping cold water down while spraying everything in a three foot radius (Patrick’s Sports Illustrated’s! The James Patterson hiding under Patrick’s Sports Illustrated’s!). Patrick takes a reverent moment to be reminded of the visceral image of Jonny gulping down champagne weeks ago before shaking himself, remembering to be baffled.

“What the hell, Jonny?!”

Jonny pulls his head back upright with a fierce, defensive look. “It’s fucking hot, I’m dying!”

Patrick unsuccessfully tries to smother a smug grin; Patrick wins.

Jonny looks at him dangerously from his new position by the taps as he turns the water back off. “Don’t even—”

“If you can’t take the heat, Jonny—”

Jonny lunges at him.

Water goes everywhere (goodbye, James Patterson), but Patrick is more concerned with Jonny’s everything in relation to Patrick’s everything. And anyway, the bathroom floor is tile. Patrick’s pretty sure the bathroom floor is tile. They shove a little at each other, visibly resisting the urge to wrestle where someone could slip and be hurt so easily. Patrick’s wondering how Jonny’s knees are as it is, after that neat little maneuver he made onto them so suddenly. Jonny, salty but unable to really push Patrick around in the confines of the tub, pinches his sides instead. Patrick wriggles and cries splashing water into Jonny’s face hoping he gets balsam oil up his nose forever.

Jonny persists. “You,” pinch, “are,” pinch, “the,” pinch, “worst,” pinch, “person,” pinch, “I,” pinch, “know.”

Patrick wrinkles his nose and keeps cackling and failing in his escape attempts until Jonny opts to start biting at him instead. Patrick is less inclined to get away then. Patrick’s skin is fairly boiled from an hour plus in the bath, and it is so, so sensitive as Jonny’s stubble follows his punishing mouth down Patrick’s neck. After their water aerobics, the water level is down to Patrick’s navel. His torso feels chilled now in comparison and the heat of Jonny’s mouth is… something.

Jonny, on his knees with his arms braced on the rim of the tub, is mostly above the water now. He leans in further, bringing his mouth to Patrick’s ear and pausing before saying, “You taste like a candle.” He punctuates by spitting into the water, showily trying to get the taste out of his mouth.

Patrick shoves him again, getting him to lie on his side so Patrick can pinch his arm and duck in close. “I taste like a majestic, manly fir.” Patrick proves his point by ducking in closer to trace his tongue across Jonny’s lips and press against them with his own. Jonny presses into the kiss, bringing a hand up to Patrick’s head, combing through the wets curls at his nape.

Jonny pulls away, smacking his lips together consideringly. He delivers his verdict with finality: “Horrible.”

So Patrick gives him a wet willy.

Jonny’s disgusted noise and recoil leave Patrick naked in five inches of cooling bathwater. Even as he grins triumphantly, he can’t help his shiver. Jonny’s eyes follow the shiver down Patrick’s body before reaching up behind himself to turn the water on again. Patrick’s momentarily distracted by the sight of Jonny’s neck, stretched up and to the side so he can tell which tap is which.

Patrick feels like he’s struck dumb by Jonny all the time.

The water starts running again. When Jonny turns his head back, his eyes are softer. Patrick can’t really look away, so he notices the flinch in Jonny’s expression when the water starts heating up, splashing directly onto Jonny’s thigh where he’s lying on his side.

“Here,” Patrick says, pulling Jonny closer to him, away from the deluge. Jonny scoots in, eyes going dark as he brushes his lips to Patrick’s chin, the corner of his mouth, his mouth. Patrick opens to him without second thought, giving Jonny a moment to explore Patrick’s mouth before Patrick sucks lightly on Jonny’s tongue. Jonny’s groan is irresistible. Patrick sucks harder. The water is rising, and Patrick can’t ignore his dick any longer, not after it’s been sorely tested by the heat of the water and Jonny’s prolonged proximity. He hoists his leg over Jonny’s, urging their lower bodies closer together. Jonny clutches Patrick’s head, deepening the kiss, and Patrick’s hip, urging him further forward into the relief of sweet pressure, caught tight against Jonny’s own erection.

They get understandably distracted until the water reaches Patrick’s throat and he makes the executive decision to move from lying in the bottom of the tub. He really doesn’t want to give a Deadspin writer the satisfaction of a headline like ‘Bisexual Blackhawks’ Bubble Bath Blunder behind Brutal Beachside Bereavement.’

He extricates his legs from Jonny’s and pulls himself up, reaching over Jonny to turn the cool water on and ease the temperature back some, giving it a minute before turning the water off entirely. The water is barely green anymore. When he looks back down, Jonny is staring at him.

“What?”

Jonny doesn’t answer, just sits up to kiss Patrick again, lush and open.

After a minute, Jonny leans back to lie where he had first sat in the tub, pulling Patrick’s arm to get him to follow. Patrick crawls on top of him, intent on getting that mouth back on his. In his haste, he brackets both Jonny’s thighs with his knees, heedless of the stretch. He only notices the slight strain once he leans in to Jonny, arms about his neck. He didn’t mean to do it, but Patrick has finally ended up in Jonny’s lap. He’s too caught up in Jonny’s warm mouth and the slow roll of his hips to notice Jonny taking shameless advantage of the position Patrick has put himself in.

He lets one hand stray down from Patrick’s jaw, smooth down his back and dip below the water, as Jonny is still thrusting up into Patrick’s groin, still pulling Patrick’s head down into his. Patrick feels the rogue hand smooth over his ass, feeling the muscles flex with every undulation of Patrick’s hips. He isn’t even gripping Patrick that firmly, Patrick realizes, but his skin is so raw from his soak that the touch is almost overwhelming. And it’s nothing compared to the light slide of that hand’s fingertips, tracing down where the stretch of Patrick’s thighs has left him exposed.

He jolts when Jonny actually applies pressure against his hole, and the resulting hard press of Patrick’s cock to Jonny’s, unplanned and off-rhythm, is enough to make both of them groan. Patrick’s breath hitches when Jonny’s fingertip slides farther down and his thighs begin to tremble from the pressure to his perineum. It’s already a sweet spot for Patrick, but the extra sensitivity of his skin makes it unbearably good. He squirms under Jonny’s attention, breaking his mouth away to catch his breath, to try in vain to regain his composure. Close as he is to Jonny’s face, he can’t see his irises at all. His eyes refuse to leave Patrick’s, no matter how many times Patrick has to squeeze his shut against the barrage of sensation. Jonny is relentless, keeping that same pressure back and forth against Patrick’s perineum, making Patrick jerk and twitch as if he were flipping a light switch on and off.

“Jonny.” Patrick’s voice is gone. It’s no wonder when Patrick’s legs can barely hold him anymore. He’s reduced to a human blanket draped over Jonny, hands still clutching to his shoulders as Patrick brings his head down to rest at Jonny’s throat. He registers a measure of shame at clinging to Jonny like a quivering girl, but the mortification is distant, like his brain just doesn’t have time for it right now. Patrick’s stopped moving his hips, either because his body is unable to complete the motion or because Patrick can’t take any more stimulation. Probably both. Dizzy and boneless above Jonny, he’s entirely at the mercy of the soft upward rolls of Jonny’s hips beneath the water, the consistent and excruciating pleasure from his fingertip.

“Jonny,” Patrick tries again.

“Shh.” Jonny smoothes his other hand down Patrick’s back in a soothing motion.

The hand that’s still driving Patrick to distraction slides an inch higher, pressure back on his hole. He pauses, but Patrick doesn’t let the moment stretch. “Please.”

Jonny obliges him, pushing just barely in. It’s enough to make Patrick whimper. Because of the bathwater, everything is wet but nothing is slick. Patrick knows he isn’t going to be able to take much without lube. He also knows he’s incapable of stopping all of this and relocating. But he’s got a feeling this will be more than enough, so he opens his mouth against Jonny’s throat and says, “Just like that.”

Jonny seems to understand perfectly, massaging Patrick’s hole with a pulsing pressure with one finger and letting another slide along the sensitive skin below. He’s still rocking gently upward; god knows what kind of trouble Jonny’s own erection is causing him.

“God, Patrick.” Jonny’s head is bent to Patrick’s shoulder now and he presses tender kisses to it.

Patrick has no warning before Jonny suddenly spreads his thighs, and Patrick’s by extension, thrusting up against Patrick’s dick more insistently. Patrick’s legs are now stretched wide, and he cries out from the sensation, the heat of the water and the pressure of Jonny’s fingers against the stretched skin. He is utterly vulnerable, and it’s a lot, but he doesn’t trust anyone more than Jonny.

“Okay?” It’s spoken against his shoulder, and Patrick can only nod. He’s never felt so far from the helm of his own body. Jonny takes the silent nod as the encouragement it is and keeps Patrick’s legs spread, propels his abdomen up and up and up.

Patrick is trembling and the pressure against his hole doesn’t stop. Steam is still rising from the water around them. Jonny puts more force behind his finger movements, more speed. Patrick is going crazy, none too quietly, unable now to bar the whimpers and pants from leaving his mouth. And Jonny is so constant, so everywhere, so.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” Patrick’s eyes are wet, his muscles are jumping, and he’s lost all control of his mouth.

“Jesus,” Jonny breathes, sounding pained. He draws his hand down to the small of Patrick’s back and presses him into Jonny, hard, other hand driving Patrick mad all the while. Patrick lets out a sob that he cuts off quickly, driving his cock forward against Jonny’s as hard as he pushes back into his fingers before flying apart completely, finally finding his release.

“Pat?”

Patrick realizes it might have been a minute since he checked in with the outside world. He’s still in Jonny’s lap, though. He looks up and Jonny meets his eyes. “Patrick?” He says slowly. He seems concerned, like he thought maybe Patrick passed out from bloodrush. It’s probably a miracle he didn’t.

“Jesus,” Patrick lets out on a sigh, and brings his mouth to Jonny’s, gentle. Jonny is so. So. “Jonny,” he murmurs, pleased.

“Pat, you were…” Jonny seems to be at a loss. His throat is working and his face is flushed. While he must be desperate to come by this point, his hands remain securely on Patrick’s back, like he’s keeping him from floating away.

“I was…” After it leaves his lips, Patrick isn’t sure whether he’s coaxing Jonny to finish his sentence or unable to describe just how he was two minutes ago. They’re equally plausible.

Jonny looks at him dazedly and Patrick is so dumb for this guy. Patrick has a sudden and fervent desire to try his hand (mouth?) at an underwater blowjob, but his feelings about that potential Deadspin article have not changed, so Patrick props himself up on an arm and reaches back to let the tub start to drain again. When Patrick turns back around, now situated between Jonny’s legs, Jonny has the gall to look put out, like Patrick’s going to leave him hanging, which, frankly, is insulting.

“Dude, just hang on a minute.” Patrick can tell Jonny’s about to make a face that says he already has waited a minute, so Patrick ignores his face and opts for Jonny’s chest instead. Jonny’s chest is way less likely to be mean to him. Patrick lips along Jonny’s pectoral (which does kinda taste like a candle, but Patrick figures he’ll have to get over that if he wants to carry out his grand blow-j plan), biding his time while the water drains.

Every inch the water falls leaves more of their skin exposed and chilled, and Patrick is getting impatient. He tries to make his mouth warmer to compensate for the cold for Jonny, taking a nipple into his mouth. Jonny gets a hand in his hair, begging the way he resists doing verbally. The water’s still above their navels and ebbing slowly, so Patrick lets his hand drift below sea level and trace over Jonny’s dick. Jonny surges into the contact, abs twitching underneath Patrick’s fingers.

Jonny flings a hand from Patrick’s hair to the edge of the tub, gripping the sides with both hands and thrusting up so that his dick is mostly above water. It’s an invitation Patrick doesn’t turn down. He wraps his lips around the head of Jonny’s dick and goes as far down as he can manage. Jonny’s grip goes white-knuckled. On either side of him, Patrick can feel Jonny’s thighs working to hold himself up. Patrick would help, but he already has one hand on the floor of the tub propping himself up and the other working the base of Jonny’s dick. Plus, the trembling of Jonny’s thigh muscles against Patrick’s ribs is mouth-watering all on its own, a show of strength and eagerness.

The water’s lapping at Jonny’s ankles now, his feet flat on the tub’s floor and legs spread to accommodate Patrick’s presence between them. When Patrick glances up at Jonny, his neck is slack, head lolled back against the bath’s rim, letting out heaving puffs of breath. The last of the bathwater makes its loud retreat down the drain and the ensuing quiet reveals the obscene sounds Patrick’s mouth is making. He slurps at Jonny’s dick like he eats evergreen candles for breakfast. Patrick wins at bath oil. His jaw is straining, so he breaks to lick along the pretty veins running down Jonny’s cock.

Patrick wonders what he must look like, belly-down in a drained bathtub, desperately going at Jonny’s dick, arms curling under his knees to hold his hips down. He feels Jonny trace a finger along Patrick’s taut lips, coming away wet with Patrick’s saliva. Patrick never even saw his hand leave the side of the tub; he hasn’t been able to break Jonny’s stare. The heat and weight of Jonny on his tongue distracts him from the unappealing taste of the bath oil. It makes him groan long and low, lips buzzing around Jonny’s cock.

Patrick frees up one of his hands, gives it a broad lick, and starts to jack Jonny firmly at the base, still licking and sucking warmly at the tip. He smoothes Jonny’s foreskin up, still entranced by how he can manipulate it, by how it makes Jonny react. Patrick lowers his eyelids with purpose, eyes never leaving Jonny’s as he pulls back his foreskin and licks along the head. Jonny’s eyes squeeze shut, his jaw is working something fierce. Patrick’s wrist is starting to twinge but he’s not going to stop now.

He looks back up, eyes tracing a long trail up Jonny’s captivating, working torso to his face before taking as much of Jonny as he can into his mouth as sloppily as he can, getting Jonny’s dick as wet as possible. He pulls off with a wet sound. Wrapping his fingers back around Jonny’s cock, he gives it to him as tight and fast as he’s able. Patrick looks up to where Jonny’s mouth is still hanging open, his eyebrows are knit together.

“C’mon,” Patrick says softly. The squelching is obscene, but not as unholy as the wrung-out breath Jonny lets out, starting to really race down the final stretch. When Jonny finally breaks, on an upstroke where his hips are high as he can manage to get them, his come stripes Patrick’s chin and neck. Patrick keeps eye contact with Jonny as just a little catches his cheek, his lips. The warmth of the Jonny’s come is startling in the chill of the tub. He gives Jonny a few more tugs and licks his lips while Jonny tries to breathe.

Patrick leans down to lick Jonny clean, because that always looks so sexy in porn and he’s already down there, but a hand stops his shoulder and urges him up to Jonny’s face. Jonny’s thumb swipes over his jaw, around his eyes, then rests on his cheekbones, presumably cleaning him up. Jonny just looks at him for a hazy moment before gathering himself together to try and get up.

Patrick manages the five feet between the tub and the shower with Jonny’s hands guiding his shoulders and holding Patrick fast when he tries to step under the showerhead. Jonny turns the water on and murmurs in Patrick’s ear, “We aren’t in some fucking metropolis, Kaner.”

Patrick grins dopily where Jonny can’t see and waits for the water to heat up. Or, more accurately, waits for Jonny to decide the water has heated up and lead Patrick under the spray. He turns Patrick around and wipes his face off carefully. When Patrick’s pretty sure everything in eye-range has been washed off, he opens his eyes to study Jonny. The way the water runs along his jaw, the little hockey scars that have collected on his face over the years.

“Fucking gorgeous,” Jonny says under his breath.

Patrick doesn’t know how he feels about that adjective, but he knows how he feels about the way Jonny says it. They haven’t traded ‘I love you’s or promise rings or any shit like that, but they haven’t really needed to. Jonny kisses him slow and simple, wide shoulders shielding Patrick from the spray. Patrick just leans into it and enjoys it while he can, knowing Jonny will stop them at any moment in the name of water conservation and then goad Patrick into washing up lightning fast. It will probably work, too.

*

They’re both woozy from a long day of sunshine and conditioning. The hammock they’re on rocks lazily. The color of the sun is pinking as it slowly sinks. They already had a nap earlier, so now they’re in energy limbo. Patrick’s tapping at his iPad and Jonny’s writing in some notebook. Jonny’s got one arm up behind Patrick’s head so he doesn’t even need a pillow. The world is kind.

A text notification pops up. “Hey, Sharpy wants to know which one of us is winning at vacationing.” Patrick would say it’s a no-brainer, but he’s spent a solid quarter of his time here watching hockey and another quarter listening to hockey shows while working out. And Jonny’s definitely winning in the tan department.

“I think we’re supposed to fight about this, but I’m honestly not even feeling it,” Jonny says.

“I know. I feel like we’re letting our brand down.” Patrick thinks on it. “Why don’t we get drunk and then yell about it. We’re good at that.”

Jonny points in acknowledgment of Patrick’s reasoning. “That’s true. We are good at that.”

Patrick tips himself over to carefully dismount the hammock without dumping Jonny and rubs at the rope marks on his legs. “What’ll you have?”

“Whiskey,” Jonny says, eyes intent on the notebook he’s writing in. It’s Jonny so there’s a 40% chance it’s a dream journal.

“How many fingers?” Patrick asks in a porno voice.

Jonny’s pen doesn’t even pause. “You’re disgusting.” With his eyes still on his work, he adds, “Two.”

God, he really is developing a resistance to Patrick. Science is amazing.

 

Ten fingers of whiskey later, the only things they’ve accomplished are drunkenness, a discovery of how Jonny feels about having Patrick’s mouth on his ass, subsequent orgasms, and a ravenous late-night appetite.

They’ve both heard that the bar kitchen is open late. Jonny valiantly offers to go grab something and bring it back for them, but he once referred to carrots as “dessert,” so, hard pass. Patrick goes with him to supervise. They toss on some clothes and traipse down the jungle path to the resort bar. On the way, they make a unanimous decision about sweet and salty, so they get an order of fresh made tortilla chips and salsa and chocolate covered berries to go. They’re slowly walking back to the villa in the dark, leaning on each other a little because they’re still drunk (he knows Jonny’s drunk because he doesn’t even complain about the styrofoam). They’ve made it maybe a hundred yards down the path when the rain starts. It’s just a few cool drops on their shoulders at first, and then the bottom falls out.

“Fuck!” they shriek and sloppily race down the garden trail to find cover for themselves and their takeout in the shelter of a tree. Patrick catches his breath, leaning back against the trunk. He’s hoping the deluge will stop as quickly as it started, but the rain’s actually really pretty, gently lit by the footlights on the path.

He sweeps a wet curl out of his eye and drunkenly lolls his head to find Jonny watching the rain too, damp and dazed and gorgeous and Patrick’s fiercely happy. The sentiment echoes through Patrick’s whole body: I am so goddamn lucky.

“Hm? What’d you say?” Jonny projects over the downpour.

“I SAID THE WAITRESS WANTED TO FUCK ME.”

“Well, tough luck,” says Jonny firmly, not even questioning it. He drops a heavy, wet arm on Patrick’s shoulders and doesn’t let go.

Though the tree isn’t doing much sheltering, it’s nice being in each other’s space like this. They’ve only been recognized a couple times at the resort, but they’re still trying to be lowkey outside the villa. Plus, their families fly in tomorrow. Out here now though, in the middle of the night in a rainstorm, Patrick lets himself lean on Jonny as much as he wants. The hsssh and splatters of water all around them are deafening.

“Hey look,” Jonny says by his ear, tugging Patrick to the other side of the trunk where they can barely see the storm-pocked ocean through the trees and the rain. Then, down the shore some, the distant golden light of their villa. From here, it looks like the beach is the quickest way. The rain isn’t slowing at all.

Jonny shakes his head like a dog to get the water out of his eyes and looks down at Patrick. He nods his head meaningfully in the direction of the light, smiling, “Do you wanna?”

Patrick tightens his grip on the plastic bag in his hand and gently places the other hand on Jonny’s elbow like he has something important to say. Patrick takes a slow inhale, parts his lips, and then—

—darts off towards the beach, yelling “Last one there!”

*

It’s towards the end of a long, hot day when Patrick gets back from his run, but the sun is still high. “I’m back!” The door to the villa closes with a soft click behind him.

“Hey,” Jonny yells from the bedroom. “How was the beach?” Jonny was out on a boat with his brother and dad for most of the day.

“Sandy,” says Patrick. He drops the keys and phone on the table in the front hallway.

“Hey Pat!” Jonny’s voice echoes across the house. “Can I borrow your laptop? Mine’s being slow.”

“Yeah, help yourself!” Patrick replies. He’s sitting by the front door untying his running shoes when Jonny pipes up again, sounding confused.

“Hey Pat?” a pause, “What’s scrabblefinder dot com?”

Every muscle in Patrick’s body stills. Then they come back online in an instant to start tying his shoelaces back up.

“Pat?”

He stands, grabs the keys, grabs the phone, and grabs the door handle.

“Pat?”

He makes sure the front door clicks shut nice and quiet. And then he sprints.

“PAT!”