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prologue

~

 

“Why did we stop doing this?” Pat asks, dick softening against Jon’s hip.

“We wanted different things,” Jon says, curling his arm around Pat.

“Did we?” Pat asks, sounding doubtful.

“Yeah,” explains Jon. “I wanted a relationship, you wanted to fuck.”

Pat uncurls, sits up. “That’s not how it went at all.”

Jon frowns at him. “No?”

“I wanted to tell everyone,” Pat says. “You wanted to keep it a secret.”

“That’s—” Jon bites his lip. “Oh.”

“We could. Maybe. Fix it,” Pat offers. “If you were interested, I guess.”

The yellow glow of the city lights, coming through Jon’s windows, makes Pat look vulnerable. Or, no: the tense curve of his shoulder, the twist of his mouth, the press of his hands against the sheets, carefully against not Jon, make him look vulnerable.

Jon knows he isn’t, wants to press against the softness of him anyway.

“You want me?” Jon asks.

“Not just to fuck,” Pat says, sliding a hand against Jon’s thigh. “But I can’t—”

“What if it doesn’t work?” Jon asks, looking down at where they’re touching, and where they aren’t.

“Is that what you were worried about, before?”

“If it’s gonna be right with everyone,” Jon says to their skin, “it has to be right for us, first.”

Pat’s fingers press against his jaw, pulling up his chin. He says to Jon’s eyes, “Is that why you didn’t want to come out?”

“There wasn’t anything to come out for,” Jon explains, stomach tight like it wasn’t when Pat leaned over in the cab and said I’ll come to yours.

Pat drops his hand. Jon’s stomach falls, too, but then Pat says, “—okay. Let’s make something.”

 

~

~

 

“So,” Jon says to the dinner table at large. “Pat’s coming up tomorrow.”

”Pat—Patrick Kane?” his dad asks.

“Yeah.”

“We’re going to the cottage on Friday,” says David, glancing at his girlfriend. Laura, twenty, nursing student, better than David but sweet on him anyway. “With Dan and Alex and his girl?”

“We’re taking two cars anyway,” Jon says with a shrug. “There’s room for one more.”

“Sure,” David says kind of blankly, sharing a confused look with their parents.

“Jonathan,” his mother says after a moment, his name the soft susurration of sound he misses when they go without speaking for too long. “Is Patrick coming up for something promotional?

No,” Jon says, switching to French with her. “Just to hang out.”

“You two never see each other in the summer,” she says, eyeing him thoughtfully. “Is there something you want to share?

“Woah,” says David, looking from their mom to Jon and back again. “Are you saying—”

“It’s not—” Jon cuts him off, fingers tight around his knife and fork. “He’s just… we’re figuring some stuff out, okay?”

His family all looks at him; dad baffled, mom concerned, and David skeptical, but they’re fundamentally all polite people who stay out of each others’ business, so conversation reluctantly moves on. Jon lets out a small sigh of relief and goes back to his steak.

 

~

 

“Hey,” Pat says, plane-worn and with too much luggage. “Sup man.”

Jon gets a one-armed hug and a stupidly heavy duffle bag. “Did you bring every pair of shoes you own?”

“Nah, just my winter coat,” Pat says, grin shit-eating. “Six scarves, a couple pairs of mittens, a tooooque—ow, fuck!”

Jon stops pinching the soft skin of Pat’s arm when he twists away, and hauls him back in instead. It’s not a bro-hug, his hand sliding down to grip Pat’s wrist, hidden by the duffle, Pat’s fingers pressing tight into his hip, and Jon has to shut his eyes for a moment before they step apart.

“I’m glad you came,” he says, embarrassed at how his voice cracks, but Pat just smiles and says, “me too”.

 

~

 

Dan rides with them, Alex and Justine with David and Laura, but the roads are quiet in the morning and their convoy keeps together enough to arrive at the same time. The cars get left near the lake’s general store, and the bags get dragged down to the boat. It takes three trips to get the seven of them, their bags, and enough food to feed three professional hockey players and their friends for a long weekend over to the island.

“There’s a master on the main floor with a queen, a double on the second, and two rooms with a bunch of singles, I don’t know how many,” David explains to the girls as they haul everything from the dock to the cottage.

“Six,” adds Jon. “Dan’s got his pick. And the bunkie’s got a queen. We’ll take that.”

Dan trips and lands on his duffle. “We?” he says, picking himself up.

Pat looks sideways at Jon, cooler in one hand and two-four under his other arm.

“Yup,” Jon says shortly. David gives him a stink-eye, but he’s been immune for decades, and nobody else says anything.

 

~

 

Pat hip checks Jon gently, getting past him to rinse the tomatoes in the sink.

“You wanna do the onions?” he asks. “They always make me cry.”

“Everything makes you cry,” Jon chirps, but he starts in on them anyway, watching Pat slice the tomatoes into thin rounds next to him. The cottage’s kitchen doesn’t have a lot of space to manoeuver, but everyone else is crowded around the barbeque outside, critiquing Dan’s hamburger-grilling technique. “Thanks for coming.”

“You said that already,” Pat points out, sliding the juicy mess onto a plate, leaving half the space for Jon to add the onions. “You gonna tell me what’s going on in your head?”

Jon shrugs, turning to drop the knife in the sink and rinse off his hands. Pat’s hands slide around his waist, coming to rest on his stomach. He presses his cheek against Jon’s shoulder. Jon rests his wet hands on the edge of the counter and breathes.

Laura comes in off the porch, into the kitchen. Pat shifts behind him, but doesn’t let go.

“Oh good,” she says, spotting the plate of toppings and the pile of cheese slices on the counter. “The burgers are done. Grab some drinks and come out.” She makes a face at the end of her sentence, and Jon feels Pat twitch, laughing, but Laura just rolls her eyes and takes the food outside.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” Pat says warningly, digging a couple beers out of the mini-fridge.

“What am I doing?” Jon asks, curious. He’s not strategizing, not really; he’s trying to let this be what it is, maybe find out what it is in the first place.

“Killing two birds with one stone,” Pat says, twisting the cap off one bottle and handing it to Jon. “Or testing me, I’m not sure on that one.”

“It’s not a test,” Jon says sharply, wrapping his hand around Pat’s instead of taking the beer. “It’s—”

Pat leans up and cuts him off with a kiss, the chastest kiss Jon can remember between them.

“A test run,” Jon admits when Pat sways back. “For me.”

“For both of us,” Pat allows, smiling. “C’mon, I’m hungry. Burger-time.”

 

~

 

“I don’t get why you have a fire inside in the summer,” Pat says, head tucked into Jon’s lap, feet up on the back of the couch. “There’s like, a whole fire pit. Under the stars and shit.”

“Skeeters,” Dan and David say in unison, and then clink their beers together.

“Mosquitos,” Jon explains, flipping the page of the fishing magazine he’s got propped on the armrest. “They’re brutal after dark, it’s not worth it.”

Alex lets out a victorious “hah!” and points a golden marshmallow at Justine, who giggles and gently pulls the crispy outside off with her mouth.

“Where’s mine?” Pat complains.

Jon looks down at Pat as he tilts his head back on Jon’s thigh and opens his mouth plaintively. He tightens his own lips as Pat slides his tongue along his. “Uh,” Jon manages, and Pat grins, dimple-wide. Jon slides the hand he’s been resting on Pat’s sternum up his chest until his thumb presses into the skin above his t-shirt collar.

“Get a room,” David calls lazily.

“I don’t mind,” Laura says, tucked against David’s knees. “Feel free to take off your shirt, Jonny.”

“You did not just hit on my brother,” David says with a groan.

“Good genes, baby,” she says sympathetically.

“Yeah, okay,” Jon says hastily, shoving Pat off his lap and standing up. “I’m gonna brush my teeth.”

 

~

 

Pat takes the bunkie steps two at a time, and Jon follows him up and in. It’s a one-room cabin tucked into the trees, just a bedroom, really. Pat’s already dumped most of his clothing into the chest of drawers, and as he strips he tosses his dirty clothes back into his duffle. Jon’s got no such system and has to dig around in his duffle for a clean pair of boxers to sleep in.

The bed creaks when he’s pulling them on, and Jon jumps as Pat reaches out and slaps him lightly on the ass.

“Hey,” Jon says, grabbing Pat’s wrist and climbing up onto the bed to pin him down. Pat goes easy, t-shirt sliding up his stomach and free hand coming to rest on Jon’s thigh. “Watch it.”

“Oh, I was,” Pat leers, sliding his hand up and around to pat Jon’s ass.

Jon shifts back, out of his reach, until he’s sitting on the tops of Pat’s thighs, and slides a palm over Pat’s dick in retaliation. Pat shifts a little under him as Jon rubs the heel in, feeling Pat harden quickly, his other hand still pressing Pat’s wrist into the bed.

“Mm,” Pat says, eyes falling shut. “This is nice.”

“I’d hope so,” Jon says with a huff of breath, curling his thumb and forefinger around Pat’s dick as well as he can through his boxer-briefs.

“I mean,” Pat says, pressing up a little as Jon jerks him lightly, “this whole cottage deal.”

“Yeah?” Jon says.

“Y-yeah.” Pat brings his free hand to the waistband of his underwear, pulling it wide and letting Jon push his dick up against his stomach, blood-red head pressed into his abs. Jon shifts back a little more, curves in.

“Oh, yeah,” Pat says breathily when Jon licks against his stomach, tongue teasing at the side of Pat’s dick. “C’mon, suck it.”

Jon presses his cheek to Pat’s stomach, fingers twisting into the fabric still caught around the base of Pat’s dick, and slides the head into his mouth to suck at it softly. Pat’s hand curls into his hair, pulling tight. Jon lets go of Pat’s other hand so Pat can twist both of them into Jon’s summer-long hair and tug.

He keeps his mouth gentle, tongue working at the head while Pat twitches and shifts under him, hands pulling at his hair and wandering down his neck, thumbs pressing into to his shoulders. When Pat starts arching up, needy, Jon tugs Pat’s briefs down his hips and brings one hand up to squeeze, a little awkwardly, at the base of Pat’s cock. He slides the fingers of his other hand into the tight space between Pat’s legs, pushing underneath his balls to press against his perineum.

“F-fuck,” Pat says, fingers twitching into the muscles of Jon’s shoulders. “Harder, do it.”

He doesn’t say harder what, so Jon squeezes his fingers tighter, and sucks more deeply until Pat’s gasping and coming in his mouth, the slow pulse of his orgasm steady against Jon’s fingers where they’re pressing behind his balls.

“Jesus,” Pat says weakly. Jon rests his forehead against Pat’s stomach, presses a kiss in, and sits up. “C’mere.”

When Jon just stares, feeling unsteady and turned on, Pat rolls his eyes and sits up a little, snagging a second pillow and tucking it behind his head. “Get up here, idiot.”

Jon breathes out and knee-walks up Pat’s body until Pat can slide his hands between Jon’s thighs, palm his ass and tug him closer. Jon jerks, breath stuttering, when Pat arches his neck to mouth along the line of his dick, jutting out against the loose boxers.

“Gotta help me out here,” Pat says softly, fingers tugging at the waistband along Jon’s back, pulling it over the swell of Jon’s ass. Jon pulls his dick free, fisting it until Pat settles back and opens his mouth, plaintive like he was on the couch, earlier.

“God, you’re so,” Jon says, chest tight. He braces his free arm against the wall, leaning in to slide the head of his dick along Pat’s lips. Pat’s tongue catches at his foreskin when he licks them wet, and Jon exhales, hard.

“I’m so what?” Pat says, lips curving into a smile against Jon’s dick.  Pat’s hands are sliding aimlessly over his ass, squeezing tight and then smoothing gently against Jon’s skin.

“Gorgeous,” Jon says, honest. He presses in, doesn’t stop until he’s pushing against the roof of Pat’s mouth.

“Filthy,” he adds, sliding back out to rub his wet dick around Pat’s mouth, trailing spit and slicking up his lips even more. He wants to rub his dick all over Pat’s face, watch his cheeks get pink and shiny, but the warm suction of Pat’s mouth is too much to resist, and he fucks gently back in until his fingers are rubbing against Pat’s lips.

Pat’s making small, soft sounds around and under him. His eyes have fallen shut, and there’s no tension left in his face, like sucking Jon’s dick is a meditative thing. It is, for Pat, Jon thinks; he said once that the push of Jon’s dick against his lips was weirdly soothing, made him feel like he was floating. It makes Jon hard as fuck, seeing how easy Pat is for this, for him. He slides back out, Pat’s tongue following to chase his dick, and Jon pulls his foreskin back to bare the head of his cock and let Pat lick at the slit.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jon says, fingers curling against the wall. Everything goes tight and hot and the first spurt of come pearls across Pat’s lips, slicking the way for Jon to push back in and fuck the rest of it into Pat’s mouth.

“That’s,” Jon says, breathing hard as he pulls out and sits back. “God, Pat.”

Pat’s eyelashes flutter a little as he pulls up a hand to rub the come off his cheek, sucking it off his thumb. When he opens his eyes, they’re as blown as if he just came instead of Jon, and Jon has to press his own finger in Pat’s mouth, too, let him lick and swallow around it.

“Okay,” Jon says uselessly after a moment, pulling back and rolling off Pat. He grabs the glass of water from his bedside table, swishes it around to clear the taste of come out of his mouth before swallowing. “Want some?”

“Sure,” Pat says, sitting up and taking a drink. When Jon puts the glass back, Pat wraps a hand around his arm and pulls him down, curling in on his side and tucking his face against Jon’s shoulder.

“Good?” Jon asks, feeling—wary, maybe. Tighter after fucking, somehow, where Pat looks all loose and sleepy and relaxed.

“Yeah, Jonny,” Pat says, lips pressing against Jon’s skin. “Good.”

 

~

 

Jon is not a morning person. The one exception to this is at the cottage, where sleep is somehow easier and mornings welcoming. Here, where the thin floral curtains let the early morning sun shine in bright squares across the bed, Jon wakes early. He leaves Pat, curled in under the blankets and drooling on his pillow, and pads barefoot out the bunkie door and down the stairs. Jon runs his fingers along the damp wood rail of the porch and looks down at the lake. The early morning mist is sitting on top of the water, like fog on a mirror.

Inside the main cottage, Justine is dumping grounds into the enormous drip-coffee machine. She glances at him over her shoulder, lips curving into a grin.

“Nice shirt,” she chirps.

“Uh,” says Jon, looking down at his bare chest. He’d managed sweats over his boxers, at least, but he’s never associated the cottage with clothing. Pat would say he never associates anywhere with clothing. “Sorry, I can—”

“Kidding, seriously,” she says. “It’s not like I’ve got much on.”

She’s wearing a long t-shirt that’s probably Alex’s, and Jon presumes something underneath, but it’s all bare legs from there down.

“Between the two of us we can be decent,” he offers, reaching for the bread and putting a couple of slices in the toaster.

“Deal. Hey, should I make all sixteen cups, d’you think?”

“For sure,” he says, digging out the peanut butter from the cupboard. “We’ll probably be making pots all morning.”

Justine fills the machine with water and Jon makes his toast, eating it leaning against the counter and waiting for the coffee to be done.

“Besides,” Justine says, delayed, as she moves mugs from the drying rack onto the counter. “I’m the only girl on my crew, shirtless guys are a daily experience.”

“Landscaping, right?” Jon asks.

“Yeah,” she says, scooping up her hair and tying it back with a few quick flicks of her wrists. She shoos Jon to the side and starts up her own slices of toast. “I’m gonna start a program in landscape design in Vancouver in the fall, though.”

“I guess it’d be more fun to dream that stuff up, huh?”

“Right,” she says, grinning. “The physical stuff is good, but it’s not really something you can do long-term. Your back just hates you eventually.”

“Sounds familiar,” Jon says, cracking his neck to the side.

Justine laughs, grabs the toast as it pops. “You’re not old, though! Like, twenty-five?”

“Six,” Jon corrects. “I should get another ten years. I hope. Maybe not as long as Pat, though.”

“Yeah?” she says, looking curious and spreading jam on her toast.

Jon makes a face and finishes his toast. When he’s swallowed, he admits, “My injury history is worse. Mostly concussions.”

“Like Crosby?”

“None that bad,” Jon says. “But I’ve had more, and the effects can be cumulative.”

“Oh,” Justine says, looking thoughtful. Jon can feel his mouth flatten into what he knows is an unfriendly expression, but she just elbows him gently and says. “Hey, sorry.”

“S’okay,” Jon says with a shrug. “I’ve been lucky with a lot of things in my career, I’ve got no complaints.”

“Even—”

He raises his eyebrows.

Justine goes a little red, turns around and reaches for the coffee pot. “I think this is done, want a cup?”

“Sure. Cream?”

“Yeah,” she says, taking it from him when he gets it out of the fridge.

“What were you going to say?” Jon asks, curious. He doesn’t know Justine, just met her yesterday, but as much as Jon meets a lot of new people, he rarely exists in spaces where he’s not worried about what they’re gonna think, who they’re going to tell. Alex is a good dude, David’s best friend from high school, and there’s just something about being at the cottage that makes everything less fraught and tense.

“Just…” she trails off, handing him a cup and pouring her own. “You and Pat, you’re like, together, right?”

Jon shrugs. “It’s complicated.”

She laughs. “We were talking about you guys for like, an hour, after you went to bed last night. That’s about as much as we could figure out, too. Even David and Dan didn’t know what to say.”

Jon knows they’ve shown up and given no explanations, but these people are as much family as anyone else, extended as it might be to include Alex and Justine and Laura. He’s never felt like he’s had to justify himself to Dan, to his family.

“I guess I was just going to say that even though you’re really lucky, playing hockey in the NHL, that must make other things harder. Like being with a dude.”

“Ah,” Jon says, taking a sip of his coffee. “That’s true.”

Justine scrunches up her face and giggles. “Well okay then.”

“I—sorry,” Jon says. “We’re not trying to be mysterious or confusing or anything. I’m just not sure what it is yet, so it’s hard to put into words.”

“That’s fair,” she says. “I mean, feel free to tell me to stop asking. I just figure—sometimes saying shit out loud makes it more real, you know?”

“That’s kind of why we’re here,” Jon admits. “Not to say anything, but to, I don’t know. Make it real.”

“Like,” Justine starts, considering. “Like are you really together if nobody knows?”

Jon pauses, mug halfway to his mouth, and stares. “I hadn’t—yeah. I guess, that.”

The sliding door scrapes open and Pat stumbles in, in shorts and a hoodie, hair a bedheaded mess.

“Coffff-feeeee,” he drones out, shuffling into the kitchen. “Coffee me, oh captain my captain.”

Jon stops Pat with his free hand on Pat’s hip, and leans over to press a kiss to his mouth, Justine two feet away and smiling into her coffee.

“Good morning to you too,” Pat says, blinking, as Jon lets go. He looks sideways at Justine and then back to Jon.

“Yeah,” Jon says, lining up a mug for Pat and pouring him a cup. “It is.”

 

~

 

“What are you doing?”

Pat looks up at Jon from where he’s sitting in the canoe—backwards.

“Huh?”

“Have you never actually been in a canoe before?” Jon asks, waving at the whole situation. Pat’s got a paddle across his knees, gripping it like a hockey stick.

“Fuck you, I have!” Pat says, indignant.

Jon leans on his paddle and raises an eyebrow.

“Fine,” Pat says, deflating a little. “When I was like, eight.”

“Okay, well, first,” Jon says, sitting down on the dock so he can put his feet in the canoe on either side of Pat and pull it tight to the dock. “Turn around, and put your knees on the bottom of the canoe.”

“Knew you wanted me on my knees,” Pat jokes, but he follows Jon’s instructions and settles in, expectant.

“Better leverage,” Jon says. He leans over and pulls Pat’s paddle up, slides one hand up to the top. “Hold the top like—yeah, like that. Other hand palm-down near the blade. You’ll just have to do a power stroke, I’ll steer.”

“Aw yeah, power strokes,” Pat says, laughing at Jon. “Sounds like my kind of stroke.”

Jon tugs on the back of his curls, and then leans over to straighten his shoulders, twisting Pat forward and upright. “It’s like a slap shot instead of a wrister. Your arms are gonna do some work, but mostly just hold the form. Most of the power of the stroke is from your core.”

“Kay,” Pat says, letting Jon move his arms until the blade is stretched out, just touching the surface of the water beside the canoe.

“So you straighten here,” Jon explains, running a hand along Pat’s near arm, pushing his elbow up, “and pull on the other side, but twist at the waist to get most of the force.”

Jon lets Pat move through the motion a few times, pulling against the ropes tying the canoe to the dock. A couple quick corrections of grip and angle and Jon nods, satisfied. He goes to pull his feet out and get in the stern, but Pat stops practicing and pulls him down by his shirt collar for a kiss, first.

“What was that for?” he asks, sliding down the dock and untying the knots.

“You’re a good teacher,” Pat says, pushing them off the dock. “At least, when you’re not telling me things I already know.”

 

~

 

Jon’s putting the fire out when his phone beeps with a text from Pat.

put on long sleeves and get down here

“Where’s Pat?” he asks David.

“The docks, I think?” David says. “With Alex and Justine.”

“Stargazing or something,” adds Dan. “I’ll come with.”

Jon grabs a hoodie—Dan’s, he thinks—and tugs it over his head before taking the stairs down to the water. Alex and Justine are somehow curled into the same Adirondack chair, but in the dark he can see Pat’s shape, sprawled out on his back in the middle of the dock. The water splashes up underneath the dock, loud in the nighttime stillness, as Jon walks across and lies down.

“Hey,” Pat says, tugging at Jon’s arm until Jon lays it out so Pat can tuck his head into the curve of his shoulder. “That’s better.”

“Just needed a pillow, huh?” Jon says, tucking his nose against Pat’s curls. They tickle, and he rubs a little, chasing off the sneeze.

“Don’t knock pillows,” Dan says, lying down on Jon’s other side. Jon starts laughing when Dan headbutts him until he can mirror Pat and rest his head against Jon’s other shoulder.

“You’re both douchebags.”

“We’re your best bros, man,” Dan says, yawning. “Don’t even front.”

Pat knees him in the thigh and says, “It’s just awesome, though.”

“The sky?”

“Yeah.” Pat waves at it, tracing the shimmering arch of light. “You know the first time I saw the Milky Way, I was maybe sixteen?”

“Really?” Jon says, surprised.

“Yeah. Didn’t get out of cities as a kid, really. It was at one of the guys on the Knights’ family cottage or something. I thought there was a weird cloud in the middle of the sky.”

“It is kind of weird looking,” Jon says thoughtfully. “I guess I’m just used to it.”

“It’s like, the whole galaxy and shit.”

“Poetic,” chirps Dan.

“Fuck off,” says Pat, reaching across Jon’s chest to slap at Dan’s.

“No fighting, children,” Jon deadpans.

“Ew,” Pat says. “Don’t make me call you daddy.”

“Ugh, asshole. Just—shut up and look at the fucking stars,” Jon says.

“So romantic,” Pat whispers, but he presses his ankle against Jon’s, and it kind of is.

 

~

 

“There,” Justine says victoriously. Jon looks over from the dishes to see her loop an elastic around a braid in Laura’s hair, the two of them sitting sideways on the bench beside the big dining table.

“Awesome,” Laura says, running her hands along her head and tugging on both braids. “Sorry I can’t do you, French braids are way beyond my skill set.”

“I could,” says Pat, drying off a plate beside Jon.

Jon, Laura, and Justine all gape.

“Three little sisters,” Pat shrugs. “Mom would pay me two dollars to help.”

“Sweet,” Justine enthuses. “Now?”

“Sure,” Pat says, stacking the last plate away and tossing the towel at Jon, who catches it with a wet hand and rolls his eyes at him. Pat sticks out his tongue and shoulders him as he steps by.

Jon keeps working on the dishes, watching Pat make a couple false starts, muttering, “been a while”, and then braid Justine’s hair with surprising deftness. It’s one of those complicated ones that starts way up at the top and sort of scoops everything up as it goes down. A French braid, Jon guesses, though he doesn’t see what’s French about it.

When he’s done, Justine holds up her phone and snaps a selfie, cooing over Pat’s work.

“All the good ones,” Laura says, grinning at Pat. “Gay or taken.”

“Or both,” sighs Justine, shaking her head in mock sadness.

“Hey,” says Pat mildly. “Am not.”

“Not gay?” asks Justine, twisting around on the bench to look at him.

“Nope.”

“But taken,” Laura says, glancing over to Jon, who’s just standing with his hands in the lukewarm, soapy water in the sink.

“Well,” Pat says, grin wide, but not—Jon thinks—quite shit-eating. “We’ll see.”

Jon lets out a breath, fumbles for the dish towel to dry his hands, and walks out of the cottage, past Pat and the girls. He trips going down the stairs to the dock, catches himself on the railing and swears when a splinter gets lodged in his palm instead. When he gets to the empty dock, he picks at it for a minute unsuccessfully, stomach rolling, and then sits down, bare feet in the cool lake water.

“It was just a joke,” he hears Pat say, feeling the dock sway as Pat comes down it to stand beside him. “Didn’t mean to freak you out, man.”

Jon tightens his mouth, nail pressing into the splinter as he tries to work it free. “Whatever.”

“Hey,” Pat says reproachfully. “Don’t fucking whatever me, Jonny.”

Jon blows out a breath, hard, shutting his eyes. “Sorry.”

Pat folds himself down, sliding his feet out of his sandals and dunking them in next to Jon’s.

“You aren’t, though,” Jon says.

“Aren’t what?”

“Taken.”

Pat’s quiet, and a loon starts calling somewhere in the distance.

“You could try asking,” Pat says finally.

“I am,” Jon says through gritted teeth, squeezing his splintered hand tight.

“With words, you dummy.”

Jon looks over at Pat, helpless. Pat’s not smiling, but he doesn’t look angry, either, just exasperated. Pat reaches out and pulls Jon’s hand out of his own grip, unfolds it.

“Hold still,” Pat says, and presses hard underneath the splinter, pushing it up enough that he can snag it with his longer fingernails. Jon bites his lip against the pinch, but keeps still and quiet. Pat flicks the splinter into the water, smoothes away the dot of blood, and folds their hands together against the dock between them.

“Are words better?” Jon asks. The loon’s closer now; Jon’s spotted its dark form, maybe a hundred feet off the dock. It disappears in a blink while he’s watching.

“Better than, what, action?” Pat asks. Jon nods, and Pat shrugs. “I guess words wouldn’t be enough, maybe you’re right about that.”

“Yeah,” Jon says. “I wanted to show you. That I’m serious about this.”

“I can see that,” Pat says. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Pat grins, tightens his hand around Jon’s. “Consider me taken.”

Jon stares.

“By you, I hope.”

“Yeah,” Jon blurts out. “Please.”

“Dork,” Pat says, rolling his eyes, but he doesn’t say no. Jon twitches when Pat starts feeling him up, hands sliding over his hips, fingers pressing under his ass, but before he has time to say what he’s swallowing mouthfuls of lake.

“You fucker,” Jon splutters, surfacing. Pat’s laughing at him, bright and loud, and goes in easy when Jon pushes up and grabs his arm and tugs him in over his head.

“Hey, at least I checked for your phone,” Pat says when he surfaces, curls plastered to his forehead. Jon holds on to the edge of the dock as Pat slides his hands around Jon’s neck, legs knocking together as they tread water.

“Ugh,” Jon says, but he leans in and slides their wet mouths together, holding them up as they kiss. Pat sinks into it, and Jon’s grip slips a little, dunking them both under and leaving them gasping. “Up, come on,” Jon says, voice low and not a little rough.

Jon ends up pressed into the slats of the dock, feet locked behind Pat to pull him in tight to kiss and touch. Their clothes squelch between them as Pat rocks steadily down, the rough, wet friction just the other side of uncomfortable against Jon’s cock.

“Ow, fuck,” Jon says against Pat’s mouth. He pulls his legs higher to try and ease the friction, letting Pat slide down to rut against his ass instead. “Yeah, c’mon, like that,” he gasps out as Pat tucks his face into his neck and grinds in.

“Oh god,” Pat says, laughing wetly against Jon’s skin. “I wanna fuck you so bad.”

“Yeah,” Jon gasps out, arching with it.

“Not here though.”

“No,” Jon says, swallowing down on the spark of want. “Bed, let’s go.”

 

~

 

“Thanks for not fucking on the dock, guys,” Dan says drily when they come back into the cottage. “Really appreciated.”

“You’re welcome, fuckface,” Jon says, knocking him on the side of the head and collapsing into the couch. “Whatchadoing?”

“Well we were playing really loud music for about fifteen minutes there—”

“—fuck off, Daniel—”

“—but everyone else went to the fire pit to smoke up after that.”

“Oh,” says Jon, tilting his head and looking over at Pat, who’s digging through the pile of magazines on the floor. “You wanna?”

“Naw,” Pat says. “Maybe after dinner. I’m just gonna chill a bit, so if you want to….”

“I’m good,” says Jon. He kicks Dan. “Fishing?”

“Mid-afternoon?” Dan says, doubtful.

“Just for fun,” Jon says, ignoring Pat’s scoff. “We can take the speedboat, piss off the neighbors.”

“Sure,” says Dan, standing up and cracking his neck. “You good here, Kaner?”

“Yup,” says Pat, settling into one of the chairs with a three-year-old Sports Illustrated. “I’ll corral the stoners into figuring out dinner in a bit, if you want.”

“Don’t burn the place down,” Jon says, sliding a hand across Pat’s head and following Dan outside.

 

~

 

Jon wakes Monday morning to grey light and the steady sound of rain across the roof of the bunkie. It’s cooler than it’s been all weekend, and Pat’s back is pressed all along his side, comfortable warmth in the chilly room. Jon curls around Pat, looping his arm over his stomach under the blankets and tucking his chilly nose to Pat’s neck.

“Mmph.” Pat shifts back to settle more firmly against Jon. “Cold.”

“Inside day, I guess,” Jon says, pushing his hand under Pat’s shirt to rub at his soft skin. “Unless the rain breaks.”

“S’okay,” Pat says. “We can do that puzzle.”

“Ugh,” says Jon. “I hate puzzles.”

“I bet you’re stupid about puzzles,” Pat says, smile in his tone. He wiggles a little against Jon, and Jon presses his morning wood into the curve of Pat’s ass in response. “I bet you get angry and try to win at puzzles.”

“I do not,” Jon denies, except he kind of does. He slides his hand down Pat’s boxers to distract him, scratching his nails through Pat’s pubic hair and then taking his erection in hand.

“Liar,” Pat huffs, reaching down to shove his, and then Jon’s underwear down. Jon muffles a moan in the skin of Pat’s shoulder as Pat presses his fingers along Jon’s dick and tucks him between Pat’s thighs. Jon lets go of Pat to pull his own dick more comfortably through the gap, so it slides easily in his foreskin with the small thrusts of Jon’s hips. He rocks experimentally for a minute, and then goes back to jerking Pat off with easy twists of his wrist.

“Ugh,” Pat says, pressing his forehead into the pillow. “Wait, let me—” he reaches out for the kleenex box beside the bed, snagging a few tissues and tucking them under the covers.

“Gonna wash ‘em before we leave, anyway.”

“Yeah, but tomorrow,” Pat says, tightening his legs together and making Jon choke out a muffled fuck. “C’mon babe, fuck my thighs.”

Jon jerks forward, sucking a breath in as the head of his dick pushes against Pat’s balls. “Gonna come all over you,” he says, letting go of Pat’s dick to grip his hip and fuck in. “Mess you up, make you mine.”

“Do it, come on, Jonny,” Pat says, jerking himself off and pushing back into Jon.

“God, Patrick,” Jon says, fingers digging in as his hips stutter hard, dick twitching as he comes between Pat’s legs. It feel so good to get off like this, tucked up against Pat with the rain pattering down, Pat flushed and twisting against him. Jon presses his face to Pat’s neck, letting his scruff rub against the soft skin as he sips tiny kisses. Pat moans a little, hand working as he pumps his own dick under the covers, and arches, tense, through his own orgasm.

Jon slides back enough for Pat to reach down and wipe himself off with the tissues. He keeps his fingers pressed to Pat’s hip, though, and leans over to kiss him, gross morning breath and all. Pat kisses him back and then makes a face before gingerly getting out of bed, shivering. He tosses the tissues in the garbage can and slides his boxers back up.

“Gonna go jump in the shower,” he says, grabbing some clothes and a towel. “Coffee?”

“Sure,” Jon says, flopping back on the bed.

“I mean, wanna make some while I clean up your mess, asshole?” Pat says, punching him in the thigh.

Jon sighs dramatically, but slides out of bed. “Fine, fine. For you, I suppose, coffee.”

“For me, anything,” Pat says with a wink, leaving Jon to dress. He’s not wrong, not really.

 

~

 

“That’s the wrong blue,” says Pat.

“Fuck you, it’s the perfect blue,” Jon protests.

“No, that’s the lake blue, this is the sky blue pile.”

“You’re fucking colourblind, man, it’s definitely the sky blue.”

“I’m not the one who keeps mixing up the flower shit with like, the grass, dipshit. That’s actual colour blindness, not mixing up blues.”

“I’m not colourblind, fuck off.”

“Might explain why you drive like a crazy person if you were.”

“Uh,” says Laura. “How about you guys work on the words and train part? Dave and I will do the blues.”

Jon stares down at the quarter-finished puzzle in frustration, and then stands up abruptly. “Fine,” he says, switching places with Laura and sitting down in front her her pile of letter pieces. “This is stupid, though.”

“Trying to win at puzzles,” Pat sing-songs next to him, just barely under his breath, and Jon kicks him under the table.

“Nice sweater,” David says mildly, nodding at Pat. Pat looks down at the UND across his chest and shrugs, cheeks a little pink.

“My other hoodie’s still damp from yesterday,” Pat says. “Jonny brought, like, eight.”

“Four,” Jon says, lining up the Pacific text. “This is Canada.”

“I fucking know,” Pat says, mock-shivering. Jon shoves over a bit, anyway, and loops an arm around his waist, tucking his fingertips into the waistband of Pat’s pants.

“So,” says Laura, after a few minutes of silent, furious (on Jon’s part, at least) puzzling. “Are you guys going to come out?”

Jon tightens his fingers against Pat, keeping him from pulling away. Pat doesn’t, though, just chews on his lip and tries to fit two clearly-incompatible pieces together.

“Dunno,” Jon says, glancing sideways at Pat. “I guess we’ll see.”

“See what?” David asks, a little sharper than Laura had been. When Jon looks over, he’s watching them with a frown. “It’d be crazy if you did.”

“I don’t like lying,” Pat says to the puzzle. “I’m not good at it.”

“But there’s a difference,” David says, ignoring Jon’s frown, “between telling us and, like, the team, and telling everyone.”

“Not really,” Pat says, voice deceptively mild. Jon can hear the tension underneath, feel it under his arm. “You tell the team, and everybody tells their one best buddy who won’t tell anybody, and they all tell their one best buddy who won’t tell anybody, and soon enough…” he trails off with a resigned shrug. “Media might not print it, but they’ll know, and then it’s just a lot of awkward lying by omission.”

Jon stares down at the CA and DIAN in front of him, and thinks about looking for the NA in the box.

“Jon?” David says, prodding. “That’s what you think?”

Jon frowns. “You don’t need to look out for me on this.”

“You’re my brother, sorry,” David says, unapologetic despite the word.

“Still not your business.”

“It’s mine, though,” Pat says, quiet.

“I—”

Pat twists a little, looks at him straight on. “This is—this is good, okay? I appreciate it, a lot, what you’re trying to do. What you are doing. But it’s not the problem, not really.”

“Pat—”

“I’m just saying it’s, I guess. It’s a deal-breaker,” Pat says, voice flat and unhappy, and Jon’s throat is tight. He doesn’t want to be having this conversation in front of his brother, in front of Laura. It’s his own fault for not trying to have it earlier, though.

“I get that,” Jon says, low between them. “I do, I promise. I just need time, okay? Some. Not all of it.”

“I just can’t—”

“I know,” Jon says. “I can’t either, Pat. I want too much of you, okay? I know I couldn’t get what I want if we’re sneaking around, pretending there’s, there’s nothing here.” He always has, he just never thought it was all on offer, before.

Pat bites his lip until it’s white around his teeth, but when he lets go the corner of his mouth twists up in a half-smile.

“Yeah?” he asks, uncertain.

“Yeah,” says Jon seriously. He leans over to knock their foreheads together, kissing back when Pat tilts his mouth up to meet his own.

“It’s still gonna be a shit-show,” David mutters, watching them a little darkly.

“It’ll be okay,” says Laura sympathetically. “If Chicago’s awful to you, anyway, you can always go home and play for the Jets.”

“Fuck no,” says Pat at the same time as Jon splutters out a no way.

“Chicago loves us,” Jon says as they stop laughing.

“Pretty sure love will win out in the end,” Pat agrees.

 

~

 

“It’s amazing how light it is still,” Pat says, leaning against the porch railing, beer hanging loosely in his hand over the rail. “It’s after nine, and still—” he waves lazily at the sunset across the lake. The rain stopped late afternoon, and the clouds have cleared enough to leave a blaze of orange in the West.

Jon rests his elbows on the railing, breathing in the wet evening air. “It was weird going to Costa Rica with Lindsey,” he says, “and having the sun go down at six every day in the summer.”

“But I guess you get to see daylight in the winter, huh.”

“I guess,” Jon says, tossing back the last of his beer and slinging an arm over Pat’s shoulder. “Don’t get to travel in the winter much. For fun, at least.”

Pat laughs softly, and leans into Jon’s arm.

“Are we crazy?” Pat says quickly, still easy against Jon. “To want this. To do this.”

“If you don’t want to—”

“—no, don’t,” Pat says, shaking his head. “That’s not what I’m saying, of course I want to. But sometimes….” He peels off the label of his bottle, littering the strips down to the forest floor below the porch. “Sometimes I want things that are a bad idea.”

“And I’m a bad idea?” Jon asks, less upset than he might have been, a few days ago.

“You’re a great idea,” Pat says. “We might be a bad one, though.”

Jon can’t say no, not quite. But, “it’s been a good weekend, though,” he can say. That much is true, for Pat as well as him.

“It’s not real, though,” Pat says softly. “Everything else is gonna take a lot more work than this.”

“More work to get more of this,” Jon says, setting his empty beer down and sliding in behind Pat to pull him in tight. “I’ve never—this is something I want to work for, Pat.”

Pat shudders a little, sags back against Jon. “It’s worth it, to you? All the fucked-up shit that’s gonna come after?”

“You’re worth it,” Jon says, and it’s true, in that moment if not before. He’ll come out, for Pat, so he can stand like this, feel like this, press a kiss to Pat’s hair and not have to step away before somebody sees.

Pat turns in his arms, meets Jon’s eyes with his own, watery ones. “You were wrong, before.”

“When?”

“When you said I just wanted to fuck.”

“I got that,” Jon says.

“I was in love with you,” Pat admits, and Jon’s hands tighten on his back. “Pretty sure I still am.”

“Just pretty sure?” Jon says, skeptical and smiling hard.

“It’s been so long,” Pat says, joking but not dishonest, Jon thinks. “I’m not sure I know what not being in love with you feels like, anymore.” He slides his palms up Jon’s chest and wraps his arms around Jon’s neck, tugging him down enough to breathe against his lips.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Jon asks. “You knew… you knew how I felt. You always did.”

“Not always,” Pat says. “But when I did, I thought—you were in love with the idea of me. Being with me, the real deal, you always pushed back from anything like that.”

“Yeah,” Jon says, because it’s true. He’d been scared as shit, then, and so had Pat. He hadn’t realized Pat had wanted to push past the fear and try, hadn’t realized Pat had cared enough to want that. “We were pretty stupid.”

“Dumb as rocks,” Pat agrees.

Jon slides his hands around from behind Pat and tucks them in the pockets of his own UND sweater, a little small on Pat’s wide frame, and tugs.

“C’mon,” he says. “Let’s light one more fire before the weekend’s over.”

He lets go and heads back towards inside, turning on his heel at the door and smiling at Pat, who’s rimmed in the warm, fading light of the sunset. “I’ll roast you that marshmallow you wanted.”

 

~

epilogue

~

 

“Are you going to spend your off days in Winnipeg this year, Jonny?” Laz asks from his left.

“No, actually, Buffalo,” Jon says. “We get to Winnipeg more often for games, so it seemed fair to do Christmas with Pat’s family, this year.”

There’s a pause, unusually complete in a scrum, and Jon presses his palms to his legs to resist the temptation to scrub at his neck.

“Uh,” Tracey says. “You’re spending Christmas with Kaner’s family?”

“Oh my god, Jonny,” Pat says, making Saader move so he can squeeze in on Jon’s left. “That was not smooth. Like, at all.”

“What, should I try again?” Jon says, snippily. “You said I should do it.” It’s not like there isn’t a video about to be posted and an article ready to be dropped that will say everything they want to, anyway. They just wanted this to be—normal, Jon supposes.

Pat rolls his eyes and punches him in the shoulder, which, yeah, is pretty normal. Jon catches the barest hint of a smirk before Pat turns, serious, to the cameras. “He’s making it sound like he was all generous about this, but we’ve been talking about it for like, two months, and I only won last week.”

“Why are you spending Christmas together?” Chris asks, sounding desperate, like he thinks the question won’t get a straight answer.

“Because we’re dating,” Pat says flatly. “Next question?”

There’s more than one, to say the least, but Jon already has the answers to all the important ones.

 

~