Brad doesn’t remember dreaming until he was 18 years old. He figured that he always was, had googled it a couple times and knew that it only occurred during a certain stage of the REM cycle. So, he assumed that he’d probably been a little too good at sleeping to have dreams. It had bothered him when he was a child, and all of his friends at school would talk about the crazy dreams they had. They were never as crazy as they thought they were, but he’d wanted to experience it all the same. He had lied a few times, making dreams up that were similar to ones they had had.
At night, he would lay awake and think of what it would be like to dream. He convinced himself every night that it would be the night. And in the morning he’d wake up, disappointed and aching to remember something that hadn’t happened.
By the time of his 18th birthday, he’d given up on thinking it would happen. He had stopped caring so much because he had more important things to worry about anyways. He spent the night of his 18th birthday getting dinner with his family and then going to a friends’ place where he drank cheap bear until he fell asleep tucked into a couch.
That night, he dreamed of scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup finals. It’s vivid, and Brad wakes up in a sweat. It takes him a few minutes to understand what happened, where he is, that he had been dreaming. He smiles to himself, giddy in the darkness of a basement, thankful for what had ended up being his best birthday gift yet.
It doesn’t take long before it stops being a gift. Brad doesn’t dream every night, but more often than not. It’s always about hockey, at first. Dreams of scoring in the finals happens a lot, or of being drafted into the NHL, of breaking records and tearing up the ice. In fact, after three months of nothing but hockey dreams, and Brad is starting to feel like the dreaming thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Besides, he’s pretty sure you’re supposed to forget most of your dreams, but he always remembers every second of every dream.
His grandfather gets sick in August, and it’s touch and go for weeks. Brad dreams of his grandfather leaving the hospital and sitting in the stands at one of his hockey games. It’s so real in the dreams, it makes him want to sleep all the time, makes it hard to visit his grandfather in the hospital and see the reality of him sick, weak, and so small. His grandfather asks Brad to sit right next to the bed and tell him all about his games.
The night his grandfather dies, Brad dreams of sitting by the side of the hospital bed, but instead of talking about a shot he made, he tells his grandfather how much he loves him.
He wakes up at 2am, face wet and eyes sore, and the realization of what all his dreams are about weighing heavy on his mind.
Brad dreams about what he wants, but not necessarily what he can have.
By the time he’s playing his first game for the Bruins, he’s already dreamed it so many times that he doesn’t even really feel that nervous. He’s lived that before, in a hundred dreams, and he’s used to it, somehow. What he’s not used to is how fucking good it feels even when he’s not playing. He hadn’t dreamed of hanging out with Tyler or of the connection he feels when he gets to be on Bergy’s line during practice because he hadn’t even known to want those things. He still dreams of the Stanley Cup, but more often he dreams of the first line with Bergy and goal cellys and late nights with the team. All of which he gets to have, sometimes.
It’s the first time since he started dreaming that what he wanted has been what he has, and its bliss. His dreams no longer leave an ache in his chest at what can never be, but serve as a reminder of how fucking good he has it. Brad sleeps and sleeps and doesn’t worry for a second of it.
He really should’ve known it would be too good to last.
The first time he dreams of Bergy, and not just playing on a line with him or celebrating with him or winning the Stanley Cup with him, but of holding him down and kissing him, he convinces himself it didn’t actually happen. He’d had a lot to drink the night before, Tyler making sure his glass was full, and Patrice had helped him get home after.
Brad would never actually want something so hopeless to actually happen, would he? His brain wouldn’t be that cruel. Besides, Brad would have noticed if he wanted to date Patrice. It mustn’t have been a dream, but some weird brain half-awake, full-drunk vision.
Two days later he dreams of him again, but they’re not even kissing, they’re at a candlelit dinner, and Patrice is smiling at Brad like he’s the only thing he sees in the world. Brad wakes up, feels lonely in his bed in a way he never has before.
It gets incredibly awkward to see Bergy at practice when in Brad’s mind he has memories of them going on a couple dozen different dates. Sometimes he almost references a conversation they’d been talking about earlier before he realizes that it was dream-Patrice he’d discussed it with. Brad feels like he’s taking advantage in a way, his brain conjuring up these fantasies of someone who is supposed to be his friend.
It hurts, is the thing. In his dreams, Patrice looks at him like he’s the most important thing he’s ever laid eyes on. He tells Brad he loves him over and over again. And Brad wants, obviously, or he wouldn’t be dreaming of it, but he thinks he wants it more than anything he’s wanted before. So, it kind of fucking sucks to have everything he could ever want when he’s asleep and then wake up to the harsh reality that he is alone, that Patrice would never look at him like that not when he’s loud-mouthed and annoying and is constantly told he looks like a fucking rat.
He’s pretty sure that if Patrice were to dream like he did, he’d dream of a petite blonde girl who’s soft spoken and gentle, or maybe a guy, but a guy who was smooth, a lawyer or something, who knew how to style his hair and preferred to wear suits. Brad isn’t, can’t be, that, any of it.
He dreams of it once, though, of himself. He’s himself, but his nose is a bit smaller, and he bites his tongue a bit more often. He’s himself, but better. And in the dream Patrice tells him he loves him so much, just the way he is. But he wakes up and that’s not the way he is, it’s not even fucking close and he goes to the bathroom and pukes.
He stops sleeping as much, after that. It’s not something that’s easy to control, really, and Brad is a professional athlete, knows he can’t push himself too much, but it all gets a little easier with less sleep. He starts by cutting down to just about six hours a night, with a power nap everyday and is able to cut the dreams down to 2 or 3 times a week. Some nights, when he really can’t handle the thought of waking up alone again, he can stay awake all night with the right mix of coffee and vitamin C pills the next morning.
Being a bit tired helps him deal with the ache too because it softens his world around the edges a bit. And if it’s not affecting his hockey performance, he doesn’t see the big deal. He’s still getting his normal number of goals and assists, and none of the Boston sports personalities are talking more shit on him than usual, so it’s fine, really.
He also starts trying to cut down on his time with Patrice. His reasoning behind this is twofold. One, maybe with a little bit of space, his heart will calm down enough that his biggest desire can change to something else, and he can stop having these fucking dreams. Two, he still feels guilty talking to Patrice like he hadn’t woken up in the morning dreaming of kissing him.
He didn’t think Patrice had even noticed until he finds himself cornered one day after practice.
Patrice is looking at him, soft pout on his face, “Come hang out, Brad. You’ve said no like the last 6 times.”
And fuck, what is Brad supposed to do with that? So he goes, grabs a coffee on the way to Patrice’s place because he’d been playing it a little fast and loose with the no-sleep nights lately, and he can feel the slight shake in his hands that’s a tell-tale sign he’s taken it too far.
He gets to Patrice’s, half his coffee gone, and Patrice answers the door in a pair of soft looking gray sweatpants and a faded old t-shirt. Brad already knows that image will be making its way into his dreams. But he braves a smile, heads to Bergy’s couch where Patrice wants to watch some spy movie.
The couch is so comfy, and Brad sinks into it. Halfway through the movie, Patrice turns to him, cupping his chin to lean in and kiss him. Brad is surprised of course, but Patrice’s hand holds him steady in place, firm against him.
Patrice whispers against his mouth, “I’ve wanted to do this for so long, Brad,” and they’re kissing again, slow and soft like there’s no rush in the world. He slides his hands up Patrice’s shirt, feeling taut muscles underneath. There’s a gunshot scene in the background from the movie, but Brad’s only dimly aware of it.
Brad pulls back suddenly, “Wait, fuck is this real? Am I dreaming?”
Patrice laughs at that, eyes fond, and pinches his arm, “Don’t think so, handsome.”
Brad pulls Patrice back in, but with urgency. He’s dreamed this so many times, and now he gets to have it for real, and he can’t get enough. It’s everything he needs, what he’s been missing, the steady press of Patrice’s hand against his neck.
But then, he feels a push against his arm, and the world splits into two, Patrice’s hand on his neck sliding away until it’s not there, and Brad is opening his eyes to see Patrice looking at him with concern.
“If you were that tired man, you could have told me.”
Brad’s dreams have always been lifelike, but never like that, not so based on reality, and Brad feels like his throat is going to close up. He wants to touch Patrice, he wants to run away, he wants to sob and scream at how unfair it is.
He laughs, sounding hollow even to his own ears, grabs his coffee and downs the rest of it in a single swallow, “Nah, man I’m good. Just need to pick a better movie next time, eh?”
Patrice nods, but looks unconvinced. Brad isn’t sure his heart is ever going to return to its normal rate.
It’s then that Brad realizes he needs a bigger change. He knows he needs sleep to survive, technically, so he can’t go without, but he can certainly decrease. He just needs some extra willpower. He implements a one hour on, one hour off policy at night that effectively keeps the dreams at bay. He substitutes for the missing sleep with extra coffee, even buying himself a fancy French press that he learns to use. Becoming a coffee connoisseur is pretty easy, when he goes through so many beans in a week. He also finds out that they make pills literally made of caffeine, and just a few of those a day make him not miss the sleep at all.
The guys start jokes about how Brad can never be further than 10 feet from his coffee thermos at any given time, but it’s the kind of teasing they always do. Sometimes, when he’s refilling for the third time at team breakfast, he catches Patrice giving him a worried look, but he always make sure to turn away from that as quickly as he can. Anyways, in general, the less he can look at Patrice’s face, the better.
He’s handling it all really well, he thinks. And it’s limited time anyways. He’s bound to move on to something new that he wants eventually. Brad’s proud really- he’s beaten the dream demon he’s suffered from for years now through sheer determination and effort. On game days, he takes a couple extra caffeine pills and he’s good to go.
It’s only when his vision starts to get covered in black spots about halfway through an afternoon game against the Oilers that he realizes he might have been a little overconfident.
Zee is actually the first face he sees when he wakes up. His face is full of concern which makes Brad pause, but then quickly worry when he realizes Zee isn’t in his sweater. They’re definitely not at the TD Garden. The lights behind Zee are bright and sterile, and Brad has a blanket over him, and fuck. They’re in a hospital. Meaning that Brad is a patient in the hospital.
“Hey Big Zee,” he manages.
Zee looks relieved and then immediately pissed, “The doctors say that you suffer from physical exhaustion. They also say the amount of caffeine in your blood is near levels for caffeine poisoning.”
Brad didn’t even know that caffeine poisoning was a thing.
Zee continues, “I am very upset with you. Coach is very upset with you. Bergy is very upset with you,” and he says the last one like that should mean something more, which is how Brad even got here in the first place.
“I’m sorry,” Brad says, feeling small.
“Yes well, don’t do it again.”
And Brad wants to promise that he won’t, that he really won’t, but he’s so tired and the lights are so bright and he just needs to close his eyes for a few seconds.
When he wakes up the second time, he actually sits up. Bergy is sitting in the corner of the room looking at his phone. When he notices Brad is sitting up, he’s crossing the room in a few short strides, sitting on the side of the bed.
He touches Brad’s forehead with tender concern, not saying anything and with a look so worried on his face that Brad’s heart wrenches. It turns to a look of sharp anger on his face, a rage that Brad isn’t sure he’s ever seen on Patrice’s face before, much less directed at him.
“How the fuck long have you been substituting sleep for caffeine pills?” Patrice practically spits at him.
Brad shifts under the intense gaze, “A few weeks, maybe.”
Patrice breathes heavily, “Weeks, fuck.”
“Listen, I’m sorry,” Brad starts, but gets cut off.
“Sorry? You’re sorry? Do you have any idea how scary it was to see you just drop like that? For the team? For me? Fuck, Brad, and your heart was racing so fast, I thought you’d had a goddamn heart attack.”
“I just. I can’t sleep lately,” Brad says, because he can’t, not without hurting, so it’s not really a lie.
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“Like what, asked you to hold me until I fall asleep every night?” Brad asks, going for joking.
“Yeah, if that’s what you need. You could have asked. You can ask me for anything. You know that.”
Brad shifts uncomfortably, memories of the last time he’d fallen asleep next to Bergy racing through his head.
“Now c’mon, get up. Unless you want to stay in the hospital overnight.”
Brad doesn’t, hates hospitals like every normal person, “You going to drive me home?”
Patrice rolls his eyes, “Yeah I’m going to drive you home,” he says like Brad is an idiot for questioning it, “and stay with you after. I talked to your mom on the phone, promised her I would watch you, so she didn’t have to come down.”
Brad takes a shower first thing when he gets home. He’s both sweaty from playing almost two quarters of a game and covered in hospital smell in a way that makes him want to crawl out of his own skin until he can rinse it off. What he doesn’t expect is to come into his bedroom after his shower to find Bergy tucked into his bed.
“I-what?” he says dumbly.
“You said you couldn’t sleep. Just, c’mere,” and Brad can hear for the first time the weariness in Patrice’s voice.
So he slides on some shorts and a t-shirt, crawls into bed next to Patrice. He doesn’t know what sort of distance to put between them, but it doesn’t matter because Patrice is flicking off the lamp and then curling his body around Brad’s. It’s better than anything Brad has ever dreamed about because it’s real, but it’s worse because it’s so close to what he wants and not quite.
Patrice murmurs, “Sleep,” right in his ear. He considers trying to fight it, forcing his body to stay awake and still until Patrice wakes up, but he’s not even able to finish the thought.
Brad wakes up, Patrice’s arm hanging over his hip where his shirt has ridden up, so it’s pressed directly on the skin. Brad hasn’t dreamed in weeks and- fuck, he can’t do it anymore, can’t do it, he’s so tired and it hurts so fucking bad, he wants to stop, wants to beg his brain to think about something else. He’s sobbing before he notices he’s crying at all, full body-wracking sobs that shake him and make his throat feel raw.
Patrice wakes up beside him, sitting up suddenly, reaching for him, “Brad? What’s wrong?”
Brad can’t answer, is almost fucking choking, and Patrice starts to rub a soothing hand up and down his back and it’s a dream, a dream, a horrible fucking dream.
“It’s okay, you’re okay, I’m here, it’s okay,” Patrice is murmuring over and over in his ear like a mantra.
It’s minutes before Brad stops sobbing and the sound stops coming at one point, just silent choking sobs that eventually peter out into nothing, only the sound of Patrice’s words in the house.
“I have this dream sometimes,” Brad says when he finally gets his voice back, unsure if he’s talking to dream-Patrice or real-Patrice, “that you love me.”
Brad can’t see Patrice’s face in the dark, so he doesn’t know what Patrice is feeling when he answers in a monotone, “And it makes you sob like that?”
“No, well yes, kind of. It’s hard to see it so clearly and know I can’t have it.”
“You can have anything you want,” and Brad can feel Patrice’s hand coming up to brush at the wetness on his face, then angle it in to kiss him.
Brad only lets himself enjoy it for a moment before he pulls away, “Pinch me. Pinchmepinchmepinchme.”
Patrice huffs out half a laugh, pinches Patrice’s cheek with the hand on his face, and his arm with the other.
“What, Brad, no, I can’t hit you. Fuck.”
Brad whimpers, “I need to know it’s real. I need to, Patrice please.”
Patrice still has one hand on his face, the other tracing lazy circles on Brad’s arm, “Here’s something you’d never dream. Let’s go back to sleep, and I’ll call us both out of practice tomorrow.”
Brad is pretty sure he’s having a nervous breakdown because Patrice would never, never call them out of practice for anything, not even in Brad’s wildest dreams and -oh. Not even in his wildest dreams.
“Well, ‘m pretty sure they don’t want you there anyways after you passed out. But I’ll tell Coach I’ve gotta miss.”
Brad leans in, kisses Patrice, feeling him again and his lips are chapped and rough in a way that hurts a bit, but Brad loves because it feels real, the beard burn scraping him in a way he wouldn’t have pictured, wouldn’t have known, and it’s real, it’s real, it’s real. Patrice pushes him away after a few minutes, saying he’d be happy to kiss him more once Brad had gotten some sleep.
Brad wakes up in the morning and knows it isn’t a dream because his morning breath smells rank even to him and his stomach hurts it’s growling so much. But Patrice, still half asleep, pulls him back in close, and it’s not a dream. Patrice skips practice, and it’s not a dream. Patrice kisses him lazily, sitting on his kitchen counter, and it isn’t a dream.
For years, Brad still wakes up in the middle of the night short of breath, choking and crying. That it’s all been a dream, that none of it is real, that he’s still in a hospital bed somewhere asleep. Patrice soothes him rubbing his back, just like the first time, only now his mantra is just, “not a dream, I’m here Brad, not a dream.”
When Brad dreams now, it’s still of winning the Stanley Cup. But sometimes it’s also a little house outside the city, tea in the mornings with Patrice, the sound of kids footsteps. It’s silver and golden and platinum anniversaries, it’s a future he didn’t even know was possible. It still scares him, how lifelike it all is, how he feels like he’s living two lifetimes in one, but Patrice is there and looks at Brad like can’t imagine his life without him, and Brad is pretty sure he isn’t clever enough to have dreamed up something so perfect as that.