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at the end of the world (you are not alone)

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There is nothing else left when all is said and done. When you are standing at the end of the world you are alone. No one there to hold your hand, to pull you back -- just you.

It’s quiet. No sound. No light. That’s not quite true. In the distance Brad can hear the sounds of everyday life, a baby crying, the honk of a car, a cheer. But it’s far away; only echoes reach to where he sits, his feet dangling into a velvety abyss.

He has no tears left in him now either. He must have cried all of them away back on the ice, in the locker room. Only a vast emptiness sits in his core now, twists in his guts when he breathes.

“Mind if I join?”

Brad looks up to find Patrice standing next to him, hands shoved deep in his pockets. He should be startled by the sound that pierces the quiet he supposes but he isn’t. Every movement, even the turn of his head feels sluggish, as if every reaction he had, every last bit of energy he had, he left at TD Garden.

Patrice sits, dangling his feet over the ledge, without waiting for an answer. His eyes are red, to the extent you can see anything here but he isn’t crying either. Not anymore.

“What are you doing here?” Brad asks. Fixes his eyes to the depths of the void. It’s a kind of darkness that only exists here, a total lack of light, so much so that it’s unsettling to look for extended periods of time. Though if you do, shapes start to flicker and swirl in the distance, offering answers you can’t quite read, calling. A siren’s song. “Wasn’t your fault.”

“Wasn’t it?” Patrice replies quickly; his voice is so calm it’s scary. “How many goals did I score? How many did I set up?”

‘How many did you give away?’ Brad doesn’t ask. It would be cruel. Something twists in his gut again, dull like the rest of him.

“Wasn’t your fault,” he repeats instead.

Patrice doesn’t dispute it this time, thankfully. He doesn’t say anything at all.

They were so close. A mere 60 minutes away from righting the wrongs of the past, from bringing the cup back home where it belongs. He’d imagined it so clearly -- lifting the Cup on home ice, the cheer of the crowd, the parade. Surrounded by his family. Holding it, drinking outrageous quantities of champagne from it. Patrice next to him with the most breathtaking of smiles, his eyes almost feral with the glory and the joy of it all. Patrice in his arms, holding him, lifting him up. We did it Marchy! like music in his ears. Patrice’s lips rough and triumphant against his own.

“Feels like--it’s not real,” Brad says. “Like it’s a dream I will wake up from. We will play the game tomorrow. Like we--”

“Still have a chance?”

He can hear the smile in Patrice’s voice, but it’s bitter. Like Jägermeister. Of all the copious amounts of alcohol he poured into his body Brad has never been a fan of Jägermeister. Christ, what an odd thought to think, here at the end of the world.

“Something like that.”

A spark dances in the corner Brad’s field of vision before it fades into nothing again.

“Do you think we will--” he starts though he can’t finish it.

Patrice hears him anyway. He has always had a knack for that.

“I don’t know.”

How many years do they have left? How many does Patrice, with every injury he has forced himself to play through? How long has it been since the last time they were at the final.

Christ, had he known he would have drunk just a little less in 2011. Savored it better. The whole experience of it all. Or he would have convinced Patrice to go out with them, just the once, get wasted until they were shirtless and making out on a table top.

A second spark lights up out ahead, leaving a faint trail in its wake. It’s almost like a shooting star but more. Brad looks at it, mesmerized, unable to blink. It calls to him, a faint melody in his ears, a promise, though of what Brad doesn’t know. It would hurt less maybe. He would hurt people less.

“Brad. Hey, look at me.”

Patrice puts a hand on his jaw and pulls until Brad turns his head towards him. He is frowning. His eyes are definitely red. Brad wants to say something. Feels like, if he just thinks hard enough, there is a combination of words out there that will make this whole thing alright. That will take the shards of his heart, of all their hearts, and put them back together again. There has to be.

“Hey,” Patrice says and his hand migrates from Brad’s jaw to the back of his neck, holding him, pulling him in.

Brad wants to resist, tell Patrice he doesn’t deserve to, that Patrice doesn’t have to.

But Patrice’s hand is strong and Brad has no fight left in him and when he falls into his linemate, his alternate, his friend, Patrice is firm against him and yet so soft. His arms close around Brad, press him tight into his chest. Brad inhales him in, not knowing with the sudden, all-encompassing warmth. Patrice smells like coconut body wash. He smells like home.

His fingers card through Brad’s hair, while his other hand rubs circles on his back.

“Hey,” Patrice says again, the sound muffled now, and it takes Brad a moment to realize that Patrice has buried his head into Brad’s hair, that Brad is holding Patrice, just as much Patrice is holding him.

Brad doesn’t know for how long they stay like that. He never figures out what the words are supposed to be either. It never becomes alright even as the pain fades. But he is still wrong as it turns out. Turns out, even when you are standing at a precipice at the end of the world, you don’t always have to do it alone.