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Dump and Chase

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The air is dry when Patrick walks around the truck to unload his bags, the sun burning down on his itching scalp. He arrived at the cabin late in the afternoon, so he’s not hit by the full force of the sun, but after sitting inside the cool car for several hours, the hot air still makes him a little dizzy. His sisters and cousins offered to come and help him get settled, but he declined, and as tiring as it is to grab bag after bag and carry it up the wooden porch of his new home, it's satisfying to see the trunk of the car getting emptier with every trip. The sharp pain shooting up his spine might make him grit his teeth, but he's learned to breathe through the familiar sensation and at least no one's there to shoot him worried glances.

It takes longer than he'd like to move everything inside and he's panting by the time he makes his last trip, sweat dripping from his temple. There is another bag in the corner of the trunk, the white Bauer logo standing out on the black fabric, impossible to miss even when he tries his best not to glance over. He could shove it into the back of his closet and pretend it's not there or throw it into the lake and hope the weight of his old gear is enough to sink it to the bottom. But he can't bring himself to reach out and carry it inside. He should never have taken it with him in the first place.

"Whatever," Patrick mutters to himself, throwing the door shut, the bag still in the car.

The noise seems to echo through the woods as if it was powerful enough to stir the water of the lake that's stretched out peacefully beneath the small cabin, shimmering as the sun is starting to set. It's unfamiliar to not be surrounded by skyscrapers, by honking cars and occasional sirens, and cooing pigeons. He takes a deep breath, inhales the earthy scent of flowers and trees, listens to the branches and leaves shaking in the wind, and rolls his neck to release some of the tension in his muscles. Somewhere a frog ribbits as he glances back at the duffel bag.

He'll just leave it in the car for now. There's enough food to last a few weeks in the cooler he brought with him, so he doesn't have to get back into the car any time soon. It will be easy to forget that the bag is even in there.

-

It takes a few days to get settled. The cabin is no luxury, but it’s clean and cozy and exactly what Patrick was looking for—his own little, private space with no one around to bother him. The kitchen is small, but he’s never been a big cook, and the bathroom upstairs is bigger than it looked on the few pictures he saw—there even is a washing machine squeezed into the corner that Patrick is very excited about. The bedroom doesn’t offer space for anything but a queen-sized bed, but the living area downstairs is big enough for all his belongings.

A week passes before he manages to unpack all the bags and find a place for every item, but the cabin quickly starts feeling like home with all his stuff occupying the space. It took longer than necessary to get settled, but there’s nothing else to do, so Patrick spends most of his time outside on the porch in his lounge chair, flipping through old comic books or reading one of the books he borrowed from his sisters. There is not much to explore—nothing but trees, mountains and the lake around him—but he walks down to the dock a few times to watch the sunset, the lake glistering in red and purple colors while crickets chirp in the distance.

It takes him two weeks to read every book he brought, and while he's not necessarily sick of the quiet already, he should make his way into town to see where the nearest grocery store is and use the chance to grab some more pantry staples to fill the kitchen cabinets.

The closest village is by no means big or busy, but that's exactly what he needs after living in Chicago, and it should offer everything he needs up in the mountains. He stops by a small bakery to buy some fresh bread on his way to the grocery store, making small talk with the cashier as she’s punching the prices into her register.

"Where are you from?" she asks, a smile on her lips.

"Born and raised in Buffalo, but I haven't lived there in years," he says with a shrug, pulling out his wallet, rolling his eyes at himself when he realizes that he tossed his Canadian dollars inside without taking out the American money first. "I was in Chicago for a while."

"What made you move to Canada?"

"I guess it was time for a change and—you know, Canada was an obvious choice. It has beautiful scenery."

"Are you enjoying it?"

"Oh yeah, it's very peaceful." He smiles politely, handing a few coins over the counter.

If she has any idea who he is, she hides it quite well considering there are no curious follow-up questions about his job.

He won't be able to hide forever. Eventually, someone will recognize his face, especially in Canada. His career may have been short-lived, but scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal creates a certain popularity in a country like this. There will be more people interested in asking prying questions and making unsolicited comments than he'd like. Conversations Patrick shouldn't be shying away from, but he can't bring himself to prepare for any of them yet.

The trip into town is a reminder that the world outside is still turning. He can't imagine being part of that, but it's nice to see people going about their day, hurrying through the aisles of the grocery store with phones pressed to their ears, or stopping for a chat with the neighbor at the bakery. He grabs another load of groceries because he might have enough food in the cabin to last him a few weeks, but it's always nice to have fresh greens—even if that means dealing with Sidney Crosby’s face staring at him from every Gatorade bottle and magazine cover as he walks through the store.

-

The cabin is exactly as he's left it; nestled into the mountains and trees, a few towels thrown over the wooden railing of his porch where he left them to dry, cozy and peaceful—radiating a feeling of home. But at the side of the street sits another car now, looking slightly out of place next to his own.

Patrick paid little attention to the only other cabin nearby, right across the street. Since he arrived, he's never seen any lights on or people moving about—the doors, windows, and curtains have always remained closed, the patio empty. All he was told when he bought his place was that he might have a few neighbors, but there's only that one cabin in plain sight, and he assumed it must be up for sale or rent.

If the open front door is any indication, his neighbors have finally decided to show up.

As he parks the truck, someone walks out of the cabin and Patrick can't keep himself from watching the other man for a moment. His neighbor is shirtless and tanned like he spends a lot of time in the sun, and he's clearly working out or doing some kind of physical labor. He's ripped, defined pecs standing out on his stomach, biceps flexing as he throws a duffel bag over his shoulder and locks his car, his gym shorts barely hiding the muscles of his thick thighs. He wipes some sweat off his forehead and then shields his eye from the sun as he looks over at Patrick.

"Hey," he says loudly, his voice friendly and pleasantly deep.

Patrick grabs the basket full of groceries from his backseat, taking a few steps towards the other man. "I'm Patrick," he says, shaking the hand that's offered to him, the grip firm on his fingers. "The new neighbor, I guess."

"Jonny," the other man says, offering a bright smile. "I was wondering if someone would be here. It's nice to meet you."

Jonny's hair is a little messy like he just took off a baseball cap and forgot to smooth a hand through it, his front teeth are a little crooked, his cheeks flushed pink, and there are tiny scars on his chin and above his lip that Patrick only spots once he's close enough. He carries himself with an easy friendliness that makes the smile on his lips look genuine, his eyes lighting up with it as he talks.

"You live here?" Patrick asks, forcing himself to look into Jonny's dark brown eyes instead of staring at his bare chest.

Jonny makes a quiet rumbling sound low in his throat. "I spend every summer up here. Sometimes I come during the winters, but they can get rough. Uh—" He turns his head, the corner of his mouth twitching as he adds, "I’m guessing you're from the States?"

When Patrick follows his gaze to look back at his own porch, he can see his star-spangled towel flapping in the wind, the blue and red colors already fading. It was a gift from his sisters years ago when he got chosen for World Juniors, but if Jonny thinks it's stupid, he hides it pretty well, only a small glint in his eyes revealing his amusement.

Patrick blushes. "Buffalo native," he says, shifting from one foot to the other. "I’ve lived in Canada before though."

"Oh yeah? Where?"

"In London. It was only for a year, but it was nice." He shrugs. "Nice enough to move back up here, apparently."

"Been longing for nature?" Jonny asks, a soft smile still on his lips.

"That, and I figured it would be nice not to be around people constantly," he answers truthfully.

It makes Jonny laugh, his head tilted back, exposing the long line of his throat.

"Should I stay away then?" It's teasing, friendly banter that reminds Patrick of being inside of a locker room, constantly having chirps thrown at him.

He feels his lips stretch into a smile. "I think you'll be fine."

"I'm glad," Jonny says, smirking. "It’s really nice out here. The quiet is what makes me come back every summer. There are two more cabins further up the street. My family owns them, and we rent them out during the summer, but you never hear much noise from the tourists."

Patrick still has no idea how long he'll stay. He can't hide in the woods forever, and renting his cabin out is an option he considered for when he's not up here. Maybe after this summer.

"Is that what the tourists come here for? To be close to nature?"

"Most people, yeah," Jonny says. "Some like to stay for only a night if they're traveling and just passing through. But there are quite a few people who stay for a while for some outdoor activities."

"Like what?"

"There aren’t any official hiking trails, but exploring the area is always worth it. And you can always go swimming and fishing, or paddling. I like to wakeboard when my brother is up here."

"You have a boat?"

Jonny's face lights up. "We have kayaks for the tourists, and another boat for us when we stay here. My brother is bringing it up in a couple of days. You're welcome to join me when I go fishing." His face splits into a grin. "We don't have to talk if you don't feel like having someone around."

If someone had suggested that a few days ago, Patrick's not sure he would have taken the offer. He wasn't too unhappy about finding the other cabin seemingly abandoned, but Jonny looks like he means it—like he genuinely wouldn't mind just hanging out in silence. They don't know each other, but there’s something soothing and grounding about Jonny, something that makes Patrick relax. It feels like Jonny's going to be an easy guy to be around.

"I think we'll be fine," he says with a laugh. "I'm not a great fisher, but I'll take you up on that if you really don't mind."

"Sure, please do." Jonny looks over his shoulder where the wind slowly lets the front door swing shut. "I have to get back inside and take care of a few things, but feel free to come over if there's anything I can help with or if you just want some company."

It actually sounds like he means it, like he doesn't just say it to be polite, and Patrick feels a smile on his lips as he carries his groceries into the cabin.

-

Jonny spends all day moving around his cabin. Patrick can see him through his kitchen window as he's cooking the salmon he bought earlier. At one point, Jonny looks up and waves when he realizes that Patrick is watching him, Patrick's cheeks heating up that he's been caught. He grimaces back which makes Jonny scrunch his nose as if he's trying not to laugh.

It's just a small goofy moment, but Patrick's smiling stupidly when he goes back to chopping up the vegetables.

-

They don't talk much other than occasionally greeting each other. After a few days, a car pulls up and a young couple shakes Jonny's hand and talks to him for a few minutes, gesturing and smiling. Then, he walks with them up the street, and there's no point anymore in secretly peeking out from behind the novel Patrick's re-reading in his lounge chair.

But he is quick to look up later when Jonny reappears. This time, he's on his own, so the couple must be one of the guests he mentioned renting a cabin.

"The first people arrived?" he asks when Jonny waves in greeting.

"Oh, yeah. Young newly-wed couple. They're staying for the night." Once Jonny's close enough, he leans against the fence of Patrick's porch, eyeing the book that's resting in his lap. "Is it good?"

"This? Oh, yeah, I've read it twice now."

He holds it up for Jonny to see the cover, the pale stretched-out hands against a black background, holding a red apple. He knows it's coming before Jonny has the chance to laugh.

"Really? Twilight?"

Patrick can't bring himself to feel sheepish. Objectively, it's not a book that will make it on any of those fancy 100 books you need to read lists, but it reminds him of simpler times when it was actually embarrassing to be caught with a book because everyone knew that Patrick Kane was too busy playing hockey to read books.

He offers a half-shrug. "It's not that bad."

Jonny clearly doesn't agree, but he doesn't argue either, just shakes his head, still smirking.

"So that's what you're up to here? Reading shitty teenage books?"

"Don't judge me." He carefully bookmarks his page and closes the book, only to fold his arms across his chest. "What do you read?" he adds with raised eyebrows. "Shakespeare? Hemingway?"

Jonny scrunches his nose. Patrick should stop finding it endearing when he does that.

"Hemingway isn’t my favorite, but he is pretty solid," Jonny finally says, his voice flat, face serious. "Personally, I enjoyed Hamlet and I think Twelfth Night is underrated. There’s this great scene where Antonio thinks that Sebastian betrayed him."

His tone is monotonous, a little bored, maybe. There's no way of telling if he's kidding. If Patrick hadn't skipped his high school English classes so often, he might have a clue what Jonny's talking about.

"Antonio is a stupid name," he blurts out, watching the corner of Jonny's mouth twitch. "And what the fuck? You actually read Shakespeare for fun?"

Maybe he's looking a little too dismayed because Jonny bursts into laughter and shakes his head.

"Just kidding," he says softly, sitting down on the top step of the porch, right at Patrick's feet, leaning against the post that supports the roof. Up close, Patrick can see the glint in Jonny’s dark eyes. Happy and relaxed is a good look on him.

"So, who lived here before me?" Patrick asks after a minute, nodding towards his own cabin. "I'm sure you must know them."

"Oh, yeah, an elderly couple. They spent the summers here ever since I was a kid. The woman used to sneak us cookies when my parents weren't looking. But as they got older, they spent less and less time here. I think they wanted to buy a house in the city and settle down there."

"You came here as a kid?"

"Every summer," Jonny says dreamily. "I loved it. Still do, obviously. It's a good spot for the tourists too. I don't have to do much, just make sure they're doing okay and leave the cabin in one piece."

"How long are you staying?"

"All summer at least. I usually play it by ear depending on the weather, as long as there aren’t any guests that need me to be around." He pauses. "What about you? Any plans?"

"I have no idea," Patrick says truthfully. "I might—"

Someone calls Jonny's name from up the road, promptly cutting him off. Jonny gives an exasperated sigh, but he gets up, adjusting his baseball cap.

"Coming," he announces loudly, grimacing in Patrick's direction. "Sorry, I just gotta—"

"Nah, it's fine, don’t worry."

He gets another grimace before Jonny jogs off, and Patrick can't stop himself from staring at Jonny's ass, his pants obscenely tight. His hair is long enough to stick out from the cap, curling slightly at the base of his neck and forehead, and Patrick has to force himself to pick his book back up and tear his eyes away.

-

By the time Jonny comes back from the guests' cabin, Patrick's back inside. It's been a hot day and he can't bring himself to cook, so making a quick a salad is all he has the energy for as he sees Jonny walking by. Their eyes don't lock, but he catches Jonny wistfully glancing over to the front porch where Patrick was sitting earlier, warmth spreading inside of him that has nothing to do with the summer heat. He could walk back outside, but it seems a little weird when he's in the middle of preparing dinner, so he stays inside while Jonny disappears inside his own home.

Patrick wouldn't have known what to say anyway.

-

The next day, he wakes up to loud noises outside of the house. It's nothing that would have startled him a while ago, but he's in the middle of nowhere, used to nothing but birds singing, so it makes him bolt up. When he scrambles to the window, he spots Jonny and another man getting a boat off a truck, laughing and gesturing.

Jonny always gets up early—Patrick's seen him a few times watering plants or having breakfast on his porch, while he was still happy to get another hour of precious sleep or roll around in bed and enjoy a lazy morning—and the other man outside must be his brother. Even if he didn’t know that he was supposed to bring the boat, Patrick would be able to tell they're related based on looks alone. They have the same hair, nose, and lips, the same kind of frown on their face as they're discussing something. For a moment, Patrick watches, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Jonny laughs about something his brother says, looking happy and relaxed, pointing towards the lake.

They must have gone out onto the water, because neither of the two brothers nor the boat is there when Patrick's out of the shower later, sipping his mug of coffee, and they don’t come back until later in the afternoon, dressed in swimming trunks that cling to Jonny's thick thighs in a very obnoxious way, waterdrops running down his smooth chest.

Patrick's in serious trouble if he keeps crushing on his neighbor.

He puts his magazine down and gets up from his lounge chair to say hi, forcing himself to keep his eyes on Jonny’s face.

"I see you have the boat now," he comments on Jonny's happy grin.

"Yeah, we had quite a day out there." Jonny uses the towel slung around his neck to wipe some water off his forehead and neck. "That's my brother David, by the way."

David smiles as they shake hands, and, up close, he looks even more like a younger version of Jonny. His cheeks are a little rounder, he's maybe an inch shorter than Jonny, but the same grin is plastered across his face.

"Jonny mentioned someone bought the other cabin," he says. "I am jealous you get to live here. I don't get to visit Jonny as much as I’d like. Work's keeping me busy at home."

"Are you staying for dinner, Dave?" Jonny interrupts before Patrick can ask what he does for a living or where he lives.

David lets out a deep sigh. "I wish I could. But I think I have to hurry before it gets too late."

Patrick doesn’t miss the disappointed frown on Jonny’s face, but he doesn’t push it when his brother leaves only a few minutes later, which leaves only the two of them standing by the side of Jonny's porch.

"The guests left?" Patrick asks to avoid the awkward silence while he watches Jonny towel off.

"Yes, early in the morning. I have new ones coming tomorrow. Two families. They're staying for a week each." Throwing the towel over his shoulder, Jonny runs a hand through his still-damp hair. "Have you eaten dinner? I have some fresh vegetables, and there's more than enough for two people."

It's a nice offer and Patrick would seriously consider it on any other day, but his back has been acting up ever since he rolled out of bed in the morning. He’s exhausted from barely being able to move, and the thought of being stuck in an old, uncomfortable wood chair is not the most appealing.

"Maybe another day," he says, shaking his head. "I wanted to head to bed early."

"Oh sure, no problem. Let me know if you ever want salad or vegetables. I'm growing plenty of it to save myself a trip to the store every other week," Jonny says, shrugging. "You can have some, if you'd like."

Patrick considered doing the same on the very first day of getting here except he doesn't know shit about gardening and would probably kill every plant within a week.

"I'll remember that," he says. "Thanks for the offer. Another time, eh?"

"Whenever you feel like it," Jonny says sincerely.

There are worse neighbors Patrick could be stuck with.

-

His back bothers him all week. He spends his days on the couch, a hot-water bottle on his back, which makes the pain a little more tolerable, even with the outside heat and humidity preventing him from taking a restful nap. It takes two days until he can get up for longer than a few minutes and three days until he manages to get in the shower. At least he has wifi now, so he watches a bunch of movies, and tries to ignore the sharp pain every time he moves. He's almost in tears when he eventually gets up to cook something, every muscle in his body protesting, no matter how gingerly he moves. He hasn't slept properly in a week and feels the exhaustion and frustration in every bone.

He glances out the kitchen window briefly, only to find Jonny looking up from the magazine he's flipping through on the other side of the street, and Patrick flinches as he quickly lowers his gaze. Jonny must be able to make out the tears in the corner of his swollen eyes, but if Patrick’s lucky, he’ll think he’s just cutting onions.

Either way, he doesn't see Jonny again until his back is less agonizingly painful. It's just a matter of time until there's another bad phase, but at least he can stand and sit again, and he's nearly crying with relief after a week of what felt like excruciating torture.

"Haven't seen you in a while," Jonny says when they run into each other outside, stopping on his way back from checking the cabins before the two families leave. His brow is furrowed as if he was worried. It probably was pretty obvious that something was wrong from the way Patrick was hunched over the kitchen counter the other day.

"I didn't feel well," he says, attempting to fake a casual smile.

"I'm sorry to hear. Are you doing better?"

"Much better, thanks." He inhales. "Uh, can I take you up on that offer for the vegetables?"

He checked his kitchen cabinets this morning, relieved to find that he still has more canned food, but nothing fresh. A trip into town would take a while, and he'd rather wait another few days to make sure his back won't give out during the drive. He could survive on canned food, but the idea of having some fresh veggies is surprisingly appealing.

"Sure, anytime," Jonny says immediately. "If you don't have any other plans today we could take the boat out and see if we can cook some fish for dinner, too."

Patrick's never been into fishing, but being stuck on a boat with Jonny doesn't seem like the worst thing ever after spending the last week with a stiff back in bed.

"That sounds pretty good."

He's met with a warm, pleased smile that he returns helplessly as he follows Jonny to the dock.

-

Jonny clearly knows how to fish. He gets them into the boat and hands over a rod once they're outside on the lake, correcting Patrick's grip a few times, before they get settled next to each other, sitting in comfortable silence. The sun is burning down, hot as ever, but there's a nice breeze and the heat is tolerable when Patrick's not lying on his couch with a hot-water bottle on his back.

He still winces a few times when he changes his position, and he's sure Jonny catches the small moments of pain, but none of them says anything about it which is fine with him. It'll be more than enough to answer all of his mom's questions once he's ready to call her again. He texts regularly but can't bring himself to pick up the phone and call. She's always been able to tell when he's not okay, even through a phone line.

"This is nice," he says after a very long period of silence.

Jonny hums back, relaxed and comfortable. "You don't regret buying the cabin just yet?"

A soft chuckle leaves Patrick's mouth. "No, I don't think I will."

It's a little like the outside world doesn't exist, just the small bubble inside his cabin, and nothing else matters.

"Is this your job? Renting out the cabins?"

"Mostly, yeah." Jonny checks on his own rod and grabs a bottle of water from the cooler, the boat swaying when he walks back from the other end of it. "My dad is an electrician. I sometimes help him out when I'm not up here. I do some local charity work too, but this is my main income. It's not making me rich." He chuckles, shrugging. "But it's enough to pay the bills. I don't need much more."

"You're not a big city guy then, huh?"

"Not really. I like being there for a day or two, but it's always a relief to come back."

"I can see why."

"You didn't enjoy the big cities?"

Patrick sighs. Saying it’s complicated might be an understatement. He didn't not enjoy the big city. In fact, Chicago had been amazing, everything he dreamed of before his draft. Things fell into place almost too easily, and now that his whole world has been flipped upside down, and everything is out of place, it's too much.  Too many people and too many cars. It's too loud and too exciting, and yet somehow, Chicago is not enough anymore.

"I liked it when I was still there," is what he settles on. He earns an understanding noise, but then something jerks his rod and Jonny's busy handling the fish for him.

"You didn't come very prepared," Jonny teases, checking on the dead fish, a smirk on his lips. "You can't survive at the lake without being able to catch small fish on your own."

"Well—" Patrick pushes his chin forward. "I have a neighbor who kind of offered to provide me with some food. I think I'll be fine."

Somehow, Jonny manages to keep his monotone voice. "Nice neighbor you got."

"Eh," he says, wrinkling his nose. "He's alright."

That makes Jonny laugh, shooting him an amused glance. "Gee, thanks." He nudges Patrick's shoulder, his skin warm. "Tell me something about yourself."

It's the question that, in one way or another, was bound to arise. Patrick's always been decent at small talk, so he should be able to handle it just fine, but that was back when it didn't feel like he doesn't know who he is anymore.

Patrick Kane, promising hockey prospect, and rising star in the league. Only another name now on the list of players that could have been great if things were different.

He could tell Jonny about Chicago and the Hawks, or about the therapist he had been seeing for the better part of the last year. About moving back to Buffalo and hiding in his childhood room, and letting his friends' calls go to voicemail. Instead, he talks about growing up in Buffalo and about his dad's car dealership, about playing dolls with his sisters and cards with his grandpa, about family barbeques with the whole family, and his mom getting mad when he missed curfew while playing in the streets with his buddies.

He's still talking as they drive back to the dock and walk to Jonny's cabin to fry up the fish and vegetables.

The cabin is similar to his own—a small kitchen and living room, with a dining area and stairs leading to what must be Jonny's bedroom. It's furnished simply, with little décor pieces, but it's nice and cozy, a billion herbs and plants taking over the kitchen, a bunch of cooking books about nutrition on a bookshelf.

"You weren't kidding when you said you're passionate about this kind of stuff."

Jonny smirks. "Yeah, I enjoy it."

God, even Jonny's entire fridge is green. It's all Patrick can see looking over Jonny's shoulder when he grabs a bunch of stuff for the fish.

"Wine or water?" Jonny adds.

"Wine, thanks."

He'd like to say they're cooking together, but in reality, it's Jonny bossing him around, instructing Patrick to hand over spices and vegetables. The weather is nice, so they eat outside, and the fish tastes better than anything Patrick's had in weeks. The bar is admittedly low, but his taste buds are very pleased.

"I'll probably drop by more often if the food is always this good."

"I'd like to think it is," Jonny says smugly, taking a sip from his wine glass. "But I usually have enough for two, so if you want to come over, just let me know."

"Do you ever get lonely up here?"

"Sometimes it’s a little too quiet," Jonny says. "That's usually when I hop in the car and head to the city, or a bunch of my buddies drive up here to hang out for the weekend. I like being on my own and I wouldn't say I feel lonely, but this is nice. Just—hanging out with someone." He smirks. "The fish aren’t great at keeping a conversation."

Patrick laughs, leaning back into his chair, watching as Jonny fondly rolls his eyes when he steals a small piece of his fish.

Once he's done eating, he stretches his legs and cranes his neck, the motion allowing the muscles in his shoulders and back to relax. Next to him, Jonny does the same, getting comfortable in his own chair. It's dark already and the fan in the corner of the porch isn't loud enough to drown out the noises of the woods, the wind ruffling the leaves of the trees, boughs and branches snapping as animals step on them, crickets chirping in the distance. Patrick lets it wash over him, wincing a little when he shifts to find a more comfortable position for his stiff back.

"Are you in pain?" Jonny says into the silence between them, his voice soft and quiet.

Patrick's first instinct is to brush it off and deny it. To pretend his back is just sore from something, a bad abrupt movement maybe or an uncomfortable night of sleep. Playing it down is what got him through the last few months, even if people still kept nagging him about it. But right now, he's sleepy and comfortable, despite the dull ache, and for some reason, he can't bring himself to lie to Jonny.

"Yeah," he admits, absently rubbing his neck. "It's not—I mean I’ve had worse days."

To his surprise, Jonny doesn't ask about it. He doesn't want to know why he's in pain, what happened, or for how long he hasn't been feeling well. He only looks at Patrick, his expression unreadable, his face soft.

"Have you ever tried smoking pot?"

"For pain relief? No."

There has been the occasional joint every now and then during Juniors, but he's never been a big smoker—booze has always been his go-to and there was never a reason to switch to something else.

"Do you want some?" Jonny asks.

Why isn't Patrick surprised? Between all his herbs and vegetables, of course Jonny would be growing pot too.

Patrick's smirk makes Jonny roll his eyes, huffing. "It's legal here."

"Not yet if I'm not mistaken."

"Well, it will be," Jonny insists sternly. "You want some or not?"

At this point, Patrick's willing to try anything. "Yeah."

Jonny rolls a joint like he's done it a million times, shooting Patrick an amused glance when he raises an eyebrow.

"Side job as a dealer?" he jokes and that makes Jonny chuckle, shaking his head as he hands the joint over along with a lighter.

"Nice idea, maybe I should consider it. I just like to smoke once in a while when I'm hanging out. It relaxes me. Being everyone's favorite friend when I'm back in town doesn't hurt either."

"I'm sure."

Patrick leans back, smiling back at Jonny who watches him take a few hits, blowing the smoke into the air. Maybe it's only placebo, or the joint really does help quickly, but he's less stiff after just a few minutes, less tense in his chair.

He only leaves late at night, when he's practically half-asleep on Jonny's porch, feeling a lot better than when he rolled out of bed that morning. Together they quickly rinse off the dishes and wine glasses, and Patrick's yawning by the time he enters his cabin, but there's also a smile on his lips when he falls into bed, passing out before his head even hits the pillow.

-

On his next trip into town, he grabs a bottle of wine for Jonny. Patrick's been getting so many meals and fresh veggies from him over the past few days, and Jonny seriously deserves something in return.

When he hands the bottle over, Jonny's face softens. "C'mon, you didn't have to."

"I wanted to." He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his pants, tilting his head. "The shop assistant said it's good."

"Want to try a glass with me?"

"Sure."

"I have to go and check on our new guests first," Jonny says, nodding towards the other end of the street. "I'll be back in a few minutes so if you want to make yourself comfortable—"

He waves his hands to his porch, so Patrick slumps down in Jonny's lounge chair to wait for him to get back. But he's barely had time to set the bottle of wine down when his phone starts buzzing in his pocket. So far, he's been successfully avoiding longer calls with friends or family, has been pretty good at dodging questions, and pretending to have something important to do before abruptly hanging up. None of his friends are stupid enough to believe that he's perfectly fine, but while he appreciates the concern, he doesn’t have the energy to deal with it.

This time it's Sharpy's annoyingly handsome face displayed on his phone screen. For some reason, Patrick has a feeling that he's going to be pestered with calls until he picks up, and he’d rather get it over with now than have Jonny eavesdrop on the conversation.

"’Sup, asshole?" he asks into the phone, aiming for casual, but is met with a loud snort in response.

"Not as much as in the woods, apparently," Sharpy answers. Patrick would never admit it, but it's nice to hear his voice. "Seriously, what keeps you so busy that you can't even pick up the phone?"

"I'm just—getting settled."

It's a lame excuse. He can't blame Sharpy for snorting again, harder.

"You've been up there for weeks, Peeks."

"Yeah, it's a lot different than living in fucking Trump Tower. Takes some time to adjust, you know?"

"I am aware," Sharpy says. "How's it going then?"

"Fine."

He's met with stern silence until Sharpy sighs.

"Look, Pat. I get that you're—not here anymore." Not on Sharpy's team anymore, Patrick fills in the blanks. That still hurts to think about. "I just—I worry when you're not responding. I'm not asking for daily updates. But don't tell me you can't text back every few days."

"Service is pretty bad up here." It's not a lie, he reminds himself. It's not exactly the reason why he doesn't call, but it's not a lie either.

"Sure," Sharpy says slowly. "So, what do you get up to all day?"

"Uh—" Nothing, really. "I read a lot. I try to swim every morning. It helps to ease the pain."

"Good, do you—"

"Hey," he interrupts, desperately glancing at the street. Jonny will be back soon. If he doesn't manage to get off the phone and end the interrogation, he might be forced to have a conversation he'd rather avoid. "I, uh, I actually was cooking right now, and—I gotta hang up, Sharpy."

Lying to Sharpy puts a strange taste to the back of his throat. He hates doing it, especially since he can sense Sharpy's disappointment through the phone, and he knows that he deserves it.

"Pat—"

"Sorry," he says helplessly. "I'll definitely get back to you later."

"Sure," Sharpy says in a way that doesn't hide how little he believes it. Patrick hates himself for causing that tone in his voice.

-

There's a lot of stuff he could tell his family and friends about. He could tell them about Jonny and his gardening, about the countless hours he spends on the porch or down at the dock, reading and staring at the sky. He could tell them about the few times he's helped Jonny cook dinner, so they could eat together, about drinking beer in the evening while chatting about nothing in particular.

He doesn't think he's even told anyone that he has a neighbor.

And Jonny—after the few weeks he's been living up here, they know each other. Not the same way he knows Sharpy, or any of his other teammates—ex-teammates, he mercilessly reminds himself—or his sisters and cousins back home. But he knows that Jonny not only loves gardening and outdoor activities but also reads tons of motivational and meaningful books, that he's a bit of a slob and leaves his shit wherever it suits him, that he hates not having the last word. That he's not only smart but educated, that he went to college for a few semesters and got good grades. He knows the frown on Jonny's face when he's figuring out if he's caught something on his rod, and that small thing he does when he laughs, throwing his head and upper body back like he's laughing with his whole body, his eyes crinkling a little at the corners, his face always so bright and fond when he thinks Patrick said something funny.

Without Jonny, he'd be just fine up here—he would still enjoy it—but he'd definitely eat less healthy, and probably feel a lot lonelier. He knows a lot about Jonny, and he's pretty sure Jonny could give a solid summary of Patrick's childhood spent in Buffalo, but Jonny has never asked about his back pain, or his job, or why he moved into the woods when he clearly has no idea what he's doing up here. If Jonny really has no idea who he is, Patrick would like to keep it that way instead of complicating the one easy friendship he has.

-

Jonny is usually up early in the morning, moving around his cabin, eating breakfast on the porch, making his way up the road to prepare the cabins for new guests. Sometimes Patrick sees him in front of his cabin doing yoga and those instances make him blush furiously, well-aware that he's being a creep by staring for a few seconds but unable to look away, because Jonny does it in nothing but black boxer briefs that are usually obnoxiously tight around his butt and thighs. By the time Patrick makes his way down to the dock every morning to go for a swim before having breakfast, Jonny's usually already busy with the cabins or gardening.

So Patrick's not prepared to see someone in the water today. First, he thinks it's maybe one of the renters who don't know they have their own dock at the lake, but then he spots one of Jonny's tank tops on the dock, so he waves, watching as Jonny hauls himself up onto the small ladder.

"You're early."

"I was gonna say you're late," Patrick says, grinning. "Morning."

"Morning, Pat."

Jonny effortlessly gets out of the lake, water dripping from his trunks as he runs a hand through his wet hair. It's shorter now than when he first got here—Patrick's pretty sure he got it trimmed in town at some point.

"I don't know if you've heard," Jonny says. "But there's supposed to be a storm later today. You might want to make sure the stuff on your porch won't be blown away."

"Thanks for the warning," he says, dropping his towel next to Jonny's. There's not a lot on his porch—just a few chairs and his table—but even though he's not as much of a slob as Jonny is, he did get into a habit of leaving his towels, laundry, and other miscellaneous stuff outside on the porch, with no one around to steal it during the night. He should make sure he moves most of it into the cabin later. "Do storms get bad up here?"

"They can get nasty sometimes. Usually, it's quite beautiful though, as long as you know that it's coming. It's supposed to be a small one today but better safe than sorry, eh?"

"For sure, thanks."

Jonny smiles and gracefully dives back under, the water splashing and stirring as he reemerges, shaking his head to get water out of his hair like a dog. With a small chuckle, Patrick follows, diving into the lake head-first, cool water embracing him, drowning out the noises of the outside world.

Jonny's waiting for him to resurface before he swims away from the dock, strong confident movements that reveal how much time he spends in and around the lake.

"Before I forget," Jonny says after a few strokes, letting Patrick catch up with him. "I'm spending the weekend at my family's home in Winnipeg. Would you mind watering the plants in the evening if there's no rain? They’d probably make it through a weekend, but it would be great if you could just give them some water, if you're around."

That's more trust than anyone should ever put into Patrick's gardening abilities.

When he says that out loud Jonny laughs. "I think you'll do fine."

"If you say so."

"No, I mean it. Just make sure the soil is damp. I don't think you'd be able to kill any of them in just two days."

"Watch me."

"Dork," Jonny says almost fondly. "But thanks for trying."

"No problem."

Jonny makes a soft noise and then dives back under right after he says, "Race you back to the dock."

He's taken off before Patrick's brain has time to process the words, and he gives a startled laugh to himself as he follows, his instincts kicking in as if it's Sharpy on the ice challenging him to a race around the rink. When they took off he hadn't realized how far they swam out, and he's panting by the time they get back, Jonny reaching the dock first. Patrick manages to catch up by a few inches, but Jonny got a head start, so it wasn't even a fair race.

"Cheater," he manages, panting as he hauls himself up, his arms trembling. It's kind of shocking how out of shape he is. The light morning swims he had gone for are nothing compared to the offseason training he's used to.

"You're just a sore loser," Jonny says, actually sticking his tongue out like a five-year-old.

Patrick rolls his eyes and flops backwards on the dock, heaving out a deep breath.

"God, I'm getting old."

"More like you're getting fat."

"Rude."

"Sorry," Jonny says, not sounding very apologetic.

When he lies down next to Patrick, it's close enough for their shoulders to touch. Jonny's skin is warm, and he smells faintly like the lake and some kind of fresh deodorant, not a brash smell, more of an underlying sensation. It's really pleasant.

Patrick lets his eyes fall shut, feeling the sun on his face, goosebumps flooding his skin as the last cool water drops make their way down his ribcage and thighs. Next to him, he can hear Jonny's breathing, steady and soft. He could fall asleep like this, he thinks.

"So what about your family? Are they going to visit you up here?" Jonny asks, adding, when Patrick doesn't answer, "I guess it's quite a car ride from Buffalo, so it's not that easy." And whether it's intentional or not—Patrick's grateful for being handed an excuse.

"My dad doesn't enjoy flying," he says. "You'd have to drag him on a plane."

His dad used to drive to Chicago and back all the time. If Patrick invited him for a weekend, he'd make the trip with no hesitation. Same with his sisters or buddies back in Buffalo, or any ex-teammate. The distance is as little of an issue as the money for plane tickets.

"That's inconvenient with you being here," Jonny says softly, and Patrick's not sure if Jonny's looking at him, but he can't bring himself to pry his eyes open.

Instead, he makes a small sound. "I'll fly out and visit some time, but I don't have any plans right now."

"Still enjoying the seclusion?"

"Kinda, yeah."

Jonny hums in response and Patrick's getting too comfortable; he should open his eyes and suggest they go back. But he falls asleep instead, dozing off until Jonny gently shakes his shoulder and ushers him back to the cabin to apply some sunscreen, which is a lost cause of Patrick's pale skin. In the summer, he's a walking sunburn for most of the time, but Jonny's having none of it and lunges into a big speech on skin cancer, the importance of avoiding sunburns at all costs, and how powerful the sun rays are up here.

"I get it, I get it, smartass," Patrick interrupts. He's learned that if he doesn't stop Jonny at the beginning, he'll talk himself into a rage and there's no getting out of the lecture then. "Will you shut up and let me apply the sunscreen, so I can later whine about being burned despite having used it?"

"How are you a functioning adult?" Jonny asks, scrunching his nose, pretending to be disgusted, but he's shit at hiding the spark in his eyes. It always gives him away, even with his monotone voice and the tight frown on his face.

Patrick rolls his eyes in response and fakes being deeply hurt for the rest of the day. Jonny's very unbothered by it all.

-

Since Jonny said that it would be hard to kill his plants, Patrick considers just not touching them while he's gone to lower the risk of fucking up, but it's a dickish move and Jonny would probably be able to tell anyway. So, Patrick even texts him for extra instructions when one of the herbs—he thinks it's the oregano but who knows?—keeps losing its leaves and he's clueless what to do about it. Jonny better appreciate his effort.

He also gets around to answering the texts that keep piling up on his phone screen. He didn’t delete the notifications on purpose—as if he'd ever forget how long it’s been that he hasn’t gotten back to anyone. Maybe he just leaves the visible reminders for himself to convince his guilty conscience that he’ll reply eventually.

It's stupid, but when he manages to call his mom, he's a little bit proud of himself.

"I'm running again," he tells her which is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch. He went on a morning run once but, well, it's better than nothing.

"That's so nice to hear." Her voice is warm like only a mother's voice can be. It reminds him of home, of hot chocolate on Christmas mornings, cuddles before falling asleep when he was a toddler, and advice whenever he needed it.

"I miss you," he allows himself to say, a lump in his throat. "Say hi to the girls from me, yeah? I, uh, thought about visiting. Maybe I could come down for a weekend."

"Of course, whenever you'd like." She doesn't manage to hide how much she thinks he should come, how disappointed and hurt she is that he hasn't brought it up sooner, but Patrick's insanely grateful for her not pushing it any further.

-

His mom is right, though. Running is good for him. He can't spend all day swimming or lounging around, and despite having new books and magazines on his ebook-reader, Patrick's getting very, very tired of reading. Even if it's just Twilight, he can't keep concentrating on the pages, his back aching after a while of holding the book or reader upright, muscles protesting.

So he starts jogging and finds out that Jonny was very right about exploring the mountains. It's beautiful up there, and the running is different now. Sports have always been fun—he loved to golf and play basketball, and hockey was his entire life. Pushing himself in the gym, figuring out a training regime to be in the best shape to perform was never just a necessity—it was a challenge, and it was fun to push himself to be better. But for as long as Patrick can remember, all workouts were solely to get in shape. In the end, it was always a piece to a puzzle, always an end goal in mind. It was never about the running or the workout itself. And now there are no benchmarks for his progress, no monitoring his heartbeat or pulse, no trainer encouraging him to go fast or longer. No dark walls and ceiling of the gym. Just him and the mountains. His wheezing seems loud in the silence, his feet hitting the gravel in a steady rhythm. He takes in the beautiful landscape of the mountains, and the lake, and the liberating feeling of being able to run for hours and hours without stopping.

Jonny's car is parked at the side of the road when he returns, sweaty and exhausted, but happier than he's been in a while. By now, it doesn't feel awkward to peek through the open door of the other cabin, finding Jonny unpacking a duffel bag in the kitchen.

"Hey, asshole."

"Patrick," Jonny says dryly without turning around. "Glad to see you haven’t been eaten by the bears."

He folds his arms across his naked chest when he faces Patrick, a soft grin on his face. Jonny looks happy and—refreshed. It's a good look on him, that cocky smile that's irritatingly attractive, despite the frat boy vibes he's giving off with his baseball cap and his lack of clothes.

"Had a nice trip home?" Patrick asks, wiping a few drops of sweat off his forehead. Jonny's eyes follow the motion, but he tears them away quickly to shrug, turning to throw the empty duffel to the floor. How he lives like this, couch pillows and random empty bottles scattered across the floor, is beyond Patrick. He makes a face that Jonny purposely ignores.

"It was good, kinda busy, but in a good way. And I was thinking—I’m planning on doing a kayak trip soon. Just a day trip, nothing big. Do you want to join me?"

Patrick will probably embarrass himself—he didn't spend his childhood at a lake and it's been a while since he kayaked, but Jonny's a good swimmer so he’d probably be rescued before he has any chance to drown. And he did miss Jonny's company over the weekend.

"Of course."

Jonny's lips stretch into a slow smile that does weird things to Patrick's stomach. He shakes himself out of it, huffing quietly.

"Let me know when you have concrete plans," he says. It’s liberating—no strict schedule to live by with every hour of his day planned out, no appointments he has to keep track of. "And I hope I did a decent job with the plants."

"You did better than you give yourself credit for." Of course, the stupid vegetables would be the first thing Jonny investigates upon returning. This time, Patrick's huff is louder, loud enough for Jonny to hear.

"At least I don't have to worry about you murdering me for revenge and dumping my cold body in the lake, I guess."

"I'm not that cruel."

"Gee, good to know."

Jonny laughs, but he promises to follow up about the kayak trip and Patrick takes that as his cue to leave and get his ass into the shower. The lukewarm water running down his sweaty body hasn't felt this satisfying in a long time.

-

They plan on going on their trip soon, but his back starts stiffening again, and he has no other choice than to cancel. Maybe it's the punishment he deserves for having let Sharpy's recent calls go to voicemail. The hot water bottle offers little relief, so he begs Jonny via text to bring him some pot. He can't even get down the stairs, let alone walk across the street and he's not sure how much weed will help, really, but he's willing to try anything.

Jonny has only been downstairs in his cabin once or twice, they're at his place way more often, and it's weird to see Jonny entering his bedroom, hesitantly poking his head through the door. It’s probably a good thing that Patrick doesn't have the energy to feel embarrassed about lying in his own sweat, curls plastered to his forehead. If Jonny's disgusted or annoyed, he deserves serious credit for hiding it well.

"Jesus," he says quietly, taking a step closer. "How do you stand the heat of that thing on your back?"

"I don't." Patrick grits his teeth. "That's the problem."

"Here—let me—" Hesitantly, Jonny reaches out and grabs the bottle, dumping it in the corner. If the water's leaking out Patrick will strangle him. Once he's able to move again.

To his surprise, Jonny insists on sitting with him. The bedroom is not that big, so they make their way down to the couch, which takes forever, and Patrick would give up if that didn't mean he'd have to get back up, already halfway down the stairs.

"Fuck," he groans, sitting down stiffly, getting himself back into a lying position.

Jonny lights the joint for him and lets him take a few puffs, sitting with him silently for a few minutes, his eyes soft, worry written all over his face.

"Sorry about the trip," Patrick finally manages, staring up at the ceiling, letting the dull pain slowly ebb away. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see Jonny raising both hands.

"Hey," he says, voice full of disbelief. "Don't apologize."

Patrick grimaces at the ceiling but keeps his mouth shut and smokes the goddamn joint.

-

Even days after the pain has vanished, Jonny's wary about letting him into the kayak.

"We can wait and—"

"Oh jeez, shut up," Patrick cuts in, rolling his eyes. "I'm fine. Trust me."

It's not going to get better anyways. And he was stupid enough to tell Sharpy and a bunch of the guys that he'd be kayaking, so he needs some pictures to send them. If Sharpy finds out that his back is keeping him in bed all day, he'll be here within hours and Patrick can't risk that.

Jonny sighs. "Let me know if you want to stop. We can always go to the shore for a while."

"I am fine," he repeats, but the concern in Jonny's eyes feels different than the one that’s been directed towards him by his friends and family lately. It's less pressuring and judging, and makes Patrick feel less guilty and sick.

Jonny's sitting behind him in the boat, so he feels oddly exposed, but Jonny's voice is as casual and steady as ever. They have sandwiches with fresh lettuce on the shore for lunch, their feet dangling off the edge of the boulder they’re on. Patrick has no idea where they are, but Jonny assured him he's taken the route often, so he doesn't have to worry about getting lost.

"So, there are actually bears around here?" he asks, munching on a piece of cucumber.

"Oh yeah. I've seen a few black bears but they're usually harmless if you stay away. Most attacks happen because mothers get scared for their cubs, but you can avoid them if you're not a reckless idiot."

"Good thing you're with me then," Patrick jokes, grinning at Jonny's chuckle.

"You can usually see mountain goats and wapitis pretty easily. I've spotted a few moose over the years. They're amazing animals, but they prefer open spaces because of their size, so they're rarer in the woods."

"Must be cool to see them up close."

"Fascinating," Jonny says, humming. He finishes his sandwich and leans back, pushed up on his elbows, head tipped back to face the sky, his eyes slowly falling shut. He's gorgeous, looking like he belongs in nature with his tan skin, his swim trunks sitting low on his hips. Patrick's definitely staring, but Jonny has his eyes closed and no one is there to judge.

"Do you think you'll ever move back to a city?" he asks. "Fulltime, I mean?"

Jonny doesn't bother popping his eyes open, just shakes his head and makes a soft noise.

"I guess you should never say never. Who knows what happens once I'm a little older, but I don't have any plans on not being up here during the summers. I'd miss it too much."

"I can see why."

"What made you come here out of all the places you could have chosen?"

Patrick sighs. It's not like he chose this place. Once he made up his mind about leaving Chicago and Buffalo, he told his agent to buy the first place he could find away from civilization. He only saw a handful of pictures of the cabin and its surroundings before arriving. So, it's mostly a coincidence that he ended up here. Or maybe it’s fate, but he's not so sure he believes in any of those things anymore.

"I just wanted to get away," he says slowly. "Didn’t matter where to, really."

"Sounds dramatic." Jonny opens his eyes, using one hand to shield them from the sun, which looks ridiculous when his baseball cap sits backwards on his head.

Patrick rolls his eyes, a smile tugging on the corner of his lips. "It wasn't that deep," he says after a few seconds. He leans back so he's lying on the warm stone, the temperature of the hard surface nearly too hot to be comfortable.

Jonny is silent for a few seconds, then hums in response.

Patrick has his eyes closed now, but he can feel and hear that Jonny's moving around, and then they lie in silence, only their breaths audible for a while. The sun is so warm and persistent that Patrick can practically feel his skin beginning to burn. Normally, he would have whined and retreated into the shade, but this is nice, being so close to Jonny without having to talk. Without feeling like he has to say or do something to break the silence.

"So, what about you?" Jonny asks after what feels like a long time. "Any plans to leave yet?"

Somehow, it feels like it's always been that way. As if he's lived here for way longer than it's actually been, as if Jonny has been around forever.

"No," he says softly. "And that's the thing."

"Why?"

"I came here thinking I'd figure a lot of stuff out. I thought I'd come up with the answers to all of these questions I had because it was killing me that I couldn’t figure them out."

"Have you though?"

"Nah," he says, and, somehow, it's easy to admit. "But I don't really mind anymore, you know? It doesn’t bug me. All that time I thought I'd need to answer all of these questions but—maybe that's never been what it was about. Maybe it's okay not to know."

Jonny doesn't say anything, but Patrick feels weirdly watched—he knows he’s not making a lot of sense; he barely knows what he's trying to say himself, let alone being able to put it into words—so he opens one eye and turns his head, only to find Jonny looking at him already. With them being so close, Jonny's eyes almost look black, but they're soft and shiny, and Patrick's unable to look away. If he turned his head, he could brush his nose along Jonny's shoulder. He could probably take his hand by moving his fingers just a few inches. A small noise leaves Jonny's lips and Patrick could swear Jonny's leaning in—

There's a noise, a bough cracking, loud as a gunshot in the silence of the lake, and Patrick freezes, convinced they're about to be attacked by a fucking grizzly bear, but Jonny slowly pushes himself up, his eyes starting to shine.

"Be quiet," he whispers, nodding towards the lake. A nasal roaring sound, more distant than the first one, follows. More branches crack and then Patrick sees it too. Off to their right, the lake makes a turn, creating a creek, and at the far end, a moose slowly approaches the edge of the water. It's a bull with pretty impressive antlers that could crush them effortlessly if there wasn’t a good distance between them, yet they're close enough to see it well between the branches. Even from far away, the bull seems gigantic, his legs long but surprisingly slender.

"It’s beautiful," Patrick whispers as the moose lowers its head and pushes its nose through the water.

"They often come here at dusk or dawn," Jonny says. "It’s rare to see one in the middle of the day like this."

"He’s not gonna—attack us or anything, right?" Those antlers look pretty impressive. It might take a while for the moose to make its way over, but Patrick has no idea how fast they are. Or where him and Jonny would run. Are you even supposed to run from a moose?

"Not if you're quiet," Jonny says, a slow smile tugging on the corner of his lips. "We'll be fine if we stay here."

It's like time's frozen. Patrick barely realizes that they're sitting so close that his upper arm is pressed against Jonny's shoulder, that they seem to be breathing in sync as the moose drinks, stirring the water with its nose. It's majestic and breathtaking—slow, graceful movements that make Patrick feel like he's witnessing something secret, something magical that only few people ever get to experience. The animal looks up a few times, but never stops to give them any attention, and he relaxes, his shoulders sagging, heart hammering against his ribcage from excitement. He can’t say how long they stop and watch, but it feels like forever until the moose slowly turns and trots back into the woods, disappearing with the same cracking sounds that announced its arrival. Then, it's silent other than the soft sounds of the lake and the distant chirps of birds.

Patrick exhales, still scared of moving.

"I think we should get going," Jonny says softly after a few seconds. It feels like he's breaking a magic spell. "We still have a few miles ahead of us."

There's not much to pack up, so it's a quick departure. Patrick's muscles are burning from the strain already and he'll definitely feel it tomorrow, but it's a good kind of ache as he climbs back into the boat.

"This is a special place, eh?" Jonny asks once they're back on the water.

Patrick stares at Jonny's broad, naked shoulders in front of him, mesmerized by the smooth movements of his muscles on every stroke. The image of the moose drinking is still etched into his mind, and he thinks back to what he said to Jonny earlier, that maybe he doesn't need to find answers to all his questions. He does feel more settled and grounded up here, and Jonny's comment hits him in a way he can't describe.

"It really is special," he answers softly.

-

Hardly a day goes by now where they don't talk. Every time Jonny takes the boat out, he drops by to ask if Patrick wants to come, and he loves being on the lake—feeling the soft waves that move the boat when Jonny fishes, Patrick hanging out next to him, the conversation always coming easy, the silence between them always comfortable.

"I have to drive into town on Monday," Jonny says, not turning his head away from the rod as he stretches his legs out. "Do you wanna come? Or is there anything you need me to grab from the store?"

It hasn't been that long since Patrick went and grabbed some more food and he's not keen on making the drive again. Heading into the city with Jonny could be nice, even if it's just for a trip to the grocery store, but that would mean being crammed into a passenger seat for the whole trip, and the bare thought of that brings back memories that he's been working hard on pushing away.

"Maybe some more chicken," he says. They have fish so often that he barely eats or craves meat anymore, but some chicken breast would be nice for a change.

"I'll remember that," Jonny says, nodding. He goes back to his rod after that, peaceful silence taking over the boat that allows Patrick to get comfortable and take a nap, the swaying motions quickly rocking him to sleep.

-

When he wakes up, it's significantly less warm. A blanket is thrown over him now, sliding off when he sits up and rubs at his eyes while Jonny's busy tying the boat back to the dock.

He looks up and breaks into a teasing grin when he realizes that Patrick's awake.

"Morning," Jonny says dryly, even though it's like—five in the afternoon or something. Patrick has no clue, he had already lost track of the time before falling asleep.

"Thanks," he says with a grimace, slowly crawling out from under the blanket. The sky is darker now, the sun hiding behind thick clouds. "Is the weather getting bad?"

"Yeah, it looks like it might start to rain soon," Jonny says as he grabs the blanket back from him and folds it up. "I figured it'd be better to head back early."

His cheeks are red, a flush creeping all the way down his neck and to his chest. Ha, maybe he got sunburned. Before Patrick can open his mouth to chirp him, Jonny's moving into his space to grab the rod that's behind Patrick, almost hitting him in the face as he puts it with the rest of his stuff on the dock.

"Watch it, asshole," Patrick grumbles while he ducks his head. 

Jonny snorts in response, the corner of his mouth twitching when Patrick ungracefully attempts to climb out of the wobbly boat. He didn't realize the wind had gotten stronger, and the lake is less peaceful now, the clouds darker and bigger than before. The boat sways, and since Jonny hasn't tied the back of it to the dock yet, Patrick loses his balance mid-air, one leg in the boat, the other already on the dock, waving his arms around, finding absolutely nothing to hold onto.

A small yelp leaves his lips, and he's already falling, but then an arm comes up around his waist and he tumbles back instead, right into Jonny's broad chest.

"Ouch," Jonny complains from behind him, Patrick's elbow digging into his ribs, but he takes his weight easily, his arm tight around Patrick's body until Patrick's steady on both feet again.

"Jeez," Jonny says into his hair, still holding on. His breath is hot on Patrick's neck. "Be careful. Are you okay?"

A small pang of pain is running down Patrick's stiff back, but it's a feeling of discomfort more than actual pain, so he nods, his heart beating fast inside his chest.

"Thanks," he mutters. Jonny did save him from an unwanted dip in the lake, and he's still holding on like he doesn't quite trust Patrick to be steady on his own yet.

He means to step away, pry himself out of the tight grip around his waist, but Jonny's body is warm and solid behind him; right there, like an invitation to snuggle closer. And Jonny isn't moving either. He loosens his grip like he's waiting for Patrick to step out of the hug, but he doesn't, his head falling back against Jonny's shoulder instead. He can feel Jonny's chest rise and fall with every breath.

It's like back on their kayak trip, lying on the rock next to Jonny, thinking about how easy it would be to reach out and kiss him. Jonny must be able to hear his thumping heartbeat, the sound so loud it's echoing in Patrick's own ears.

He turns around now, still in Jonny's arms, and Jonny doesn't pull away—he's so close, his chest is flush against Patrick’s. Jonny's eyes are wide and dark, his lips half-parted and Patrick can see his throat working as he swallows.

"I—" he starts, unsure what he wants to say—maybe another quick thanks, maybe crack a joke about Jonny's quick reflexes. But his mind refuses to come up with something coherent, and he ends up staring at Jonny instead, the boat still swaying slightly.

Jonny reaches out painfully slowly, tucking a curl behind Patrick's ear, his hand lingering, thumb swiping gently along Patrick's chin and jaw, along the light stubble he's growing. Patrick has to sink his teeth into his lip to bite back a needy whimper. They're not even an inch apart—so close, but not quite close enough—and he cups Jonny's neck and pulls him down before he knows what he’s doing, Jonny easily closing the distance between them, Patrick melting into his arms.

Jonny tastes like the lake, and summer, and a little like the booze they had earlier. He touches Patrick like he wants to touch as much as possible as quickly as possible, hands sliding from his cheeks to his shoulders and down his chest. What starts slow turns eager and desperate quickly, much like the lake around him, the soft waves of the water transforming into forceful surges as the wind picks up, as Jonny nips at Patrick’s lips and licks into his mouth. Patrick shivers, bracing himself for Jonny's fingers to slide along his thighs and underneath his swim trunks, for his hands to cup his ass, his lips to kiss their way down to Patrick's throat. Maybe Jonny will undress him right here on the dock, too desperate to take the time to head back to the cabin, or maybe he'll just tease him before pulling back to take his sweet time in the house.

Then, the sky opens up as if someone’s dumping a bucket of water over their heads. It must have already been sprinkling before and they were too occupied to realize, but now it's pouring rain, soaking them within seconds. They jerk back to separate, Patrick's heart racing inside his chest as he stumbles, and he needs a few seconds to process why he's suddenly soaking wet. Jonny curses, already moving, while Patrick's still blinking into the sudden darkness around them, the sky and the sun clouded, the boat swaying dangerously.

Jonny makes an impatient sound. "We need to tie the boat to the dock."

He's already jumped out of it, impatiently holding his hand out to help Patrick, and Patrick snaps out of his daze.

They don't talk other than muttering curses when one of them slips on the wet wood of the dock, but they make it quick, Patrick's clothes already clinging to his body, as if he really did fall into the lake after all.

"Let’s go," Jonny says loudly once they're done, water dripping from his hair and soaked clothes.

Patrick ducks his head and runs, taking off right after Jonny, sprinting the short way back to their cabins, thunder rolling in the distance.

When they arrive at the houses, they're both panting as they take cover underneath Jonny's porch, dropping their few belongings on the table, pausing to suck in deep breaths, waiting for their pulses to return to normal. It should be awkward—both of them out of breath and dripping with water, busy making out just minutes ago, but before Patrick's brain has time to process the situation, Jonny crowds him against the wall and goes back to kissing him like nothing ever interrupted them.

The wind has picked up now and Patrick's shivering under the breeze—his swim trunks cling uncomfortably to his thighs, and his neck is cold from the water that runs from his hair—but Jonny wraps his arms around Patrick and pulls him in, his back pressed against the wall, Jonny's chest flush with his, his body radiating warmth. Jonny kisses the curve where his neck meets his shoulder—his breath hot and ticklish on the sensitive spot that's connected to Patrick's middle, the pleasure traveling right through his body and to his cock.

"Oh fuck," Patrick chokes out, heat pooling low in his belly. His dick is getting interested and Jonny's hard-on presses against his hip when Jonny moves even closer. Patrick helplessly thumps his head back against the wall, offering Jonny more skin to kiss.

"You're shivering," Jonny says, barely pulling back, lips still brushing along the skin, eyes dark and intense as he looks up.

"Yeah? Who cares?"

"God," Jonny mutters, leaning his head back. "Patrick—"

Patrick has never heard his voice so rough and scratchy.

"Yes," he agrees, his own voice not sounding any better. "Let's—"

He means to push Jonny away and get into the cabin, but he ends up sliding his fingers into his hair instead, chasing his lips for another kiss, head still tipped back, the tiny hairs on his arms standing up straight.

The rain was loud when they got here, drumming on the gravel and the roof, but it's like he's underwater now—all of the noises around him drowned out, Jonny’s hands and lips the only sensation he’s still aware of.

When they finally make it inside and up the stairs, Patrick's impatient and on edge, shamelessly staring at Jonny’s butt in front of him. He watches when Jonny strips, yanking down his swimming trunks, his dick jumping free, the tip shiny with precome. Jonny's fucking boxer briefs left little to his imagination while doing yoga, but it's still overwhelming to see and to know that he can touch. He’s staring shamelessly at Jonny’s hard cock, his body thrumming with anticipation.

"You're so hot," he says, unable to take his eyes off Jonny. "God, your body."

"Shut up," Jonny whispers, but a smug smile tugs on the corner of his mouth as he pulls Patrick back in, his hands sliding under Patrick's damp pants, cupping his bare ass. Jonny pushes them down without interrupting their kiss, gently tugging on his lower lip with his teeth.

Patrick's knees feel wobbly when they stumble to the bed—he's grateful to lie down, straddling Jonny who keeps kneading the flesh of his ass, both of them moving their hips in smooth motions as Patrick grinds down, forcing their cocks together, groaning against each other's lips. Jonny moves one hand between their bodies, forming a fist around both dicks, and—oh fuck, the tight sensation shoots sparks up Patrick's spine, his breath hitches and he has to brace himself with his hand on Jonny's chest to avoid collapsing.

Being leaned over like this will fuck up his back, but in the heat of the moment, he couldn't care less. It's been forever, and it will be over way too soon anyway, so he wants to soak up every small detail. The way Jonny's eyes flutter shut, eyelashes fanning across his cheek when Patrick kisses the small scar above his lip. The way he mindlessly thrusts his hips when his own thumb slides along the tip of his dick. The small noises that escape his lips when he tightens his hand on Patrick's butt, forcing him to grind down over and over.

"Jonny," he mutters, thighs trembling. "I'm gonna—"

Jonny moans softly and takes his hand off their cocks, laughing at Patrick's protesting whine that slips out of his mouth, his dick twitching in protest.

"No, I just—" The kiss he places on Patrick's puffy lips is surprisingly soft. "I wanna see."

That's—yeah, that's hot. Patrick can get on board with that. He sits up, still straddling Jonny's waist, and starts jerking himself off, Jonny’s eyes focused on Patrick's hand as he finds a rhythm. The intensity makes him shiver and go hot and cold simultaneously—he could probably come untouched just from the way Jonny looks up at him, all his attention on Patrick, like he’s studying his every move.

"Fuck, look at you," Jonny whispers, his hand sliding from Patrick's ass to the inside of his thighs, pushing them further apart. He's still sitting in Jonny's lap, so he's fully on display with his thighs spread, and Jonny's big, warm hands are making sure he stays put. The slappy sounds of his hand on his cock and their harsh breaths are filling the room, and Patrick can't bite back his moans as he gets closer, fucking his fist with strong steady movements, rolling his hips.

"Jonny—" he manages, feeling the intensity build and build inside of him, nudging him closer to the edge.

And Jonny’s still looking at him with dark, hungry eyes, following the movements of his hand as he jerks off, and when he looks up to meet Patrick’s gaze, Patrick’s breath hitches, his vision going dark for a moment. He’s a shaking, gasping mess already, and he’s so close, more and more precome dribbling out of his cock. He comes when Jonny slides his hands back to his ass, biting back a groan as the intensity of his orgasm hits him. He has to put his palms on Jonny's chest to keep himself steady and avoid collapsing face-first into the headboard, and he pants through it for a moment, silently gasping for air, trying to even out his breath, until Jonny makes an impatient noise underneath him.

Rolling off to the side, he pulls Jonny into another kiss, Jonny's hand sliding up against to cup his neck while Patrick jerks him off, Jonny's cock twitching once he's got his hands curled around the flesh. It's slow and teasing and a little lazy, figuring out the right angle and the right speed that makes Jonny's breath hitch every time Patrick swipes his thumb over the head of his cock. His fingers tighten around Patrick's neck before he comes, hot liquid spurting all over Patrick's hand and Jonny's stomach.

Patrick moans softly, lazily dragging his thumb through the mess on Jonny’s belly, watching Jonny’s eyelids flutter shut as Jonny heaves out a deep breath. He refuses to let go of Patrick's neck, his hands sliding into his hair when Patrick rests his head on Jonny's chest, a content warmth spreading through his body.

Slowly, he starts noticing the noises of the rain again, the soothing rumble of thunder outside. It's making him sleepy and exhausted and Jonny pulls the blanket over him and scratches his fingers along his scalp, drawing a soft, happy hum from Patrick's throat.

"Was about damn time," he says, turning so he can look up at Jonny without having to lift his head. "Do you know how many times I watched you do yoga in those damn boxers?"

Jonny laughs, his chest rumbling under Patrick's ear. "You didn't have to watch me."

"Wear clothes if you don't want me to get any ideas."

"Who says I don't want you to get ideas?" Innocently, Jonny tilts his head. "What did it make you think about?"

Patrick hates himself for finding his smug arrogance attractive. "The point of dirty talk is doing it while you're having sex, Jonathan."

Jonny scrunches his nose and shrugs, craning his neck to press a kiss to the tip of Patrick's nose. "Next time then, eh?" he says, a teasing smile on his lips.

A comfortable shiver runs down Patrick’s spine, and he chuckles. "Next time," he mutters back while he lets his eyes fall shut.

The sounds of the rain and the warmth of Jonny's arms wrapped tightly around his body lull him to sleep within minutes.

-

After that, not much changes between them. They don't start holding hands. They don't kiss each other goodbye. But sometimes Jonny will put his arm around Patrick or Patrick gives in on the urge to lean his head against Jonny's shoulder. It's nice and uncomplicated and easy not to think about it too much

Jonny comes back from town with Patrick's chicken and a couple of wildlife magazines that he tosses into Patrick's lap where he's sitting in his lounge chair.

"I figured you might find these interesting," he says, plopping down in the spare chair. "There's a fair at the market place in the city. I thought I'd tell the guests in case they want to check it out."

"Sounds nice for their kids."

"That's what I figured," Jonny says, nodding. "We could head down too. It's not super spectacular, but it’s probably the most exciting thing that will happen in the area."

Patrick pauses. "I'm not sure if I’m looking for exciting."

He stacks the magazine on the table just to have something to do, feeling Jonny watching him, studying his face. While his back hasn’t been hurting to the point of bedrest lately, he has been stealing some weed after waking up sore a couple of times, but even without his back pain, sitting next to Jonny for the car ride is not a comforting thought.

"Well, it'll be here for another weekend if you change your mind," Jonny says after a few seconds. "We don't have to plan on anything right now."

"Yeah, maybe." Patrick clears his throat, weakly nodding towards the stack of magazines. "Thanks for those. I was starting to run out of books."

"Need any recommendations?"

Patrick grimaces. All he's ever seen in Jonny's cabin are his weird motivational books that enlighten you on how to be the perfect version of yourself, how to never give up and stay focused and on track, and all of the other stuff that makes Patrick want to drown himself in the lake. He'd probably end up burning any of Jonny's books only five pages in.

"I heard Vampire Diaries is good," Jonny continues with a shit-eating grin, radiating smugness.

Patrick barks out a laugh. "Asshole. Don't mock me."

"Sorry, just kidding," Jonny replies, softer. "Wanna go for a swim or are you busy?"

Neither of them is ever busy up here, other than Jonny having to look after the cabins and guests once in a while.

"I'll come."

A smile on his lips, Jonny holds out his hand and hauls Patrick up when he grabs it, holding on for just a few seconds, a secret smile on his lips.

-

They don't make it to the fair. Maybe Jonny's waiting for Patrick to bring it up again, but he's happy to let it go. It's what makes this thing with Jonny so easy. Jonny never asks, sometimes gives him opportunities to talk, but never pesters when Patrick doesn't want to. He's still relieved when the fair leaves the town without the topic having come up again.

Jonny comes over one day later to deliver some vegetables—he got into the habit of leaving Patrick whatever he doesn't use if they don't eat together—and they start making out in the kitchen before stumbling over to the couch in Patrick's living room, and Patrick finds himself kneeling on the floor then seconds later, Jonny's dick in his mouth.

It's heavy on his tongue, the taste salty and sharp, and Jonny's fingers are so tight on the back of his head that he couldn't pull back even if he wanted to. Jonny's sprawled out on the couch, head leaned against the wall behind it, thick thighs spread to offer Patrick space.

"Fuck, you look hot," he moans, his eyelids half-closed, slurring the words a little. "Your mouth—Jesus, Pat."

The words go straight to Patrick's dick, making it twitch, and he moans around Jonny's cock, his hand flying straight to his own crotch to jerk himself off at the same time, too impatient to wait for Jonny to finish first.

"I've been thinking about this," Jonny adds roughly, his thumb brushing against Patrick's cheek where he must be able to feel himself inside. "Been wanting to have you like this for so fucking long now."

Patrick pulls off to lick around the tip of Jonny's dick, blinking up at him, his fogged-up brain slowly working on processing his words.

"You should have said something sooner," he whispers, giving Jonny’s dick a few lazy strokes with his free hand before he swallows him down again, gently rolling his balls between his hand, shifting his weight from one knee to the other.

"Mm," Jonny hums, his breath hitching. "Yeah—oh fuck, keep doing that." He takes a few deep breaths, his thighs trembling, muscles straining with the effort not to thrust forward and make Patrick choke on it. "I—wasn't sure if you'd actually want to."

It's a shame that he has to pull off to talk, and it makes them both groan in despair, Jonny's cock twitching desperately in front of his face. Jonny whimpers a little when Patrick replaces his mouth with his hand again, matching the speed of his other hand that's still jerking himself off.

"I wanted to," he mutters, his voice hoarse. "Wanted that for a while now."

He missed having sex with men. Sex with women had never been the same. Never as good, never as intense. The occasional hookup with a dude in a bathroom stall of a nameless bar down South, where no one knew him, was never enough. Hockey had always been worth giving this part of himself up, but sex with women was only enjoyable when he was drunk enough to pretend that it was someone else sucking his dick.

His back is starting to get sore from being leaned over and his knees ache from the rough fabric of the rug, but all he can focus on is Jonny's dick sliding in and out of his mouth—his lips stretched wide around the flesh, Jonny's hand shakily playing with the hair at the nape of his neck, and the small choked-off noises leaving his mouth whenever Patrick lowers his head. Jonny's dick starts pulsing before he comes, so Patrick takes him deeper and deeper until he almost chokes, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. There's a gasp above him and then he feels hot, salty liquid on his tongue, Jonny's thighs tensing under his palm, the muscles trembling, a weak moan leaving his lips when Patrick swallows.

Jonny's useless after he comes—Patrick has that figured out by now—so he doesn't wait for him to recover before crawling back up the couch to straddle Jonny, ignoring the pain shooting down his spine when he makes his way into Jonny's arms. Jonny has enough energy left to kiss him, tasting himself on Patrick’s tongue, one arm coming up around his waist to knead the flesh of his ass, sliding along the firm muscles, still heaving out deep breaths while Patrick jerks himself off, his movements faster, more desperate, now.

"I'm going to fuck you," Jonny mutters between two kisses like there's no doubt about it, every word sounding like a promise. His finger slides along the crack of Patrick's ass, slipping down to Patrick’s hole, just pressing up against it, and that's all it takes. His dick jumps in his own hand, and he comes abruptly all over Jonny's hip and thigh and makes a very pathetic, needy sound at the sudden sensation of having something at such a sensitive spot, his heart jumping at the thought of Jonny’s dick slowly fucking into him, splitting him open.

"Please do," he whispers back weakly, his voice coming out breathless as his forehead meets Jonny's.

Patrick barely manages to keep his eyes open, suddenly exhausted, the ache in his back and knees impossible to ignore any longer. There's a grin on Jonny’s face, his eyes soft as he brushes a curl out of Patrick’s face, tugging the strand of hair behind his ear. The corners of his eyes are crinkling.

"Later, eh?"

They have time, Patrick reminds himself. And right now, he's happy to curl up and fall asleep on the couch, Jonny's body pressed snug against his.

At least that's what he means to do but right as he's about to doze off, his phone starts ringing and he flinches, almost falling off the couch as he's yanked out of his content state. It's a stupid ringtone, some old 90's boyband song that Erica probably installed a long time ago and he never bothered changing.

Jonny groans, his arm falling to the side when Patrick moves to turn off the noise. His phone must be somewhere in the kitchen, in the pocket of the pants that Jonny helped him out of earlier, and he mindlessly feels around until he finds the phone, turning it over to reject the call. His heart sinks when he sees the name and picture on the screen.

Sharpy hasn't called or texted in a while and Patrick doesn't even remember the last text from his best friend that he probably ignored anyway. He should answer it, let Sharpy know that he hasn’t been eaten by a grizzly yet, but his thumb just hovers over the green button on his display, refusing to press it. There's no door between the kitchen and living room, so Jonny's only a few feet away, able to hear everything Patrick says. Leaving the cabin to take the call might be even more awkward than taking it right here and Patrick doesn't know what to tell Sharpy other than the bullshit excuses he's been making up for quite a while now.

Guilt bubbles low in his stomach when he presses the red button, mutes his phone, and lets it slide back into the pocket of his pants.

Jonny's probably been watching him. He doesn't dare turn around to check, his mind blank, refusing to come up with a reason not to take this call.

When Patrick moves back onto the sofa, Jonny's half-sitting, half-lying in the corner of the couch, his face unreadable, lifting one arm for Patrick to slip back under.

"Why didn't you take it?" he asks, letting Patrick throw an arm across his waist to avoid falling off the couch, his fingers sliding into Patrick's curls.

"It was just—" he starts, without knowing how to explain himself. He's going to sound like the asshole that he is.

My best friend who I keep ignoring. Who's probably worried and annoyed and ready to end our friendship.

Having the logical voice in his brain lay it out like that makes him feel even worse.

"A buddy of mine," he finishes lamely. "I'll call him back later, he probably just wanted to chat."

Jonny's quiet for a moment, absently pulling him closer, his chin resting on the top of Patrick's head as Patrick leans his head against his chest. That way, he doesn't have to face Jonny, but he hears a small hum and he holds his breath for a few seconds, slowly releasing it when Jonny doesn't add anything else.

-

Jonny takes him to the golf course once Patrick finds out that there's one nearby. He hadn't even realized he missed golfing until he had a club in his hand, and of course, Jonny is a great golfer, offering unwanted advice about every step Patrick takes until he threatens to hit him with the club. It's probably a little more competitive than it should be, but Jonny manages not to be a jerk about Patrick winning.

"Get over it," Patrick says cheerfully. "And quit whining."

He nudges Jonny's side as they leave the course, laughing at the deep frown on his face. On their way home, Jonny launches into a big lecture on golf handicaps, but thankfully, they took Patrick's car so he's the one driving and can pretend that his focus on the traffic is him actively listening to Jonny's rant.

When he glances over at a traffic light, there's a smirk on Jonny's face, a softness to his eyes that tells Patrick that Jonny's joking. Mostly, anyways. He does hate losing, as Patrick has witnessed too many times.

"That was fun," Patrick says later, sprawled out on the dock. It's gotten cloudy since they got back, so it's less hot than usually, but he's still comfortably warm, lying on his stomach, with Jonny right beside him. Golfing was good for his back, a different kind of movement than swimming or running. "I liked the part where I won."

"You cheated," Jonny says immediately but there's still that cocky grin on his lips and Patrick rolls his eyes, knowing Jonny doesn't actually mean it.

"How would I cheat in golf?"

Jonny chuckles, rolling over onto his side to face Patrick, pressing a surprisingly gentle kiss to the corner of his mouth as he pushes himself up on one elbow.

"I'm gonna find out," he mutters like it's a competition.

Shaking his head, Patrick sighs when Jonny starts sliding his hand along his back and neck, rolling the heel of it in gentle motions over his shoulders. The groan leaving his lips is a little embarrassing, but fuck that feels good. For a moment, the hand disappears from his back and he's about to protest but Jonny sits up, using more force when he continues. The massage is a little clumsy, but maybe Patrick's just been spoiled by the trainers in the past, and Jonny's doing a good job of loosening his stiff muscles.

"I was thinking we could grill today," Jonny says after a few minutes, following Patrick's spine with the gentle pressure of his thumb. "If the weather holds up."

If the dock was a little more comfortable Patrick could easily fall asleep like this. "You think it'll rain?"

"I hope not."

Jonny's hands keep sliding further down and Patrick tenses when he doesn't stop at his lower back, when Jonny moves them under the waistband of his shorts, effortlessly ignoring his boxers to stroke along the naked skin instead.

"Oh," he says dumbly, his dick quickly getting interested when Jonny starts circling his hole with his thumb. He can practically hear Jonny's promise to fuck him echoing inside his head and has to force himself to keep his eyes open, his heart picking up a beat as he's hit with a sudden wave of want.

"Let's—fuck—" He inhales. "Can we at least get off the dock first?"

"You know no one can see us here, right?" Jonny mutters back, tone slightly amused.

Well, Patrick certainly hopes so, or else every single guest that has stayed here has seen Jonny in his fucking boxer briefs by now. One would think he's allergic to clothes with how little he actually wears them.

Jonny presses a kiss to his neck but moves his hands away to help Patrick up, squeezing his hand. It's just a short walk back to the cabins, but it feels so much longer, the air humid and electric between them. Patrick feels like he's about to vibrate out of his skin, hyper-aware of the warmth of Jonny's body next to his, his steady breathing, and the way Jonny keeps glancing over.

There's no need to be nervous; he’s been fucked before, and Jonny will make it good, but his hand still shakes a little when he pushes the door open, letting Jonny guide him upstairs with a hand on the small of Patrick's back. The bedroom door falls shut behind them with a soft thud, and Patrick turns, teeth sinking into his lower lip as he watches Jonny grab the hem of his tank top, pulling it over his head and tossing it to the side.

"Do you have—"

"Lube?" Jonny finishes for him. He brushes past Patrick on his way to the nightstand, tossing a small bottle onto the bed, rummaging through the drawer until he finds a condom as well. His face softens when he steps back into Patrick's personal space, his eyes focused on his hands as he opens Patrick’s zipper, pushing his shorts and boxers down with one swift movement. Patrick shivers as he steps out of them, feeling weirdly exposed suddenly, his cock hard between his legs, leaking precome already.

He lets Jonny push him to the bed, manhandling him until he’s on top of Jonny, braced up on his knees and forearms with Jonny’s body taking most of his weight. The arch of his back traps his cock between their bodies, rubbing along Jonny’s, and the friction is enough to make him whimper into the kiss Jonny pulls him into while Jonny’s hand travels back to his hole, parting his cheeks.

"God, you're tight," Jonny whispers, circling his hole with his wet, lubed up fingers, slowly pressing the tip of his thumb inside, Patrick’s muscles clenching around it. "Pat—"

Patrick whimpers, pressing his face against Jonny's cheek. It’s almost too much, but the pain is instantly drowned out by a roar of pleasure. Sparks shoot up his spine, his dick leaking precome all over Jonny's abs while he rocks back on his finger, trying to get it deeper.

A desperate whine escapes from his throat as Jonny pulls back out again, fumbling for the bottle to add more lube. He slides one palm over the globe of Patrick’s ass, the wet fingers of his other hand spreading lube around, gentle pressure on his perineum that makes Patrick gasp. When he pushes two fingers back inside—the pressure slow and steady, giving Patrick time to adjust—Jonny’s cock twitches against his.

"Been a while," Patrick manages, as if it isn't obvious that he hasn't had anyone fuck him since he got here. He's got his forehead pressed against Jonny's shoulder, heaving out deep breaths, every muscle inside his body tensing.

Jonny hums back, adding a third finger, his hand rubbing along Patrick’s spine in soothing circles until his fingers are in knuckle-deep, tugging on his sensitive rim. Jonny’s gentle while he's fingering him, just the right amount of pressure on his prostate, his other hand sliding along Patrick's body—through his hair, squeezing his neck, rubbing along his back with soft pressure. It seems to go on forever, and Patrick's sweating now, a trembling mess in Jonny's arms, and he wants—he needs Jonny's cock inside of him now.

"C'mon—" He gasps when Jonny experimentally rocks his hips, dragging his hard cock along Patrick's. "Jonny, c'mon— you can—"

The kiss Jonny presses to his mouth swallows his pleas, but Patrick whimpers against his lips instead.

"Lie on your back." Jonny's voice is dark and husky, the intensity in his eyes enough to make Patrick shiver as he obeys.

Patrick’s hole feels empty without Jonny's fingers once they slip out, but he doesn't have time to dwell on the loss. He rolls over onto his back, his head turned so he can watch Jonny fiddle with the condom, Patrick’s legs falling open in anticipation. He must look desperate and greedy, his hole sticky with lube, and it's hard to imagine anything sexy about it, but Jonny moans softly—like it’s punched out of him—when he knee-walks between his legs, his cock nudging Patrick's entrance.

Jonny’s slow and gentle, pressing light kisses to Patrick's jaw and forehead, nosing along the column of his throat while he pushes in. It's overwhelming, and a little painful after so much time, a small whimper leaving Patrick's mouth, his vision going blurry at the edges when lust takes over, sparks of pleasure lighting up inside of him like a firework. Patrick gasps when Jonny rocks forward, but he starts moving his hips, trying to meet Jonny's thrusts and get his cock deeper inside until it's hitting his prostate, punching small moans out of him every time Jonny hits the angle just right.

Patrick's got his arms wrapped around Jonny’s neck—his eyes focused on Jonny’s red cheeks, his slightly-parted lips—and he’s probably leaving bruises on Jonny's shoulders where his fingertips dig into the solid muscles.  Every move of Jonny's hips is electrifying, and it just seems to get better, the tension building and building low in his gut, every thrust nudging him closer to the edge.

Jonny brings his hand up between their bodies, wrapping his fingers around Patrick's dick. With every snap of his hips, it fucks into Jonny's fist and it's as if Jonny's everywhere—his hands on Patrick's body, his lips on his face and throat and chest, kissing and biting. Jonny's breathing into his ear, small high-pitched moans on every exhale that make Patrick's toes curl and his arms tighten around Jonny's neck.

It's been so long, he barely remembers his last time with a guy. The last time he let someone see him this way, so open and vulnerable and desperate. Jonny's body is big and heavy on top of him, and Patrick is way into it—the feeling of being pressed into the mattress, of Jonny taking control while he slowly falls apart beneath him.

"Jonny," he exhales, his voice broken. "Jonny—"

Jonny rolls his hips again and Patrick comes with a cry. His vision goes blurry, his back arched, head thrown back. He doesn't realize Jonny's coming too, riding the waves of his own orgasm, shaking through the aftermath, until Jonny pulls out, making an apologetic sound at Patrick's wince, and collapses next to him with a deep groan.

Patrick's hole clenches around nothing, and he wants nothing more than to be back in Jonny's arms and feel his hands caress his body, but Jonny gets up to get rid of the condom, and Patrick’s too weak to protest, his chest rising and falling with every deep breath. He is dirty, lube spread between his legs, cum sticking to his stomach and hip, sweat covering his entire body, so he should get up and shower, but couldn't bring himself to move if his life depended on it. He rubs the back of his wrist over his eyes, dragging a pillow under his head, well-aware that his entire body is still flushed.

When Jonny gets back into bed it's too easy to kiss him, to press his cheek against his chest, and take a few deep breaths, tension leaving his body as he inhales Jonny's familiar, soothing scent.

Jonny drops a kiss to his forehead, and gently runs his fingers through Patrick's curls.

"So—barbecuing tonight," Patrick says after a few minutes, a lazy grin on his lips. "Think we can push that back until after round two?"

Jonny's chest rumbles with laughter. "I can get on board with that."

-

With all the time Patrick spends reading, the magazines Jonny gave him don't last him very long. It's been a rainy week, the sun never coming out from behind the clouds long enough to take the boat out or go swimming, and Patrick feels like he's going stir crazy after a few days. They found a few old board games in Jonny's living room that his family used to play, but their peaceful evening of Monopoly ended up not very peaceful when Patrick had to yell at Jonny to not be a baby and take his loss like a grown-up while Jonny kept insisting that he cheated.  They are both too competitive for their own good, too easy to rile each other up.

So, it's a relief when he wakes up to the sun shining into his bedroom window the next morning. There are still puddles on the ground outside, but he's not surprised to see Jonny already awake and up, carrying a bunch of towels from the cabins into his own house, getting them ready for new guests.

Patrick's eating breakfast on his porch when Jonny comes back outside half an hour later, looking gorgeous as ever, a bright smile on his face as he braces himself with his elbows on the railing of Patrick’s porch, watching Patrick take a bite off his sandwich.

"Morning," he says like they weren't yelling at each other 12 hours ago.

Patrick lets out an exasperated sigh, feeling the corner of his mouth twitch in amusement. "Morning."

"So, I was thinking," Jonny says, stealing a small piece of chicken breast from Patrick's plate. "I am going to go insane if I have to spend another day inside, and the weather today is supposed to be nice. I don't know how much you've seen of the area, but there's a cool spot up in the mountains. It takes maybe an hour to walk up there, but the view is worth it."

Patrick hums back. The weather really is nice, the sun is shining without burning down on them, and Jonny wouldn't take him on any hiking trails that he knows Patrick's back couldn't handle.

"Sounds good," he says shrugging.

Jonny grins at him all soft and happy. "I need to stay here for another hour because of the guests, but we can leave after that." He pauses, adding, "Wear sturdy shoes," like he thinks Patrick's stupid enough to go hiking in flip-flops. He isn’t the one constantly walking around in Birkenstocks.

He rolls his eyes for good measure, snorting at the obnoxiously wet kiss Jonny drops to his forehead.

Patrick spends the next hour on his porch, scrolling through the news on his phone until Jonny gets back to pick him up. He's carrying a backpack, so at least they can eat lunch together and Patrick isn't going to starve in the mountains.

"Always prepared, eh?" he teases, following Jonny up the small trail, opposite to where he normally heads for his runs.

In front of him, Jonny snorts. "One of us has to be."

At least he can't see Patrick smiling stupidly behind him at how incredibly fond he sounds.

Their trip is more a walk than a hike. Although the small path isn't wide enough to walk next to each other, it's not very bumpy or difficult, and Patrick gets lost in his thoughts as he follows Jonny, trusting him to know where they're heading. They walk for a little longer than an hour, but Jonny was right—the view is more than worth it.

The small trail leads them through a bunch of trees, but they reach a small clearing, the lake stretching out wide underneath them, nothing but trees and mountains surrounding the water. A bird is singing in the trees behind them, the sun peeking out from behind one of the mountains, causing the water of the lake to shimmer.

"Beautiful, eh?" Jonny says softly next to him, standing so close that his shoulder is pressed against Patrick's. "I haven't been up here in a while."

"It's really pretty," Patrick answers, his voice quiet, like he's scared of ruining the moment.

He keeps watching the scene in front of him while Jonny grabs a bottle of water from his backpack, taking a few sips. Patrick finally turns away when Jonny hands him the bottle, the cold water running down his dry throat. Jonny brought sandwiches, too, and he wordlessly hands one over when they sit down next to each other, backs leaned against one of the trees, so that they can keep enjoying the view as they eat.

"Me and David used to hang out up here a lot," Jonny says after a while, keeping a piece of lettuce from falling off his sandwich. "My dad took us once when we were kids, and we started nagging my parents until they let us come here on our own. Mom was always a little worried, I think, but she never kept us from going. I don't think I appreciated her trust enough at the time."

Patrick lets his head fall back against the tree, turning so he can watch Jonny's face, the fond smile as he gets lost in his memories, happy to be the one to do the talking.

"I had my first real kiss over there," Jonny adds after a few seconds, nodding towards the other side of the clearing. "I was 14, her parents were renting one of the cottages."

"Really?" Patrick blurts out, but he can tell that Jonny is serious, a sheepish smile on his face as he nods.

"She was—I don't know, she was really pretty and funny. I had a huge crush and took her up here to impress her."

"Did it work?"

Jonny turns his face and they're so close that Patrick's surprised he can't feel Jonny's breath on his face.

"She did kiss me, right?" Jonny shrugs, chuckling. "I'd say it worked."

"Good for you, buddy."

Jonny laughs again, softer this time. He tips his head back, exposing the long line of his throat, while offering another shrug.

"Didn't really matter, I guess," Jonny adds after another few seconds. "That was also the moment I realized I was gay. So—it never went anywhere with her."

"Oh," Patrick says softly. He takes another bite from his sandwich, slowly chewing the bread while Jonny's eyes are still trailed on the spot he had pointed at. It's hard to picture him at 14, as a shy or awkward teenager, when he's so comfortable now, so sure of himself, radiating confidence and ease at whatever he does. "It did help you figure out some stuff about yourself, though, right?"

"Oh, yeah." Jonny finally looks back at him, slowly stretching out his legs. "I came out a couple months later. It was awkward at first to be the gay kid at school, but I think it helped me. It was nice to know that my parents had my back, that I never really had to hide a part of myself."

Patrick tears his eyes away from Jonny's face, carefully swallowing his bite, fumbling for the water bottle just so he has something to do with his other hand. Jonny's watching him as he takes a few slow gulps, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand before he caps the bottle again.

The silence between them stretches on for a while, long enough for both of them to finish their sandwich and to trade the water bottle back and forth a few times, the trees swaying from the soft breeze. It's still comfortable, Jonny's warm, solid body pressed against his, but something inside of Patrick is unsettled now, a nagging feeling that he can't shake as he looks back at the lake.

After what feels like a very long time, Jonny gently presses his knee against Patrick's. "Did you—I mean—how old were you? When you came out?"

Patrick's still holding the water bottle—only half full now—and he's absently tapping his index finger on the cap, taking a deep breath.

"I guess I never really did," he says slowly, carefully choosing the words. "My family always just kind of knew and it was never—we never talked about it. It never came up."

It's not like it ever mattered. He couldn't even sleep with men, let alone date a guy. Hockey was worth the sacrifice—he never thought twice about his choice—and he was prepared for another ten to fifteen years without ever being able to even consider taking a man home to introduce to his parents. And when that changed—well, dating and love was the least of his problems.

Jonny's still watching him, and Patrick braces himself to interrupt whatever he's going to say to abruptly change the topic, but Jonny just slides his hand along Patrick's thigh, letting it rest as a comfortable weight on his knee. Patrick exhales, shoulders sagging.

"How long can we stay here?" he asks after a while, resisting the urge to cover Jonny's hand with his.

"A while," Jonny says. "Plenty of time left before it gets dark or too cold."

He nods back, settling further back against the tree, finally allowing himself to reach for Jonny's hand, idly playing with his fingers. He doesn't miss the soft smile making its way to Jonny's face when he rubs his thumb along the length of his index finger, very gently tugging on the brown bracelet he wears around his wrist.

When they finally get up to head back, Jonny throws his arm around Patrick's shoulders, forcing him to duck under the weight, keeping Patrick pressed into his side until the path gets too narrow again.

-

While Patrick's used to seeing Jonny do yoga on his porch, he usually isn't prepared to wake up to find Jonny doing yoga on the deck naked. He blinks, rubbing at his eyes because maybe he's still asleep and imagining things, but no, Jonny's bending over in all his naked glory and all Patrick can stare at is his ass. Jonny's skin is tan and smooth, his muscles moving as he bends. For someone so ripped and packed with muscles he's impressively flexible. Even with his back on a good day, Patrick's not sure he'd be able to do half of these movements. Jonny bends over, his soft cock dangling between his legs, his face peaceful and calm, eyes closed. It’s shameless and obnoxious and Patrick hates that he finds it almost as hot as ridiculous.

Jonny’s in another painful-looking pose when Patrick's makes it downstairs, the gravel crunching under his bare feet as he approaches the scene. Jonny must hear him—it's too quiet to not pick up on his steps—but Jonny still doesn't turn until Patrick's just a few inches away, leaning against one of the wooden posts.

He folds his arms across his chest, hiding a smile. "I should call the cops and have you arrested for public indecency."

Jonny doesn't even flinch. Unbothered, he holds his pose for another few seconds before he lets his arms drop to the side of his body, lowers the foot he had braced on the inside of his thigh back to the ground, and relaxes his muscles. He slowly rolls his neck, tilts his head, and pops his eyes open.

Patrick got out of bed like two minutes ago, he's sleep-rumpled with messy hair and wearing stupid cartoon boxers. Yet, Jonny's eyes slide along his body, darkening with desire, and he pulls Patrick closer, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "You wouldn't."

"Watch me," Patrick mutters back, hating himself for already having his arms around Jonny's shoulders, sliding his fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. Having an exhibitionist neighbor should be creepy, but here he is, both of Jonny's arms wrapped tightly around his body.

Jonny's lips brush along his temple, his hand strokes down Patrick's back, fingers wandering to his hole, slowly circling his entrance, Patrick's legs going wobbly.

"Will you let me fuck you if I make breakfast?" Jonny whispers, somehow managing to sound nonchalant and innocent, while Patrick's thighs are trembling with the effort to stand, his knees threatening to give out, Jonny's fingers ghosting over his hole.

"May—" His breath hitches and he has to gulp in air. "Maybe—do you have bacon?"

"Mm," Jonny hums, nibbling at the sensitive spot right below his ear. "Wait here."

He rubs his fingertips over Patrick's hole again, gently tugging on the rim, shushing Patrick's pained gasp before he takes a step back, actually winking before he disappears inside the cabin. Patrick chokes out a disbelieving laugh, shaking his head to himself. Not that he would ever admit it out loud, but Jonny being his dorky self is incredibly charming, how shameless and unapologetic he is about it.

Jonny's only inside the cabin for a few moments that Patrick spends taking a few deep breaths as he pushes his boxers down, loosely fisting his cock to full hardness, blinking the rest of his sleep away. The small wooden table on Jonny' porch looks like it's not made to be sat on, but he still sits down and leans back, his legs spread already for Jonny. Jonny wouldn't be out here doing his yoga exercises naked if someone could see—and new guests usually don't arrive at this time anyway—but if someone did come by, Patrick would be fully on display and the thought sends a sudden rush of adrenaline through his body, skin prickling with excitement.

He earns a small gasp and a hungry kiss once Jonny gets back, attacking him with his mouth, his eyes almost black as he forces himself between Patrick's spread legs.

"You look pretty," Jonny tells him, one hand between Patrick's legs, pushing his wet fingers inside his hole, the other on his own dick. He pauses to smirk. "I was wondering whether you'd see me out here."

"Kinky."

Jonny laughs, scissoring his fingers inside of him before sucking Patrick's right nipple into his mouth, coaxing a whimper from his lips. Patrick could come from this alone, he thinks, tangling his fingers into Jonny's brown hair, pressing his mouth closer to his chest. Just from the little flicks of Jonny's tongue, the warm wetness of his mouth as he alters between kissing and sucking, throwing in little bites every now and then, from the rough slide of his fingers inside Patrick’s hole.

"Fuck me," he groans desperately, his entire body shaking with want. With Jonny's mouth still on his nipple, the other man's moan goes straight to his dick.

"Patrick—" It's a choked-off, broken sound as Jonny pulls back, leaving Patrick's nipples swollen and shiny with spit. The air is warm, but it feels weirdly cold after having Jonny's mouth on his skin for so long. He shivers and braces himself for Jonny to fuck into him, but Jonny only kisses his lips and brushes his nose along Patrick's cheek.

"Turn," he says, swatting at Patrick's hip. The bossy tone shouldn't be so hot, but Patrick groans in response, pushing himself up. It's an abrupt motion—too abrupt for his back—and he groans, this time from pain rather than pleasure. Patrick bites his lip, waiting for Jonny to ask if he's alright, ready to brush it off as a sound of arousal, but all Jonny does is gently reposition him with both hands on either side of Patrick's hips.

The position Jonny maneuvers him into is better, standing in front of the table with his chest pressed to it, his back flat so that he's not hunched over anymore, and he exhales, breathing out the last bit of tension.

Behind him, Jonny presses his forehead to the back of Patrick's head, his hard cock already nestled in the curve of Patrick's ass, but Jonny hesitates, placing a gentle kiss into Patrick's dimple.

"Better for your back like this?"

Patrick pauses, shivering at the genuine concern in his voice, the softness of the kiss, and he's nodding before he knows he's moving his head, pressing his cheek against the hard table. Jonny hums, pulling back with another kiss, and this time when Patrick braces himself for it, Jonny does fuck into him with one smooth thrust of his hips, barely letting Patrick adjust before he finds a steady rhythm. It's rougher than usual, the edge of the wooden table cutting into Patrick's hip every time Jonny fucks back into him—even with Jonny's hands grasping his hips, he's pushed forward—but barely realizes the pain that it causes, too busy jerking himself off to the feeling of Jonny's hard cock filling his hole, sliding out only to slam right back inside.

It's impossible not to get some cum on the table, but Jonny doesn't seem to care, because he only fucks him harder after Patrick's orgasm, leaving him panting and gasping for air, come-dumb and exhausted, his hole over-sensitive now. It's so intense that it's almost painful, but in a strangely good way, his entire mind filled with the desire to let Jonny use his body, to make it feel good for him. He feels Jonny's dick pulse as he comes, feels his fingers digging into Patrick's hips, the weight of his body pushing him forward when Jonny slams into him one last time and presses his forehead against Patrick's shoulder, panting into his neck. All Patrick manages is a weak whimper in response.

As rough as Jonny can get during sex, manhandling Patrick and bossing him around, using their height difference to his advantage—he's nothing but sweet and gentle later. His hand slides over Patrick's ass while he pulls out, he kisses Patrick's jaw and lips, waits for him to get up and step away from the table before he hands him an old shirt that was hanging over the railing to clean up.

"Breakfast?" Patrick asks after a minute, sleepy again after his orgasm, while he lazily wipes sticky, dried cum off of his stomach.

He tosses the shirt back to Jonny, watching him run the fabric along his belly and thighs, a gorgeous flush creeping from his cheeks all the way down his neck.

Jonny chuckles and Patrick happily takes over the lounge chair for a nap while Jonny's busy with breakfast, smiling at the bitchy comments from the kitchen that he's an impolite guest for not helping out, that the deal was never that it's only Jonny's responsibility to prepare breakfast (which is a lie, obviously). He lets Jonny chirp him, his voice a nice, comfortable sound in the background while his eyes fall shut.

Before coming here, he was longing for the quiet isolation of the woods. When he felt lonely in Buffalo or Chicago, surrounded by friends and families who cared so much, the lonely lake felt like a welcoming escape. Like maybe at least there would be a reason for him here to feel lonely. Instead, he found Jonny, and he hasn't felt this close to anyone in a long time.

Jonny hands him a pair of boxers and a sweater along with the breakfast. The fabric is soft and washed out and it smells like Jonny's aftershave and a little like fried fish. Patrick bundles into it, pulling the sleeves over the palms of his hands, the fabric like a layer of protection around him.

"I'm taking the boat out later," Jonny says over the scrambled eggs and bacon. "My brother hoped he'd make it up here today, but he had to work. I figured it would still be nice to drive out and hang out on the boat."

"No guests arriving today?"

"One of the cottages is empty today. The other is rented through next week," Jonny says with a shrug, and Patrick nods.

Distantly, he remembers his own plans of renting out his cabin. There's only so many weeks of summer left, and he's not stupid or naïve enough to think he could survive on his own during the winter, but for now, there's no need to rush. The weather is too nice to think about leaving.

-

It's been ages since he last was in the city. It's been too convenient to live off of fish and Jonny's veggies. His hair hasn't seen a hairdresser in weeks and months though, so it's longer than it's ever been, wavy curls that fall to his shoulders. If his sisters could see it they'd get a kick out of it—they have always teased him about his disaster of a hairline and how he never really cares much about his looks. Patrick should send them a picture, he has his phone in his hands often enough, but for some weird reason, he can't bring himself to snap a goofy selfie.

So he starts putting it in a bun instead, which makes Jonny snort and chirp him every time he sees it. But he also likes to tug and pull on it when they have sex, so he's not that opposed to the longer hair.

"It's not that hard to get a haircut," he says for the hundredth time, watching Patrick spit out strands of hair that keep finding their way into his mouth as they swim. He hates to admit it, but Jonny has a point—the hair is inconvenient.

"I'm not driving down just for a fucking haircut. And last time I checked, there's no hairdresser up here," he says, shrugging.

Jonny shoots him kind of a funny look. "I could do it."

"What? You're a hairdresser now?"

"Obviously not." Jonny rolls his eyes. "It can't get any worse than it is now," he pointedly ignores Patrick rolling his eyes to add, "and it doesn't have to look perfect as long as you're up here. I mean—if you wanna look sexy for me I appreciate it but—"

"You're an asshole." Patrick sighs, wiping at his mouth as another fucking strand is caught in the corner. Fine, whatever. Jonny might have a point. "I'll drown you in this lake if you cut off my ear."

Jonny laughs, his head thrown back, and Patrick watches helplessly how he dives underwater, swims over with two strong strokes and pulls Patrick down under with him.

-

Jonny uses the scissors from his kitchen since that's the only pair they have. It's not ideal, but it'll have to do, and Patrick surrenders to his fate, allowing Jonny to shove him into a chair on his porch, a towel draped over his naked shoulders.

"My mom used to do this for us when we were younger," Jonny says, combing his fingers through the curls, a smile in his voice.

The first snap of scissors makes Patrick tense up, but there's no blood or pieces of skin, only long, blond strands falling to the ground, so he forces himself to relax, letting the silence between them stretch for a while, only the snapping metal sounds filling the air.

He could tell Jonny that he had a mullet one time. He still vividly remembers his hairdresser jokingly suggesting it, and the surprise in his eyes when Patrick actually agreed, remembers thinking that maybe it was a good luck charm and he should consider doing it again for the next season, that maybe it could become a little tradition. Suddenly, his throat feels tight and he sniffles, rubbing the back of his hand over his nose, blinking a few times.

"I'm the only one with curls in the family," he says finally to distract himself. "The girls always pretended to be hairdressers, and when I was, like, 15, Jackie decided that she wanted to cut my hair for real without telling me. She chopped a good chunk off, so I had to get a buzzcut again. I didn't mind it that much, but my mom freaked out when she saw." He chuckles at the memory of being naive enough to sit down without double-checking that she had the right scissors, some of the tension leaving his shoulders again. "I guess she was freaking out that Jackie could have accidentally stabbed me to death."

"That sounds dangerous," Jonny says, the smirk audible in his voice. "Did you grow it out again?"

"Not for a couple of years. I just found the buzzcut easier to deal with. Jackie was pissed I didn't have any more curls for the hairdresser games."

"She would have loved this, then."

Jonny runs his hand through the curls, stopping to scratch his scalp for a few seconds before going back to work—his slow, measured movements soothing, the light touches comforting.

"Done," he announces after a few more minutes, setting the scissors down on the table. "It looks decent, I think."

It's Patrick's preferred length so that is something—short enough to curl at the nape of his neck, while also starting to curl more at his scalp, now that he's not flattening it with a helmet for hours every day anymore. The cut is a little uneven, one strand too short on the left side of his face, but he should be able to get away with it.

He blows Jonny later, under the guise that it's a thank you for the haircut, and he drags it on—wanting the salty taste and heavy feeling on his tongue for as long as possible, to be able to hear Jonny's gasps and how he murmurs Patrick's name over and over, his voice all dark and scratchy.

His thighs tense up as he comes down Patrick's throat with a strangled moan.

"Jesus, your mouth," Jonny whispers, his thumb sliding along Patrick's swollen lip once he pulls back and looks up, his own cock leaking. He’s kneeling between Jonny’s spread legs on the bed, and Jonny can see how hard he is, his eyes focused on Patrick's crotch, gaze snapping back to his face when he whines low in his throat. Jonny looks gorgeous—his cheeks and chest flushed, eyes dark and kind of glassy, his breathing heavy. Patrick’s ready to jerk himself off, but then Jonny pulls his head back to his face, one hand on Patrick’s neck, the following kiss greedy and urgent.

"Ever been rimmed?" he asks roughly and Patrick's lucky he doesn't come right there.

He shakes his head, cheeks reddening when Jonny's eyes go soft and dark at the same time.

"Can I?" he adds gently, hands already teasing along Patrick's ass.

Patrick feels himself nod and before he knows it, finds himself on his stomach on the mattress, arms folded underneath his head, his knee bent, eyes falling shut, cheeks still hot. He wants to find out what it's like, has heard and seen enough to know it'll probably be good. Everything they've done so far has been great but—having Jonny's fingers and dick down there is one thing, but his tongue and face right at his ass is entirely different.

When he feels Jonny's hot breath on his hole, he tenses involuntarily, feeling awkward and not very aroused, desperately trying to recall the feeling of Jonny's dick in his mouth to have something to hold onto, but then Jonny licks a stripe across his hole and his hips buck, coaxing a moan out of his throat.

Holy shit.

"Yeah?" A soft kiss is pressed to his hole, but he doesn't manage a response. Thank fuck that's answer enough for Jonny to do it again, and Patrick's sucked into a giant maelstrom of lust and pleasure. Heat runs through his body like lava washing him over, and it's all blurring together at the edges of his vision when Jonny's sucking, kissing, or licking that sensitive spot between his legs. He's good with reading Patrick's body too, altering between little flicks of his tongue, chaste kisses, and harsher suction or roughly fucking his tongue into Patrick's hole, trying to shove it as deep as possible until Patrick cries out. Patrick falls apart, his body a trembling mess because Jonny drags it on, getting his revenge for the torturous blowjob.

"Lemme come," he begs at one point, slurring the words into the pillow, and Jonny finds Patrick’s hand that’s lying on the mattress next to his head, intertwines their fingers and squeezes, a small reassuring gesture. He keeps holding on while his tongue forces its way inside, pressing his face closer.

When Patrick finally comes, Jonny hasn't even touched his dick—the dry friction of the mattress is enough to push him over. His breath is punched out of his lungs, Jonny's tongue is still circling his hole and he hears a yelp, realizing then that he's squeezing Jonny's fingers a little too hard. He has to force himself to relax his grip, sucking in air as if he spent the last minutes swimming in the lake.

"God, you're so hot," Jonny says, his voice shockingly raw. "Tell me you'll let me do that again."

His nod is frantic and eager and Jonny chuckles, soft and teasing. He kisses a trail up Patrick's spine, nosing along the warm skin, along his neck, throat, and cheek, until he reaches the corner of his mouth where he leaves one last kiss, smiling at Patrick's dopey face when he slumps down to lie next to Patrick.

Slowly, he's coming back to himself, absently sliding the heel of his foot he's got hooked over Jonny's leg along his calf, studying Jonny's peaceful face while Jonny's got his eyes closed, the corners of his mouth still tilted upwards.

"Let's go on another kayaking trip," Patrick says quietly. "Maybe somewhere different than the last time. The guests can go without the kayak for a day."

"Can they?" Jonny mutters, amused. "Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know. Surprise me."

"'kay," Jonny says. He brushes his nose along Patrick's shoulder and kisses the warm skin before they silently agree to take a nap.

-

Jonny plans on driving down to visit his family for a weekend and Patrick can't help the urge to protest welling up inside of him. Two days isn’t that long, but he's gotten so used to being around Jonny, to share meals and hang out, or sometimes to help him clean the cabin for new guests, that it's weird to think about not having that even if it’s only for two days.

"I'll miss your dick," he jokes, and Jonny takes that as a personal challenge to leave a lasting impression.

He's got Patrick in his arms, pressed up against the wall of his living room with Patrick's arms and legs wrapped around Jonny's body while he's being fucked—small snaps of Jonny's hips that push him against the wall and make him gasp, Jonny’s breath hot in his ear. It's so fucking good, rough and frantic and perfect, and Patrick's clinging to him, desperate for more. He feels boneless in Jonny’s arms, his scalp prickling with want. He’s so close already that it’s all he can focus on, the pleasure inside of him that’s slowly starting to build, the edges of his vision going blurry and the way Jonny’s panting right into his ear—

And then, the door of a car is being slammed shut outside and Patrick’s yanked out of his blissful state of anticipation. Jonny freezes, his cock still buried in Patrick's hole.

"Oh fuck," he whispers, eyes wide and glassy. "Fuck—the guests. I forgot."

"Forgot what?" Patrick asks, a little hysterical.

The front door is wide open, as always during the day. But now there are people outside, talking loud enough to make it seem like they're right next to them, and that's when panic hits him. All it would take is for the new guests to peek inside and they would see the whole scene, and that is a story that Patrick absolutely does not need in the papers.

Jonny doesn't bother giving the obvious answer. He sets Patrick down, his dick slipping out of his hole which makes them both groan, but Patrick doesn’t have the time to dwell on the sudden loss. These people could look inside any second, so he does the only reasonable thing and makes a beeline for the stairs to get out of sight, taking off into Jonny's bedroom. If Jonny is stupid enough to forget that he's awaiting guests, he can deal with this mess on his own.

From the window upstairs, Patrick can see the guests, a middle-aged couple that is thankfully still busy folding a map and sorting through some bags until Jonny makes it outside.

Saying he looks presentable might be a stretch. His hair is messy and his expression is something between dreamy, sheepish, and taken aback at the same time, noticeable even from up here. But he found a tank top and pants and did a decent job of hiding his hard-on. Looking closely, there is definitely a bulge in his trunks, but people who are 20 years older than them and, apparently, married won't look close enough to notice.

Before showing the guests the way to their cabins, Jonny glances up, his eyes finding Patrick's and his lips stretch into the tiniest smirk that makes Patrick's cock twitch. He was so fucking close and he really wants to come.

But he doesn't jerk off. All he does is fist his cock, absently running his fingers along the length of it while he gets settled on the bed to keep himself on edge until Jonny gets back. If he's going to be left hanging, he can at least get some revenge and tease Jonny.

It's not the first time Patrick's waited for him to show the new guests around, but it's never felt this long. He keeps waiting, eventually pushing two fingers into himself, his hole clenching greedily around them. They're small compared to Jonny's dick, but it's enough to keep him open and ready for Jonny to fuck him as soon as he's back.

He hears the footsteps before Jonny steps into the room, his mouth already opened to say something, but he catches himself before he can start talking.

"Oh fuck," he says instead, stopping dead in his tracks. "Patrick—"

Patrick adds a third finger, innocently turning his head.

"Patrick—" Jonny chokes out again, yanking off his pants and tank top. "Jesus Christ."

"I was waiting."

"Clearly." Snorting, Jonny takes a step closer. He's still half-hard and it doesn't take much for him to get back to full hardness as Patrick reaches out to give his cock a few strokes.

"Lie down," he says, enjoying the way Jonny's eyes darken when Patrick straddles his waist and smoothly sinks down on his dick. Finally. It feels so incredibly good, like Jonny's dick was meant to be inside of him

"I bet they noticed," he says, rocking back a little. It doesn’t take much for Jonny's dick to nudge his prostate. Just some light movements, rocking back and forth without having to lift himself up, is enough to make them both groan. "You looked obscene," he adds roughly, his gaze meeting Jonny's wide brown eyes. "Anyone could have noticed you were fucking someone just seconds before."

"Patrick," Jonny says warningly, his voice barely a whimper. He puts his hands on Patrick's thighs and ass, caressing the warm skin while Patrick starts jerking off, never taking his eyes off Jonny's.

During sex, they look almost black—especially when the lights are off—focused and intent but always soft. His lips are parted, heaving out small breaths every time Patrick sinks back down. His cheeks have some light stubble because he sometimes forgets to shave, but there's barely any above his upper lip because he's incapable of growing a mustache. If Patrick closes his eyes, he can still recall every small detail of Jonny's face, every little scar and wrinkle.

He comes with a strangled gasp and a whimper, burying his face in the crook of Jonny's neck. His body is shaking, adrenaline rushing through his body, but he still feels Jonny's cock slip out, leaving his hole raw and aching.

"Hey, hey—" One of Jonny's arms comes up around his body, keeping him close while Jonny's lips brush along his. "Look at me."

Jonny's other arm is moving frantically, touching his own dick while Patrick makes an effort to lift his head and blink back at Jonny who looks dazed and needy, letting him see the raw emotions on his own face, the blissful feeling of his own orgasm.

Jonny comes just a minute later. He's almost silent but breathing heavily, his hand sliding up and down Patrick's arms, movements slowing down as time passes, and Patrick lets his eyes fall shut, curling up in Jonny's arms.

-

It's kind of awkward to say goodbye when Jonny leaves to visit his family. It's just a weekend and nothing will change, absolutely no reason to feel weird about it. Patrick will still go on a run every morning, he'll still hang out at the dock and go swimming, and he'll still read his books. He's fine, he can entertain himself for a weekend and he doesn't need Jonny or anyone to keep him company. Maybe he'll even get himself to call his mom, now that he's not scared of Jonny overhearing a conversation.

"You know you can text me if there's anything wrong up here," Jonny says casually as he loads the truck. They went fishing yesterday so Jonny has some fresh fish to bring home, along with a basket of fresh veggies sitting in the backseat.

Patrick hums in response. He won't need to take him up on the offer, but it still makes him feel warm all over nonetheless.

-

He doesn't talk to his mom. He means to, but ends up texting the girls instead, some random bullshit about a beautiful sunset, and contemplates downloading a few more ebooks, but he's seriously running out of books he's interested in, so he kills time on his phone instead.

All he means to do is to watch the highlights of an epic basketball game he remembers from his childhood, but then he's falling down the Youtube rabbit hole, clicking from video to video. It's a little obsessive but he can't stop watching stupid basketball highlight videos. The rumbling of his stomach finally yanks him out of it, reminds him how late it is, and that it's time to grab a bite to eat. There's still some leftover chicken in the freezer and tons of veggies, but he opts for a simple sandwich instead.

His phone is still playing videos when he returns. Maybe it's time to find something else to do, but before he can close the video, he freezes.

Apparently, autoplay lured him away from basketball. Patrick only needs a glance at the video title, 1998 Olympics Czech Republic vs Canada, to know what he's watching.

He remembers watching the game as a ten-year-old, clutching his Hasek jersey, wide-eyed in front of the TV as Hasek stopped all five shots in the shoot-out. Remembers being proud of the Sabres' goalie and heartbroken for Joe Sakic. Back then, he had no idea his first shootout goal would come against Hasek in the big leagues, that his first goal would be against the team Sakic would be playing for.

It feels like a sick, twisted prank by the universe to let him stumble over this video, bringing all these memories back up.

Even when he was a player, when he wasn't at the rink playing hockey himself, he was watching games or studying highlights. Hockey wasn’t just a huge part of his life, it was his whole life for so many years, and now he hasn't watched a game, or even snippets, in so many months. And one random Youtube video is enough to bring it all back.

It hurts, thinking about himself as a kid, dreaming about his name being called by an NHL team on a big stage, thinking about the draft in Columbus, of arriving in Chicago, skating on the ice of the United Center ice. Thinking about playing the biggest game of his life in Philadelphia. Even years later, there are no words for the feeling of rushing down the ice to jump into his goalie's arms, yelling and screaming, feeling on top of the world. And then it's impossible not to think about everything that came after that, all the things he never lets himself remember, about the gear bag in the trunk of his car that he hasn't touched since he got here.

He closes the video and locks his phone, taking deep breaths until his vision isn't clouded anymore, until he can unclench his fists without a tremor in his hands.

-

Jonny comes back a few hours later than he thought, and Patrick resists the urge to walk straight over when he sees the truck. They do eat dinner together though, and Jonny tells him about his brother's job and the newest gossip in Winnipeg. Not that Patrick cares—he doesn’t know any of these people—but Jonny has a really deep and pleasant voice that is calming to listen to, his company as grounding as ever.

"David says he might make it up here again soon," Jonny says. "I'm hoping my parents will come too but we'll see."

Patrick hums around a spoonful of chocolate mousse that Jonny brought. It's home-made by his mom apparently, and it tastes amazing. It reminds Patrick of the hot chocolate his mom used to make for everyone whenever they were having a movie night.

"You—uh—haven't seen your family in a while, eh?" Jonny adds, almost hesitant.

It's exactly what Patrick doesn't need to hear. He's been trying hard enough already not to feel bad about the radio silence they have received from him. He buys a few seconds by licking the spoon and his lips, catching every last bit of mousse.

"I don't feel like leaving yet," he says slowly. "And—you know—I'm not sure if it's worth driving the distance."

It's pathetic to act as if his family is in California rather than right by the Canadian border in Buffalo. He's waiting for Jonny to call him out, to ask more questions, almost holding his breath until Jonny hums and changes the topic, his breathing slowly evening out.

-

There's no way Jonny could know that Patrick hasn't talked to his parents in ages. But if he did and was trying to make him feel bad about it, it would have worked.

He rehearses what he's going to say in his head a few times and has to take a deep breath before pressing dial. When did calling his mom become the hardest thing in the world?

"Patrick," she says, picking up on the first ring. Somehow, her voice is warm and excited, not bitter and disappointed like it should be. He doesn't deserve her.

"I'm sorry for not calling," he rambles. "I meant to. But I just—"

He trails off, unsure how to finish the sentence. Everything he meant to say and carefully planned how to say it, is wiped out of his mind. Frankly, there's no good excuse for being an asshole.

Thankfully, his mom cuts him off. "How are you?"

"I'm good," he lies easily or—is it really a lie? He doesn't know anymore, has stopped asking himself those questions. "I miss you guys." At least that's the truth.

"Are you still thinking about visiting?"

"Maybe—when the weather gets bad up here."

He can do that. He'll have to move back for the winter anyway, and since he sold his condo in Chicago there aren’t a lot of options left.

"We could visit too," she offers, her voice full of hope, and Patrick hates how his first instinct is to protest. Jonny being up here, and his family would be worlds clashing and he's not sure if the two would go together. "Your father and I would love to come and see the lake. Or—I could come on my own if you'd prefer that. Maybe bring one of the girls if they can find the time."

He wants to, is aching to see the entire family. He misses family dinners and stupid dance competitions and arguing over basketball. But it still feels like he can't let himself have that and like it won't be enough and—he just can't.

"I can—" His voice cracks. "I’ll think about it, mom."

This time, she can't hide her disappointment, her worries and sadness, but he feels too drained to deal with it. The guilt comes crashing down on him as soon as he puts the phone down, and the only person he can hate is himself because it's his sole responsibility.

-

For a few days, he hides inside the cabin, but that just makes everything worse, so he asks about the kayak trip that Jonny promised until they paddle out again. This time, they don't spot a moose, but Jonny eats him out again when they stop for lunch so it's still a win in his book.

"It's supposed to storm tonight," Jonny says once they're back, securing the boat and carrying their blankets and baskets back up to the cabins. "Do you want to stay and watch it once it's dark? You can see spectacular lighting at this time of the year. I warned the guests already and if we're lucky we can spot a few."

"If you make hot chocolate, I'm in."

"Why do you always bully me into cooking food and making drinks for you?" Jonny rolls his eyes but smirks, and Patrick laughs back, easy as ever, shrugging.

"Because you let me."

It works this time too because Patrick gets to curl up under a blanket under the roof of the porch while Jonny makes hot chocolate. It's not cold per se, but it cooled down quickly as the day went on, so the warm mug his hands is nice, the sweet scent of the melted chocolate filling his nostrils. He cradles the mug in his hands and leans against Jonny's chest, humming happily when Jonny lifts his arm for him and presses an absent kiss to his neck.

They don't talk much, but it's peaceful and calming, raindrops drumming on the gravel and the roof, soft at first, then rougher, thunder rolling in the distance, and they count the seconds until they see flashes of lightning that come closer and closer. Jonny was right. It is spectacular and soothing, being surrounded by nature and the warmth of Jonny's body. Patrick dozes off eventually and barely realizes that, at some point, Jonny wakes him to usher him up and into the bedroom where he faceplants onto the mattress and falls right back asleep.

-

They sleep in and Patrick's woken up by the sound of a car engine with Jonny moving next to him. When he looks up, Jonny's already craning his head to look out of the window, looking adorably sleep-rumpled, his brows furrowed, squinting against the light.

"Someone down there?" Patrick manages, just as sleepy. "Forgot guests again?"

He could catch another hour of sleep and make fun of Jonny later for being tired and grumpy.

"Not that I'm aware of." Jonny rubs his eyes, yawning. "Maybe someone got the dates mixed up or something. I'll check."

He presses a kiss to Patrick's lips before rolling out of bed, leaving nothing but the warm, soft blanket and the faint scent of his aftershave. Patrick's happy to stay where he is, to pull the blanket closer and let his eyes fall back shut. It won't take long until he's dozing off, and the window isn't open, so he can’t even hear Jonny talking downstairs. But then Jonny's footsteps are coming closer again and instead of saying that someone got lost and rolling back into bed, Jonny clears his throat, the footsteps stopping at the top of the stairs.

Suddenly, there's a very strange tension in the room. Patrick blinks one eye open, finding Jonny's face weirdly neutral and hesitant.

"Everything okay?" he asks, the sudden mood sobering.

"There's—uh—" Jonny clears his throat again, weakly nodding towards the window. "Someone is down there who wants to see you."

That's—surprising?

"What?" he asks dumbly but Jonny only makes a face and nods again.

So, he scrambles up, running a hand through his hair despite knowing it's a hopeless cause. Who would even be here for him? Only his agent and parents know his address, and while he wouldn't put it past his family to show up, they wouldn't do it unannounced.

Vaguely, he registers that Jonny's following him back down as he pushes the front door open. He almost stumbles over the blanket lying on the porch that he was huddled in last night, and the air still smells crisp, muddy puddles decorating the gravel after yesterday’s rain.

There is a grey pickup truck next to their cars, one he has never seen, but the man leaning against its hood is very familiar.

"Sharpy?" he croaks out, the sight of his best friend chasing the last bit of sleep away.

Sharpy offers a look that can only be described as a glare.

"What the fuck?" Patrick adds, dumbfounded.

He's too tired for this. Blinking, he takes Sharpy in as if he's hallucinating—the perfectly-combed hair, the stubble on his face, and finally, the raised eyebrows directed first at him and then at Jonny. His heart sinks. He's in more trouble than he realizes right now. Sharpy's clearly here to talk some sense into him—which he deserves—but Patrick's watching him right now putting the pieces together about him and Jonny. They're both only in boxers and the shirts they hastily threw on, looking like they just rolled out of bed, and they came out of the same cabin with Jonny having to wake him up first. Sharpy is neither blind nor stupid.

"How do you—where did you get my address?" he says, swallowing around the lump in his throat, a loud noise roaring in his ears.

Sharpy shrugs. "Your mom told me," he says casually, like it’s no big deal at all.

"You talk to my mom?"

"More often than you do, apparently," Sharpy says mercilessly and that sounds like a stupid your mom joke, but it's probably true. Patrick winces.

Someone behind him clears his throat. Right, fuck—Jonny is still here. Patrick's never had any control over this situation to begin with, but he would have lost it by now.

"I'll leave you to it," Jonny says quietly, sounding weirdly polite and distant.

Sharpy just nods back and while it's not a hostile gesture, relief is written all over his face that he's got Patrick to himself now. Patrick doesn't look back to watch Jonny leave, but the front door falls shut harder than he's ever heard, and he winces again.

"Are you gonna say hi?" Sharpy says, folding his arms across his chest, still leaning against the car. "Or are you just going to pretend you don’t know me?"

"What are you doing here?" he says dumbly, ignoring the question. It hits too close to home. Pretending they're not friends is all he's done lately.

Now, Sharpy's face softens.

"Checking on you. What else would I be doing here?"

His brain is blank, and he couldn't string words together to form a sentence to save his life.

"Peeksy," Sharpy says and the nickname makes him close his eyes and breathe through how tight his chest feels suddenly. This is so stupid. After everything that's happened, it can't be a stupid nickname he loses his composure over. "You don't answer my calls," Sharpy adds, his voice quiet. "You don't respond to anyone's texts. Your friends and family can't get a hold of you. You leave Buffalo on a whim to live in the Canadian woods. You keep telling everyone you're fine, but you barely talk us. You refuse to come back for a visit or let anyone visit you."

Patrick doesn't need to be told. He's aware. But having Sharpy lay it all out for him like that makes it so much worse. Suddenly, he's feeling nauseous.

"I'm—"

"I talk to your mom," Sharpy interrupts. Now that he's started talking it seems like he can't stop. "I talk to your entire family by the way. Sisters, cousins. Anyone who might hear from you. Because everyone's worried, asshole. So you either show me there's no need to worry, or I'm gonna call your mom and tell her that maybe it's time to drag you back to Buffalo and collectively talk some sense back into you."

God, he deserves that. And in a way, he appreciates Sharpy being so forward, not sugarcoating anything. Not trying to keep it casual when he's hurt and worried and disappointed in Patrick. All he can hope for is that Jonny doesn't overhear this conversation. He's not the person to eavesdrop but still— Patrick wouldn’t blame him. He probably would if it was him in Jonny’s place.

He takes a deep breath, willing his hands to stop shaking.

"Do you want a glass of water, Sharpy?"

Sharpy raises an eyebrow but nods. "That would be nice. It was quite the drive."

Patrick awkwardly walks across the street into his own cabin, grateful that Sharpy isn't making comments or, worse, asking about Jonny. He's too busy typing on his phone, probably texting in the worried sick about Patrick Kane group chat.

He pours Sharpy a glass of water and keeps his mouth shut when Sharpy makes it abundantly clear that he's staying for a few days, declaring the couch as his place. Any protest is a lost cause at this point, and he doesn't have the energy to argue anyways. Something tells him that there's going to be enough arguing sooner than he'd like.

"I can—" he offers awkwardly, waving at the sofa, but Sharpy's having none of it.

"You better take the bed with your back," he says mercilessly. Patrick's not sure if he appreciates the blunt forward statements over beating around the bush. He surrenders to his fate and nods, ducking his head to escape the kitchen.

Sharpy doesn't mention it again for the rest of the morning. He lets Patrick show him the cabin and the lake and doesn't protest when Patrick suggests going for a swim to avoid sitting around in the cabin like strangers.

"How’s the family?" he asks, wincing when Sharpy snorts.

"I wondered when you'd ask." He wouldn't need Sharpy's pointed look to feel like shit. "They're fine. Maddie asks about you. Or—you know, she points at your picture and tries saying your name, so I think she misses you. And Abby says hi."

Sweet little Maddie. His sisters would have laughed about the long hair he had before Jonny cut it, but Maddie would have been delighted, so many curls for her to decorate with bows and hair clips. It's a bit of a miracle she'd still know who he is. Maybe Sharpy's been talking about him to her.

"How are the guys?" he asks, his voice raw.

Please don't let Sharpy talk about hockey, he thinks desperately. Or about the locker room. He can handle blunt references to his back but there are other, more touchy subjects that he's not ready for.

But Sharpy smirks.

"Everyone's fine. Or, well—now, they're fine. But I can't wait for Duncs and Seabs to experience the joy of sleepless nights filled with a baby's cries."

Patrick furrows his brow, his brain needing an embarrassingly long time to process the new information. That's—oh. He accidentally inhales a gulp of water as he gasps. "What?"

Sharpy's smirk grows but his face is softer than it's been since he got here. "Dayna and Kelly are both pregnant."

Patrick coughs and almost goes underwater when Sharpy pats his back, looking almost sheepish. Was he supposed to know about that? Did the guys tell him that? He would remember reading those texts.

"It's early," Sharpy says quickly. "Seabs never meant to tell us but he's shit at keeping secrets so we all could tell. He says it's okay if you know. So—yeah. I should have figured Duncs and Seabs would somehow manage to time and coordinate their kids' birth."

Patrick chuckles. Duncs and Seabs are weird about each other—there must be a hockey connection between them that translates to their friendship off the ice. His heart aches just thinking about them. He misses hanging out with everyone.

"And," Sharpy adds softly, splashing some water around as he clears his throat to say, "Abby and I think we'll try for a second kid soon."

Jesus Christ. This is a lot to have thrown at him. It's a reason to be happy. All the guys deserve to be happy and they will make great dads, but wasn't Patrick sitting with them in Chicago's bars, being stupid teenagers, just a few weeks ago? When did they grow up to be responsible adults that are ready to have kids? And—what else did he miss? With his radio silence, one of his sisters could be pregnant and he would have no idea because he's been hanging up on them before they get a chance to get a proper word out.

It's bittersweet at best. A harsh reminder that the outside world kept turning even as it felt like it stopped for Patrick. It's the same feeling of frustration he had in Chicago when it seemed impossible that the buildings around him were still standing and hadn't crumpled along with his world. But something is soothing about it, too—that his friends are moving forward, carrying on with their lives while he was busy seeing all kinds of therapists, feeling like he was only moving backwards.

-

Sharpy stays for the night without making him talk about any of that, but it's only a matter of time until it'll come, Patrick's not gonna kid himself.

"Are you gardening?" Sharpy says, looking skeptically at the vegetables in the kitchen.

Patrick barks out a laugh. He hasn't changed that much up here. "My neighbor does," he says with a shrug. "Veggies, herbs, plants. That kind of stuff. It's convenient."

"Your neighbor does," Sharpy says slowly.

Patrick's an idiot for mentioning Jonny. He doesn't even want to think about the next time he has to face Jonny. It'll be awkward, and maybe there was always going to be a point where he couldn't pretend that there's no big elephant in the room, but it's coming a little too abruptly for his liking.

"Jonny's good at it," he adds. "Saves us trips to the store."

He shouldn't be talking about us and we, probably.

Sharpy raises an eyebrow. "So—what does Jonny do up here?"

The way he pronounces Jonny's name sounds a little like an insult, or like he's trying to figure out what kind of guy Jonny is, wary about finding out.

"He rents out cabins," Patrick says, hoping it sounds casual. "They're up the street. I think it's pretty lucrative, there are guests constantly. During the winter he works in the town sometimes, helps his dad with a few odd jobs."

Sharpy's expression is unreadable, so Patrick chooses to focus on cooking their food instead. They eat outside, which seems a little dangerous because it's in plain sight for Jonny, and sure enough, the man in question comes up from the lake. He's not in swimming trunks so he must have taken the boat out, and as much as Patrick enjoys seeing him shirtless with water running down his smooth chest, he's very grateful Jonny's more covered up now.

"Hi, Patrick," he says, sounding careful, a smile on his lips when he turns to Sharpy. "Uh—"

"Sharpy's fine," Sharpy says and that's a good sign. Patrick would have been in serious trouble if he had introduced himself as Patrick.

Jonny grins and shakes Sharpy's hand, hovering at the first step of the porch until Patrick sighs.

"Care to join us?"

He'll regret this, but he'd regret it more if he didn't ask, and Jonny's been nothing but nice and sweet and doesn't deserve Patrick being a jerk and awkward around him. But, jeez, it is awkward to talk to Jonny with people around, even weirder that this person is Sharpy who, for once, remembers his manners and isn’t being a pain in the ass. He asks about Jonny's cabins and his family, and with regard to Sharpy's standards, he's not being very obnoxious about the inquisition that Jonny, thankfully, takes in stride.

He sticks around after dinner, until it's dark, and the three of them have to hide under blankets because it's getting cooler and cooler at night as summer starts fading into fall. They only have two blankets, so Patrick ends up sharing with Jonny which makes things even more painfully obvious.

"So how long are you staying?" Jonny asks, his hand resting on Patrick's knee under the blanket, his thumb tracing circles and random patterns on his skin. It sends shivers down his spine, such a gentle, caressing gesture, and he has to keep reminding himself that he can't just rest his head against Jonny's chest and wait for him to wrap an arm around Patrick's shoulder. Things are different now—they will change whether Sharpy drags him back home or not— even if he can’t quite grasp it yet.

"Another night, maybe two." Sharpy shrugs. "I need to get back home. My wife's on her own with our child. My parents live in Thunder Bay, so I was hoping to drop by before I fly back, but I don't have that much time."

Jonny's face lights up. "You're Canadian?"

"My wife's American, and I feel like I've been in the States for so long that I’m half-American by now," Sharpy jokes, making Jonny laugh. "But I admit it, this is a nice place. Would be tempting to live in a cabin one day."

"I love it," Jonny says openly. "It was a great place to grow up as a kid."

Apparently, it's a Canadian bonding experience to talk about lakes and fishing because that's all Sharpy and Jonny do for the next hour. Not that Patrick doesn't expect it—he played with and has met enough Canadians in his life—but he still keeps his mouth shut and happily half-listens, half-sleeps. Eventually, his head does end up on Jonny's shoulder, but by the time he realizes, he might as well stay like this, so he does, feeling his eyelids get heavy, settling all his weight against Jonny's body.

"I should go to bed," Jonny says after a while, yawning. "But it was nice meeting you, Sharpy. Maybe we'll see each other around before you leave. Pat, you know where to find me if you guys wanna head out with the boat or something."

Sharpy looks a lot less skeptical about Jonny when they get back into the cottage to head to bed themselves, so the day could have gone worse.

-

Patrick's not sure if he should be happy about Sharpy announcing that he'll leave after another two nights. They did go swimming a few times, all three of them, Patrick drove them to the golf course once to convince Sharpy that he's doing more than just sitting inside his cabin, and Sharpy gets along alarmingly well with Jonny, even if it's mostly small talk and teasing Patrick for his habit of falling asleep on the dock. He'll miss Sharpy. It was good to have him here, to see that people care, even if he knew that all along.

But other than a few snarky comments, Sharpy hasn't said much, and he's not making the trip from Chicago up here to not tell Patrick everything he has to say. Which is going to be a lot. So, really, he's just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It does, finally, when Sharpy starts packing up. He didn't bring much to begin with—a duffel with some clothing and toiletries—but it seems like it takes him ages to find all of his belongings. Jonny offered to let him take a basket of lettuce and veggies for his parents, and the fresh goods are piling up on Patrick's porch.

"You can borrow my basket," he offers to fill the silence. "I don't need it anyway."

It's only been sitting in his car—if he ends up needing it at the grocery store, he'll just borrow one from Jonny. Sharpy nods back and then they fall silent again, Patrick anxiously chewing on his fingernails. He thought he had quit that habit for good.

"So—" Sharpy says tentatively, folding his arms across his chest. "When do you plan on talking to Jonny?"

Patrick blinks. Why would he—he must be missing something. "What would I talk to him about?"

Sharpy huffs. "I don't know, Peeksy. You tell me."

"We're—"

"What?" He earns another huff. "You're just fucking him? Nothing more? Do you expect me to buy that? Jesus, Patrick. Are you really telling yourself this isn't more than just fucking?"

Patrick refuses to think about it. It doesn't matter. It hasn't mattered all this time and it's been too easy not to think about it.

They're outside already, and Sharpy's ready to throw his bag into the car and leave, but he makes no move to get into the driver's seat. Patrick keeps shifting from one foot to the other and tries looking at anything but Sharpy.

"I don't think about it at all," he says reluctantly, opening the trunk of his car to grab the basket, grateful to have an excuse to turn away. "It doesn't matter."

The fucking hockey bag is still in the far corner where he left it months ago. Gritting his teeth, he ignores the duffel, praying to God—or whoever's willing to listen—that Sharpy doesn't realize that the bag never made it into the cabin. Maybe he already spotted it when they headed to the golf course, and maybe has the decency again not to call Patrick out.

Sharpy grabs the basket that Patrick tosses over, silently putting the veggies inside before leaning against his own car.

"Why doesn't it matter?"

Patrick presses his lips together like a toddler, as if Sharpy will stop asking if he refuses to answer for long enough. Frankly, he doesn't know what to say. Jonny's been there for so long now that it feels easy to hang out on the porch or down at the dock, to kiss him and suck his dick whenever he feels like it. It has always been so easy that he refuses to think about the winter, about either of them moving out of the cabin. He never lets himself think about anything outside of the cabin and away from the mountains. It was too easy to live inside this little bubble he created for himself where Jonny doesn't ask questions.

"I'll leave eventually," he says finally, telling himself silently that it'll be okay. That there's no reason to feel so sick to his stomach. "Maybe I'll sell the cabin after the summer and I won't see him anymore, so it doesn't matter what this is."

The snort from Sharpy is loud enough to make him wince. Patrick doesn't have the courage to meet his eyes.

"Bullshit," Sharpy spits out after a second of tense silence, the word harsh, louder than necessary. "You buy the first cabin in the woods that's offered to you, you leave your hometown without listening to your family begging you to stay, you refuse to leave this cabin for ages, and now you're telling me you want to sell it again?"

"Why not?"

Patrick clenches his hands into fists, his short fingernails digging into his skin. All laid out like this—it does sound stupid, but why does Sharpy care what he does with his money?

"And what happens then?" Sharpy asks loudly. "You'll make it back to Buffalo? Or buy another house somewhere else where no one can bother you? Abandon that too as soon as someone gets too close?"

Patrick takes a deep breath, willing himself to keep his eyes open, trying to blink away the wetness forming at the corners. If only Sharpy would leave and he'd be able to curl up in bed and not face the world.

It's his fault. He fucked it up, with his parents, his sisters, his cousins, and friends back home in Buffalo, and now, he is fucking it up with the team and Sharpy. It hurts already, and he'll hate himself later, but all he wants is for Sharpy to fuck off.

"Just—leave," he says, almost yelling now, fingernails digging harder into the palms of his clenched fist until it hurts. "I mean it. I never asked for your advice. I never even asked for you to come up here."

A physical punch wouldn’t have felt worse. Sharpy's face closes off, he reels back as if Patrick attacked him, the blankness in his eyes making Patrick feel sick.

Slowly, he inhales as Sharpy does the same, both of them staring at each other like they didn't use to be best friends, waiting for each other to make the first move. Patrick should—he should take it back and apologize and try to explain why everything is so fucking hard, but his lips won't move.

"Yeah, I shouldn't have come," Sharpy finally agrees. He's talking in a normal voice but after their yelling, it seems like a whisper in the wide mountains. "I'm sick of being pushed away," Sharpy adds. So, Patrick was right that everything would be said today. "And I'm sick of running after you, of feeling like an idiot because you keep making it clear that you don't want me to. If you want to move and think you’ll be okay with not seeing Jonny anymore—fine. But you've pushed everyone who cares away. If you do it with Jonny too you're going to regret it, because I think it does matter to you."

Patrick doesn't want to hear any of it. He's so, so sick of being told what he should be feeling.

"Just fucking leave," he says, his voice trembling. "I mean it, Sharpy. Fuck off."

"Fine," Sharpy snaps back. He takes a step closer and for a moment, Patrick thinks he's going to be punched. He braces himself for it—he deserves it, and apart from not standing a chance against Sharpy, he could never bring himself to fight back—but all Sharpy does is move into his personal space, forcing Patrick to tip his head back to look into his eyes.

"You can't run forever, Peeksy." It's a relief he isn't screaming in his face, but Patrick flinches back nonetheless. "You lost hockey. I won't pretend to understand what that's like, but this isn't healthy. Pretending you've never played isn't helpful."

"I'm not running." It sounds stupid and weak, even to his own ears, his voice shaky and thick with emotions.

"Yeah?" Sharpy snatches the gear bag from the open trunk of the car with one swift motion. The zipper is only half-closed, a red sleeve hanging out, the fabric textured but soft. The jersey falls to the ground between them and lands innocently on the gravel, the red color standing out on the grey ground. It's right in front of him, impossible not to see, but Patrick tries to ignore it nonetheless, staring up at Sharpy.

"You haven't even touched this thing," Sharpy says quietly, the duffel dangling from his hand. "And you're telling me that you're fine?"

Patrick swallows, his eyes falling shut, heart racing in his chest, feeling numb all over until Sharpy huffs.

"Fine—whatever. I'll leave."

It's defeated, a tone he's never heard in Sharpy's voice. Patrick watches in a trance how Sharpy walks off, shaking his face, his jaw set. It's all he wanted, the pick-up truck rolling down the hill and out of sight, but it feels shallow, the silence around him seeming way too loud suddenly.

He feels numb as he picks up the bag and sets it back into the trunk with shaky hands, as he bends down and grabs the jersey, trying not to look at his name embroidered above the huge white 88. Just as he's about to throw it into the car to never touch it again, there's a movement from across the street. Of course, their screams and yells would have alerted anyone within earshot. He rubs the back of his hand over his swollen eyes and huffs before he turns around.

Jonny's face is blank, his eyes focused intently on the jersey, and Patrick's stomach drops. He's too tired for any of this. After what feels like forever, Jonny nods towards the jersey.

"I knew who you are," he says quietly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants. "If that's what you're thinking about. Of course I knew."

It's not as surprising as it should be. Jonny has mentioned in passing that he grew up watching sports, and after all the time they spent together—he would have figured out who Patrick is eventually if he didn't already know from the very first moment.

Jonny takes a step closer.

"There's a reason I never asked about your job or about all that free time on your hands. About having enough money to buy a cabin up here even though you apparently don't work, or about the reason for your constant back pain. I figured you didn't want to talk about it, so I never pushed."

If Jonny had shown any sign of recognition, Patrick's not sure he would have kept hanging out with him. Maybe he wouldn't even be here anymore.

"I guess I didn't want to know if you knew." He tries to smile but probably fails miserably. There's a look of pity in Jonny's eyes. It's almost worse than everything Sharpy said.

"It was hard not to see pictures of your face for a while up here," Jonny says. "First that goal in Philly and then your—your retirement was in the news quite a bit."

It's not hard to imagine. What was he thinking—moving to Canada of all places?

Finally, Patrick puts the jersey away and closes the car, slowly running a hand through his curls. There are small skid marks in the gravel where Sharpy's car took off a few minutes ago—a harsh reminder of how much he managed to fuck up within the last ten minutes. Even with Jonny, things won't be easy anymore.

He shrugs, watching Jonny take another hesitant step closer.

"I figured you could use someone around without feeling like you had to talk about hockey or your back. So, I guess I just tried being there for you."

It sounds awfully like he was Jonny's charity case—like Jonny was worried his neighbor might disappear and never return one day. Patrick hates the way Jonny looks at him, with all that worry in his eyes.

When he doesn't say anything, Jonny makes a small noise.

"I think he has a point. You can't even talk about hockey. We've talked about so much, but you never brought any of that up. And I think he's right—you haven't seen your family in months. I know you were close. I know you miss them. Maybe you should visit."

God, he's so, so tired of it all. Of being told what to do, of everyone looking at him with their brows furrowed like he's a puzzle to figure out. Everyone thinking they know what's best for him when they have no idea what it's like, tip-toeing around him like he's a ticking time bomb. He can't handle it if Jonny decides he needs to act like that now, too.

"Well you saw how that went," he says, harsher than intended. Jonny doesn't flinch, but moves back an inch, looking defensive.

"He just worries," he says. It's not fair he's taking Sharpy's side on this. The small spark of hope that maybe things will be normal again evaporates inside of Patrick. "I think everyone around you does."

"If you care so much," he says, feeling tired. "How about you stop looking at me like I'm about to drown myself in the lake? Because I'm fucking fine but no one cares enough to believe it."

It hurts more than he thought it would. He so desperately wanted Jonny to have his back, wanted to be able to pretend that Sharpy was never here. Now, Jonny's looking at him the same way everyone else has done for months—skeptical, disappointed, worried. Jonny doesn't know what it's like, knows even less than Sharpy and his family, and he has no right to look like that.

Patrick was hoping that maybe Jonny genuinely didn't know who he was, or that it at least wouldn't matter, but apparently, knowing who Patrick was is the only reason he cared in the first place.

Jonny doesn't say anything for a few seconds, but he grabs Patrick’s arm when he goes to turn, the touch firm but gentle, yet it feels like being burned. For the first time, nothing about Jonny's touch or presence is grounding.

"Don't—" Patrick snaps and Jonny pulls back, wincing, stumbling backward. "I don't need you to entertain me. You don't need to pretend to care."

"I don't pretend to care," Jonny says, his voice rising. "Why would I pretend? I could see you weren't in a good place when you got here. And yes, I wanted to help. Because I knew what happened and I knew it sucked and I could see that you were struggling. So I didn't say anything because I figured you'd hate me if I did. You made it very clear you didn't want to talk, and I wanted to respect that. I never had to pretend, because I do care. Always have. Fuck you for thinking I would ever pretend and just—fake all of this."

His voice trembles. If he's hurt and upset, they at least have that one thing in common. Jonny looks at him like he's searching for something in Patrick's eyes, but whatever it is, he doesn't seem to find it. Huffing, he shakes his head, taking another long look at Patrick, his eyes almost begging him to say something. Patrick presses his lips together, trying his hardest not to let his lower lip tremble.

"Sharpy's right," Jonny finally says, sounding bitter. "You are acting like an idiot."

With that, he turns, and all Patrick can do is watch him leave, thinking about how he probably won't ever get to be curled up into his side with Jonny sighing mockingly into his ear again, pretending to be annoyed but pulling him in nonetheless. For one short moment, he considers running after him. Jonny would probably listen if Patrick tried to say something, and he could always kiss him in case he runs out of words—he wants that so badly—but the front door of Jonny's cabin falls shut, and the moment is gone.

-

For a few days, he doesn't see Jonny. It takes all of his power not to look out of his window in the morning, or not turning his head when he walks by Jonny’s cabin. He spends a lot of time in bed—on his phone, reading, staring into the darkness at night. Sometimes he can hear new guests arriving and Jonny talking to them, sometimes he hears the boat and footsteps, but they make sure not to run into each other.

He goes on his run after Jonny's done with yoga and hangs out at the dock when he knows Jonny won't be down. It feels crazy how much they know each other's habits, but it only makes sense that he knows every one of Jonny's quirks, considering how often they hung out.

One time, they run into each other at the lake. Jonny's packing up his rod and the small bucket of fish, and Patrick slows down instinctively, palms getting a little sweaty. Jonny still looks gorgeous, moving around with strong, graceful movements. It's easy to admit that he misses him, everything that comes with hanging out with Jonny—the teasing and bickering, the chitchat, the comfortable silence, the sex. How easy everything felt when Jonny would slide his arms around Patrick's waist.

They carefully avoid eye contact as they pass each other, the tension so thick that it's hard to breathe. Patrick bites his lip before he says something dumb, tightening his hands into fists so he can't reach out, keeping his head down.

Eventually though, he'll have to make some kind of decision on when it’s time to leave the cabin for the winter. Him and Jonny are not talking, so whatever that thing was, it's over now. If anything, that's one more reason to leave.

Without Jonny's veggies and fish, he has to make a few more trips into town, and it's getting colder and colder. In the morning, fog has started to appear. Sometimes it’s just small clouds dusting the lake, but most days it’s dense fog shrouding the water, and Patrick remembers Jonny warning him that it will happen as the days get colder. The wind turns from a comfortable breeze into something sharper and icier, and sometimes it's impossible to go swimming without freezing to death. Patrick finds himself trading his shirts and tank tops for hoodies more often nowadays. Since he never came up with a plan on what he'd do once winter rolled around, he seriously needs to figure it out.

Jonny doesn't look like he's leaving the cabin any time soon, but Patrick would rather be stuck in a snowstorm and freeze to death in the mountains than ask Jonny for advice. So he either leaves the cabin eventually and comes back in the spring, coping with living next to Jonny. Or he sells the place over the winter and finds somewhere else to live. And the thing is—Patrick liked it here. The mountains, the lake, occasionally running into guests but never feeling watched. After hating life in Chicago and Buffalo, the cabin is the closest he's had to settling down, and he doesn't want to give it up.

Sharpy was right about that one thing—he's tired of running.

-

Calling his mom is the hardest thing he's done since the press conference where he had to announce his retirement officially. They haven't talked since Sharpy left, which was weeks ago. He hasn't talked to anyone other than the shop assistants in the village since then. Just a few years ago the bare thought of such lack of human interaction would have driven him nuts, but it was peaceful, despite all the feelings of guilt.

There's no way Sharpy hasn't talked to his mom about his visit, so saying Patrick's feeling wary about calling home would be an understatement.

He's terrified.

It's always a possibility to book a flight and travel home without telling anyone, but not being able to anticipate his family's reaction is even more intimidating. So he calls, pacing in small circles around the living room, the phone pressed tightly to his cheek, sending a prayer to heaven that maybe Sharpy didn’t speak too poorly of him.

His mom's voice is quiet, dangerously neutral as she says hello. She doesn't have to say anything to remind him that he's never gone so long without talking to her.

"I thought—" he says quietly into the tense silence. "I was thinking I'd fly back next week. The weather is still calm, but I should head out before it gets worse."

He can tell that she doesn't believe it, that she won't believe it until he's at their doorstep in Buffalo, and he closes his eyes for a short second, breathing through the wave of emotions when she remains silent.

"Do you think—is that okay?"

Now, there's warmth in her voice—a distant skeptical warmth, but warmth nonetheless.

"Of course. You know your room is always ready. How long are you going to stay?"

He breathes in. "For a while."

It's vague enough to give him an excuse if it gets too much, and maybe he needs the assurance that he hasn't made any promises. Buffalo is and always will be home, but it was not the same anymore when he left.

"We'll pick you up from the airport," she promises, her voice soft.

He planned on getting a rental car—he prefers driving himself nowadays—but at least she's trying, and he'll be fine. It's not a long car ride anyway.

-

So he books a flight and starts gathering his stuff to head to Buffalo. Most of the clothes can stay here, and some of the books he’s collected, too. It takes a while to find all the documents—his passport and his visa—and he spends a good amount of time kneeling on the floor, digging through his dresser drawers, having a distant memory of tossing everything important in here on his very first day.

When he finally gets up, his back reminds him harshly that he should not be bent over for so long, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. He winces in pain, a small groan leaving his lips.

-

It gets progressively worse over the next few days. A few times he's about to swallow his pride and ask for Jonny's weed, because that did help a little—whether it was placebo or the pot itself. But then he doesn't, because they don't talk anymore, and he's not going to come crawling back and confirm that he needs Jonny.

He doesn't. He's fine, he's made it through worse pain.

-

His flight leaves Canada late in the afternoon, so there's plenty of time to head to the airport, but he barely makes it out of bed. When he tries pushing himself up, his back hurts so bad that a whimper leaves his mouth, eyes watering. Fuck. It's ten times worse than yesterday, and he already needed an insane amount of painkillers to fall asleep.

After twenty minutes he makes it into the kitchen, inhaling another handful of pills. They don't do much for him these days, but he can barely lift his arms and turning his head is unthinkable. He should cancel the trip, but that's not an option, so he takes another painkiller, just to be sure, lets his eyes fall shut, and breathes through the pain for a moment.

He's got several hours in a car ahead of him, but even carrying his bags to the car seems like an impossible task. He was stupid not to load the trunk over the last few days. And once he's made it to the airport he'll have to sit in an uncomfortable airplane seat and catch a connecting flight. He's so, so fucked.

Loading the car is agonizing. Bending down is excruciating, so it's even a struggle to lift a bag, let alone carry it to the car and make the way back inside the cabin to grab the next one. He's sweaty and exhausted and gritting his teeth when he sees Jonny slowly stepping onto his porch, watching him as he drags the last bag to the car. He's the last person Patrick wants to see right now.

Jonny makes a small noise, his face closed off, but his brows are furrowed. "You're leaving?"

"No, I'm packing the car for fun." It's probably more aggressive than it's meant to sound.

Jonny snorts, folding his arms across his chest. "You look like you need help."

"I'm perfectly fine, thank you."

"You don't look perfectly fine."

"Yeah? Why do you care?"

This time, Jonny's snort sounds a lot more bothered. "Seriously? Do you still think I was pretending to care about you?"

Patrick bites his lip as he locks the front door, wobbling down the stairs, almost falling. It hurts so fucking bad, but he's not going to start crying in front of Jonny. It's a close thing because at this point, it's hard to distinguish the back pain from frustration and anger and how much it hurts to be fighting with Jonny.

"Pat—" Jonny says softly when he braces himself against the railing and inhales. "How exactly are you going to drive a car like this?"

He doesn't know yet, but he'll figure it out. He keeps his mouth shut and pushes his chin forward, slowly making his way to the driver's side.

"Patrick," Jonny repeats, a little firmer. "Where are you even going? Buffalo?"

"Well, I was planning on going to the airport first," he says, realizing that it sounds like the weak attempt of a joke when Jonny cracks a smile. He grimaces in response.

"And— uh— you think sitting on a plane is a good idea right now?"

Of course it isn't. But his mom will be disappointed if he doesn't make it, and he couldn't stand seeing her like that. There's only so many times he can let her down.

"I won't miss the flight," he insists. Why are they even having this conversation? Apparently, because Jonny is keen on getting into Patrick's personal business, because he shakes his head, huffing out a deep breath.

"Just cancel it and fly out later," he says. "You can't even stand upright."

Patrick knows. He doesn't need to be told and he huffs back, determined to ignore him, but he's so slow as he tries to open the door of the car that Jonny could easily make himself a cup of coffee before moving in to block his way.

"If you want to kill yourself in an airplane seat—fine, that's not my problem," he says, his voice harsh now. "But you can't drive a car like this."

"Well, I will board that plane." He keeps looking at Jonny, meeting his dark, stern eyes, unwilling to back down, and it's a silent staring contest that would be funny if Patrick didn't want to punch Jonny's annoyingly gorgeous face. He has nice lips, the scar on his upper lip overwhelmingly familiar. Patrick never appreciated them enough.

"Fine," Jonny finally snaps. "Give me the keys."

"What?"

"Give me the keys." Jonny extends his hand, unimpressed. "I'll drive you. Or do you think I'm going to let you behind the wheel when you can't even turn your head?"

He would argue except that he knows the determination in Jonny's eyes. There's no point in talking back.

"Fuck you," he says half-heartedly, holding onto the key for so long that Jonny has to yank it out of his hands.

"Get in the car," he says, sounding a lot like Patrick's mom when he was a kid. Jonny himself goes back into the house—probably to grab his wallet and keys—but he's back before Patrick's managed to walk around the car.

Being on this side of the vehicle feels wrong. He hasn't been in a passenger seat for so long. His palms get sweaty when he finds the seatbelt on the wrong side of his shoulder before buckling up, wincing at the movement.

Subconsciously, he's already nibbling at his thumb, pulling small pieces of skin off until he realizes that they're already on the road, a small pool of blood forming on his thumb. Jonny catches him as he wipes it off and Patrick braces himself for the chirps about his lips and mouth, but it never comes. His chest feels tight at the reminder that things are different now.

It's going to be an awkward few hours with Jonny in the car and nowhere to go, but he's almost grateful that he isn't driving as he sinks into the car seat. Jonny puts the radio on, effectively avoiding all conversation for the first hour. Patrick's in so much pain that he's almost numb by now. He has given up on trying to find a comfortable position, but Jonny keeps glancing over even though he keeps his mouth shut. It takes a long time for him to finally clear his throat. Patrick lost track of where they are and how many miles they have ahead of them.

"I'm glad you’re flying back."

He sighs. "Can we not talk about it?"

Jonny huffs, but for once keeps his mouth shut.

"Will you come back to the lake though?" he asks after another minute.

Patrick's not sure why Jonny cares, but he shrugs before he can stop himself. They're going to be crammed into this car for another few hours, so they might as well make some small talk.

"I mean—" He manages a smile that feels like a grimace, but Jonny's watching the traffic light, so he probably doesn't notice. "The neighbor is a dick—has been bugging me for months now. But the scenery makes it worth it."

To his relief, Jonny smirks. He turns his head with a fond expression that makes Patrick grin back helplessly.

"You are an asshole."

"Sorry if you can't handle the truth," he replies easily, relaxing into his seat because, apparently, he didn't fuck up badly enough for Jonny to refuse to talk to him. Even if it's just to make time pass by faster.

Jonny snorts back, and they fall silent again, but the grin remains on his face for a while, and Patrick can't help the relief washing over him. No matter what's going to happen or where he ends up next summer—Patrick doesn't want to be fighting with Jonny.

It must be the effect of all the painkillers that's making him drowsy, or maybe it's the soft rock music coming from the speakers, the sounds of guitars, as the scenery flies by—trees and bushes and rocks all blurring together as the road stretches out endlessly in front of them. The sharp pain shifts into a dull ache and Patrick means to close his eyes just for a few seconds, but then he can't bring himself to open them again. The air conditioning is blowing cool air straight at his arms and face, and Patrick falls asleep to the voice of the singer filling the silence, Jonny humming along with him.

We haven't seen a thing
We still don't know where it is
It's a safe mistake

His head falls to the window and he considers stretching out his legs, but his back is doing okay in this position and he doesn't want to test his luck. Jonny's tapping his fingers along the steering wheel, matching the rhythm of the drums. Patrick can picture the happy grin on his face, the way his eyes will be all bright and soft. There's going to be a void in his life when he's back in Buffalo, one that Jonny easily filled without Patrick ever noticing.

It's been a long time running
It's been a long time coming

He dozes off as the echo of the last sounds of the guitar fade into the next song, the engine running softly in the background like a lullaby.

-

When he wakes up, music is still playing, the air conditioning still running. The car seems hotter now and Patrick's back is feeling even worse than before his nap. He's got the taste of sleep in his mouth, his face feels hot, his eyes a little swollen, and the sun is shining down right on the windshield, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut again, tiny white dots dancing behind his closed eyelids. Every nerve in Patrick’s back starts protesting when he turns his head, but he forces himself to look at Jonny who's squinting against the sun, wrinkles around his eyes, glancing back at him.

"How long—" Patrick's voice cracks and he has to clear his throat. It still feels painfully tight, like only a small portion of the oxygen he inhales reaches his lungs, and he fights the desire to gulp in air as if he'd just been held underwater. His entire body is tingling. He squeezes his eyes shut for another second, winces at the sun when he opens them again, and makes another attempt at clearing his throat. "How long was I asleep?"

Jonny glances at the time, then back at him. "Not long, half an hour maybe."

So, there's still a good portion of the way ahead of them. Patrick nods and sits up a little straighter, ignoring the pain in his back. The sun is so fucking bright.

"Pat," Jonny says softly, his voice full of concern. "Are you okay?"

It's his harsh breaths filling the car, he realizes. His chest feels just as tight as his throat and his heart feels like it's about to beat out of his chest, his hands shaking when he curls them into fists, but that doesn't stop the trembling, so he digs his fingernails into the meat of his thigh instead.

"I'm fine," he forces out, his voice sounding unnaturally high-pitched.

His shoulders are shaking, too. His entire body is shuddering like that one time in fifth grade when he had a fever and his parents contemplated taking him to the hospital. Except that he doesn't remember feeling this terrible back then. The air in the car is too hot, the air conditioning coming out too cold, and Patrick's skin feels like it's on fire. And he still can't fucking breathe, every inhale only tightening his throat and chest.

He's going to die. They're going too fast and the world around them is spinning and none of this feels real except the deep certainty that he's going to die.

Jonny tears his eyes off him to flip the sun visor down and Patrick starts gulping in air without meaning to.

"Stop," he chokes out. "Stop, stop, stop."

He doesn't even know if he's talking to himself or Jonny, but Jonny slows the car down immediately, his eyes wide when he pulls over to the side of the road. Patrick is still shaking like a leaf.

"Pat—" Jonny says, panicked. "Patrick."

He's not sure if he's breathing too fast or too slow or if any of the oxygen reaches his brain at all. He might throw up—he's dizzy and disorientated, but he can't force the words out to warn Jonny. The back pain that was driving him crazy is gone, his entire body numb.

"I—" he starts, feeling his breakfast sandwich travel back up. He whimpers and goes for the seatbelt. He needs to get out of this car now. But his hands are trembling so hard that he can't coordinate the movements and he needs Jonny to help, freeing him from the seatbelt and leaning over his lap to push the door wide open.

Fresh air hits him as he stumbles out of the car and onto the patch of grass to the right of the road. He takes two steps, pushes his hands on his knees, bent over, panting, waiting to throw up, tears prickling at the corner of his eyes. If he wasn't so concerned with puking he might roll into a ball right there on the side of the road and wait for the moment to pass.

Jonny must come around the car—a hand lands on his shoulder but Patrick jerks like Jonny punched him, the touch prickling uncomfortably on his skin even through his sweat-drenched shirt. Before he can push the hand away, Jonny drops it and takes a step back, saying something that doesn't reach Patrick's brain. The distance between them makes breathing a little easier.

His nausea fades slowly, reality creeping back in again. He's able to breathe again, he's not shaking and trembling anymore, and he almost welcomes the back pain again—relieved to have something that feels grounding. Being crouched over makes it worse and his knees are still wobbly, so he lies down at the side of the road, staring at the blue sky, wondering if the ground will swallow him up if he stays here long enough.

"Pat," Jonny says again, softer.

He sits down next to Patrick but doesn't try to reach out again, and Patrick concentrates on the sound of Jonny's breath—slow and steady, tries to sync his own rhythm with his—while he waits for his heart rate to return to normal, for the world to stop spinning around him, for his throat and chest to feel lighter and the feeling of being on fire to fade away.

Eventually, he feels around for Jonny's hand, the pavement rough under his fingertips until he finds it, and Jonny squeezes and keeps holding on, his thumb rubbing over the back of Patrick's hand in slow circles. Occasionally, he hears cars speed by, every new engine sound making Patrick wince, and Jonny holds on tighter.

"I'm sorry," he whispers when the panic has finally been replaced by the humiliation he knew would come.

Jonny doesn't let go of his hand as he moves to lean against the side of the truck. "Don't apologize."

It must be quite the scene, two men sitting and lying next to a road in the middle of nowhere. If Patrick wasn't so busy avoiding Jonny's eyes he might be able to smile at the idea.

Jonny clears his throat. "That was about the accident, right?" He sounds hesitant, like maybe he's scared Patrick's going to attack him for bringing it up. "The one that ended your career?"

Patrick's tried so hard to push all the memories away, but it's easy to recall every single detail, the sudden impact of the crash, things flying through the car, their horrified screams filling the air and the deep, deafening silence afterwards. He stares at the sky, watching a cloud move over the sun.

"Yeah," he whispers. There's no point in denying it—he knows Jonny must have read about it in the papers back when it happened. He clears his throat. Maybe he owes Jonny an explanation, even though he has clearly pieced the puzzle together already. "I don't like being in the passenger seat anymore. It feels like I have no control over the car, and that freaks me out."

Understanding flashes in Jonny's eyes as he nods. "Has this happened before?"

Patrick finally pushes himself up, leans his head back against the car and inhales. They're still holding hands and he should pull away—his palm is sweaty and gross—but he desperately needs something steady to hold onto and Jonny doesn’t seem to mind.

He grimaces. "It hasn't happened in months. And it’s never been this bad. I thought I had it under control but—it never—I try not to think about it." He has to clear his throat. "The accident, I mean. I have some memories of the crash, and I remember being in the hospital and rehab, but it's always like it's a snippet from a movie I saw. It doesn't feel like it happened to me.”

There's a moment of silence, but Jonny looks at him like he understands at least some of it, like he’s gotten a tiny glimpse of what it’s been like. Patrick doesn't think anyone will ever truly get it—God knows he’s tried to explain—but sitting here with Jonny feels like the closest anyone's ever come to understanding.

"I was—in that car—" he adds shakily. "After it happened. I was awake in the car. I don't know how long, but I remember lying there and I couldn't move, couldn't hear anything. It was so quiet around us. And I thought—I thought my friend was dead. I was positive he hadn't made it."

He’s never said that part out loud, but he so desperately wants Jonny to know. He wants him to know Patrick's side of the story—not the run-down version he’s read in the news, accompanied by a dramatic picture of a wrecked car.

"Did he—" Jonny's voice cracks. "He did make it though, right?"

"Better than me." A bitter laugh escapes Patrick's throat. "He was bruised up and concussed but got out of the hospital pretty quickly. He was the one driving, but it wasn't his fault. He was blinded by the sun and it just—it just happened. Nothing he could have done."

For a moment, all he can hear is the sound of both of them breathing. Then, Jonny squeezes his hand again.

"I was—I mean, I was lucky," he adds, his throat feeling dry. "The doctors told me it's a miracle I didn't end up in a wheelchair. But I was done with hockey as soon as they got me out of the wreckage. I guess I should be happy. It could have gone so much worse, but it's so hard when—" His voice cracks and refuses to let him finish the sentence.

"When you lost hockey," Jonny adds for him, and all he manages is a nod, wiping his hand over his eyes. There's a short silence, then Jonny makes a small noise. "I don't think it's fair to ask anyone to be grateful for what didn't happen when they went through a lot of shit. You lost your job and your passion. You're still in pain. You're allowed to be angry."

That’s—not what he's used to hearing. If people had the courage to say something to his face, it was always a comment that he shouldn’t feel sorry for himself, that he was lucky not to be in a wheelchair, that he had already won a Stanley Cup, that it's just a game—even though it's always been so much more.

"No one has ever said that."

"Well—" Jonny huffs. "I'm saying it."

Patrick cracks a smile, shaking his head. Now that he's started talking to Jonny, he can't stop, the words pouring out of his mouth like his mind was just waiting for him to find the courage to open up.

"I try to avoid reminders of what it was like before all that. So, I don't skate anymore, and I don't watch hockey."

He's so, so thankful that Jonny only hums and squeezes his hand like it's okay. Like it isn't unhealthy, like he isn't running away from everything that’s ever made him happy. And it's enough to sit in silence for now—cars driving by, branches occasionally cracking when animals make their way through the trees.

"Do you think you'll be fine in the passenger seat for the rest of the drive?" Jonny asks eventually, turning his head.

Well—they're in the middle of nowhere somewhere in—Manitoba? Ontario? Patrick's not sure anymore. But if he doesn't want to sleep in the woods, he has little choice, and he's feeling like himself again, not like he's having an out of body experience witnessing his own death.

"I better be," he says, making a face. "I can't miss the flight."

Jonny snorts. "You will miss your flight because I sure as hell won't let you board it after this."

His glare is almost a challenge to disagree. Patrick wants to because if he doesn't return home now, he'll fuck things up in a way he'll never be able to fix with his family. It will be one broken promise too many. But his back pain is agonizing, and the bare thought of getting into the car is enough to make his hands shake. He'll have to make his way through the airport, sit through the flight, board another flight, grab his luggage, and suffer through the ride home. All that while he's drenched in sweat, ready to pass out any second, his mind racing. He's never going to make it.

He groans quietly, blinking away tears as he nods, defeated.

"I'll drive us to Winnipeg," Jonny says softly. "It's closer and—don't kill me for saying this, but maybe you shouldn't go back to the cottage for now and just—move back into your usual routine. My parents won't mind if we stay for a few days. You can rest and fly home once you're feeling better."

Meeting Jonny's parents is not how he imagined this day would go. But Jonny's right. He can't go back. He needs to move forward even if he doesn't know where to. The cabin is not the place where he should be figuring it out though.

He must look defeated because Jonny squeezes his hand, offering, "I can call your parents for you, if you want."

It's cowardly, but to be frank with himself, his mom will be less worried if Jonny talks to her than listen to Patrick bullshit his way through another call. He nods, feeling shitty but too tired to care. Maybe, if he's lucky, the fatigue will be worse than his pain and he'll sleep through the rest of the drive. Jonny squeezes his hand one last time before letting go, and Patrick fights the weird urge to hold on, grabbing the hem of his own shirt instead.

Jonny moves to sit in the car, but Patrick can hear him talk, his voice quiet and calm—a distant murmur that lets Patrick's eyes fall shut, selfishly grateful that he's been able to avoid making this call. The conversation must be insanely awkward for Jonny when he has never seen or spoken to Patrick's mom before. His mom doesn't even know Jonny exist, and now he has to break the news to her that her son isn’t coming home.

Jonny is in the truck for a few minutes and Patrick anxiously looks at his face, searching for any bad sign when he walks round it again.

"She's worried," Jonny says with a shrug. When is she not? "But not mad, I don’t think. She thanked me for calling, asked a few times if I’m sure you're okay. She told me to say hi. To tell you that you don't have to feel guilty."

That's—good? He's not sure what he expected.

Patrick nods in response. "What did you tell her?"

"The truth," Jonny says quietly. "That you're in pain. That you had a panic attack in the car. That you're okay now and I am going to drive you home."

He didn't expect Jonny to lie to his mom about anything. It's for the best, Patrick never could have brought himself to admit any of it out loud, but she deserves the honesty.

Jonny silently hands him a water bottle and Patrick takes a sip, the cool water running down his throat feeling incredibly good. He almost inhales a few gulps and they spend a few minutes passing the bottle between them, Jonny's thigh pressed against his where they're sitting. After a while, the ground is too uncomfortable, and maybe it's a good thing that his back hurts so much because it's serious motivation to get back into the car.

-

Jonny does a pretty obvious attempt of keeping him occupied after that. He keeps making small talk, rambling about anything that seems to come to his mind, and Patrick happily listens and answers if it means he's too preoccupied to worry.

"Five more minutes," Jonny announces, passing by another sign pointing out that Winnipeg is close. "I told my parents we'd be coming, and my mom said she’ll have some food prepared if you're hungry. You can use my old room to sleep."

He nods, relief washing over him when Jonny finally pulls up into the driveway of one of the houses. In any other situation, Patrick would be curiously looking out the window, studying the neighborhood Jonny grew up in when he wasn't at the cabin, but his neck and back are stiff as a board and he's too busy being concerned about not being able to get out of the car.

"Don't worry about the bags," Jonny says, parking the car. "I'll get them."

Patrick pretty much falls out of the car, grimacing and wincing, barely paying attention to the house and how awkward this entire situation is, because Jonny's parents definitely know who he is. In contrast to Patrick, Jonny talks to his family and mentions any new neighbors, but they act like it's normal for their son to randomly come home, an ex-hockey player who can barely hold himself together in tow, trembling, his clothes soaked with sweat.

Jonny's mom doesn't seem to care much because she hugs Patrick, holding him tight for a few seconds, the worry in Jonny's eyes mirrored in hers as she lets go.

"It must be such a relief to get out of that car," she says and Patrick nods weakly, too tired to care about what Jonny told her or try to follow the conversation as she turns to Jonny and switches to French. Patrick might not understand a single word of what she’s saying, but her voice is soft and soothing and makes him feel welcome. "Vous voulez monter tout de suite? J'ai pas encore eu le temps de changer les draps."

Jonny waves his hand like he’s dismissing something, shaking his head and replying with a string of French words, his mom nodding back in response. Patrick’s never heard him talk in French. If he wasn’t a physical and emotional wreck he’d have the energy to find it incredibly hot. Now though, he’s leaning into Jonny’s side for support, hunched over like an old witch from a fairy tale, barely able to breathe at a normal pace.

"You look like you need to rest," Jonny's mom—Andrée—says to him while he's pausing, clinging to the handrail of the stairs. "Jonny will bring up some food and you can eat it upstairs."

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

"Oh, don't worry about it," she says, the same warmth to her voice when she’s speaking English. "Our son's friends are always welcome."

Jonny's old childhood room turns out to be a small but cozy room. There's a shelf by the window, childhood and family pictures sitting on it, a guitar propped against the wall underneath the window, and a bookshelf at the other side of the bed, filled to the brim with books, old CDs and games, looking like Jonny shoved a bunch of stuff into it without any system of organization. The desk is just as messy, cluttered with documents and office supplies. Even as a child, Jonny must have been somewhat of a slob.

The room contains only a single bed, so that saves Patrick the awkwardness of trying to figure out if Jonny plans on sharing.

"So, where are you—" He gestures towards the bed and Jonny looks up from where he's changing the sheets.

"Oh, I'll take the couch," he says, shrugging. "And if you're going to suggest sleeping on the couch yourself, I'll punch you."

It's too tempting to sink into the sheets and let his eyes fall shut, so Patrick doesn't protest. Jonny has to help him out of his shirt, which is almost as humiliating as the panic attack, but Jonny's being good about it—firmly ignoring the sexual tension, making sure his fingers don't accidentally brush over Patrick's naked skin. Jonny has helped him undress so many times, but it always involved boners and way more kissing. It’s weird to keep it so chaste now, the way Jonny is still so gentle with him.

"Mom's making crêpes," Jonny says once Patrick's flat on his back—the mattress heavenly soft, the sheets fresh and clean. "I promise they're the best. I'd go for chocolate if I were you, and I can bring some fruit too."

He hasn't eaten in hours and while he's still not particularly hungry, the crêpes do sound tempting. It's not how he imagined this day to go—breathing through serious pain as he's lying motionless on Jonny's childhood bed, waiting for Jonny to serve him his mom's home-cooked food—but his entire life isn't turning out the way he thought it would go.

Jonny comes back a little later, holding a plate with a bunch of crêpes draped on top of each other, soaked in chocolate syrup that smells heavenly sweet. It's a gesture that he isn't sure he deserves.

"My mom used to make these for me when I was a kid," Jonny says, sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, munching on a crêpe, a happy glint in his eyes. "They're good, eh?"

It's easy to admit that. Andrée drenched them in chocolate syrup and Patrick instinctively hesitates, even if he doesn't have to stress about his diet anymore. Jonny keeps telling him about growing up in Winnipeg as they eat, then leaves to grab more food. He's holding a rolled joint in his other hand when he gets back and it's hard to tell which thing is more exciting.

"Won't your parents mind?" Patrick asks carefully when they're done with the crêpes. He's on his back again, staring at the ceiling, so he can hear Jonny shake his head more than he sees it.

"They don't care."

He lights the joint for Patrick and somehow finds the space to squeeze into the bed next to him. His shoulder and arm are pressed against Patrick's, and Patrick's not sure if he'd move even if he could. Jonny takes a hit of the joint before passing it over—the smoke evaporating in the air above their faces, little clouds fading away at the ceiling like the fog gathering over the lake.

Patrick's able to relax for the first time today—letting his eyes fall shut and breathe and forget that he's in pain, letting the exhaustion engulf him rather than pushing it away.

"Thanks," he says after a long time, feeling lighter than a few minutes ago. "For—I don't know. Everything. For being there for so long. For giving me time. And for today—just—thank you."

"I do care, you know?" Jonny's voice is quiet and soft, but he still sounds hurt. Patrick swallows and passes the joint back, waiting for them to have traded it back and forth a few times before he clears his throat.

"I know," he says. "I'm sorry."

Jonny hums next to him. "And I'm sorry for calling you an idiot."

It's nice to hear, but Patrick's not sure if the apology is warranted. "I think I deserved that."

"Yeah, and I stand by it," Jonny says, the smile audible in his voice. "But I shouldn't have said it."

Fair enough. Patrick snorts while Jonny turns over onto his stomach, gesturing for Patrick to follow. It's not as smooth as Jonny's motion and a lot more painful—he's hissing and wincing—but then Jonny starts running his hand along his back and it was more than worth it.

The weed kicks in quickly, making him feel fuzzy and dopey and he's almost comfortable, Jonny switching between running his fingertips lightly along his spine and rubbing the ball of his hand along it with soft pressure. Patrick doesn't mean to close his eyes, but he does it anyway—just for a minute—and his eyelids feel too heavy to open them again.

-

It takes a few minutes after waking up to remember where he is. Jonny is gone, which is more disappointing than it should be—he considers getting up to look for him, but his back still hurts and it's dark outside already. He fell asleep during the day, so the family must be sleeping, and it feels wrong to sneak around the house even if he were able to move.

On the bedside table is a tray with some orange juice and sandwiches, so there's no other reason to leave the room in the middle of the night. He wouldn't even know what to tell Jonny if he asked why he went looking for him.

Jonny has some old Donald Duck comic books in his bookshelf, so Patrick spends half the night flipping through them while he waits for the sun to rise. His eyes catch on the guitar a few times and he can’t help but imagine Jonny sitting around a fire at the cabin, singing along while he plays Canadian country songs, wondering if Jonny still plays.

He gets out of bed eventually, and the house is still dark except for the dimmed lights in the kitchen where Jonny's sipping a mug of coffee while scrambling some eggs. There is no door between the kitchen and living room—he can see Jonny's blanket and pillow on the couch, still rumpled and messy, like he just rolled out of them five minutes ago, like maybe they’re still warm from his body. Patrick can't help but smile at the sight, Jonny looking all cozy and soft, dressed in sweatpants and a loose shirt.

"Still in pain?" he asks quietly when Patrick slowly gets up the three steps from the living room into the kitchen like he has to climb Mount Everest.

"Yeah but—it's not as bad as yesterday."

"Did you sleep okay?"

The worry in Jonny's eyes is sincere, and Patrick suddenly has to swallow around a lump in his throat. After everything he's said to him, he doesn't deserve his worry or Jonny still looking out and taking care of him.

"Yeah."

They eat breakfast quietly—everyone else seems to be asleep, but Jonny's mom joins them halfway through it, acting like it's no big deal that Patrick's in her house.

"Does your mom know you're here?" she asks, holding a mug of tea between her hands.

"I called," Jonny answers before Patrick has a chance to open his mouth. "She knows he's staying here until his back is better."

"Good." Andrée offers a smile. "You're welcome to stay as long as you want of course, but we wouldn't want your mom to worry."

She reaches for his hand on the table and gives it a light squeeze. Patrick's starting to see where Jonny got his heart of gold.

David has to drive up to the cabin after breakfast—guests are supposed to arrive late in the afternoon—and Jonny insists on staying in Winnipeg with Patrick which, if he's honest, he's not sure what to make of. He settles on continuously saying sorry for the inconvenience until David laughs and shrugs, already halfway in the truck.

"Dude, don't apologize. I’ve been wanting to spend a few days up there for ages, so, actually, I should thank you for handing me an excuse."

It's only Jonny and his parents after that, but Patrick doesn't see too much of them once his back is good enough to leave the bed. They both seem to be busy with work, and it's not quite the same as it was back at the cabins, but he still selfishly enjoys having Jonny mostly for himself during the day. Jonny still sleeps on the couch but hangs out in his old room with Patrick quite a bit since the weather is rainy and cloudy all the time. It's surprisingly easy. Jonny doesn't act differently—doesn't bring up hockey or his panic attack, or the fact that he's still putting off flying back to Buffalo.

It's a bubble he's living in—borrowed time—that will burst eventually when he can't push the thought of leaving Winnipeg away any longer. He's painfully aware of that when Jonny almost falls asleep in the bed Patrick's currently sleeping in, curled up with his head on Patrick's thigh.

"You should sleep," he says quietly, fighting the urge to run his hands through Jonny's short hair. He has no idea where they stand at the moment.

"Mm." Jonny's eyes are closed, and he's looking all peaceful and pretty. "In a bit. I'm too comfortable to get up right now."

"You—uh—you could stay?" He'll probably fall asleep soon, and they'd have to squeeze into the single-bed, but the words have left his lips before his brain has the time to catch up.

Jonny pops one eye open, his expression unreadable. Now, Patrick can't help but reach out and smooth his thumb along Jonny's jaw, heart jumping when Jonny's lips quirk up in a smile.

"Yeah?" Jonny asks softly. "You don't mind?"

Patrick shakes his head and then Jonny pulls him down, manipulating Patrick into lying half on top of Jonny and in his arms. He braces his chin on Jonny's chest, so he can look at him and Jonny grins, gently running his fingers through his hair.

They hadn’t stopped touching each other altogether, leaning into each other's sides, hands brushing whenever they hand each other something. But it's the closest they've been since Sharpy decided to pay him a surprise visit.

God, Sharpy. Patrick still has some serious talking to do with him.

"I don't wanna leave," he confesses, watching Jonny's face shift from fondness to worry.

Jonny brushes his hand over his jaw, tucking a curl behind his ear. Maybe he should have Jonny cut his hair again before he leaves. It's too long again.

"What are you gonna do in Buffalo?" he asks, his hand resting on Patrick's neck—a firm, gentle weight.

"Fix things, I guess. I don't know how but—"

When he trails off Jonny hums. "Your family loves you. And Sharpy—he'll come around."

"How would you know?" Patrick attempts a grin. "You barely know each other."

"He told me."

"You guys talked?"

Jonny's soft smirk is a little irritating. "Of course we talked, Pat."

"What did you tell him?"

Jonny sighs, taking a moment to pause, his eyes never leaving Patrick's. "That I could tell that you have good and bad days. That you got quiet sometimes and wouldn’t talk for hours. And—" Jonny twists a strand of hair around his finger. "That I think it's time for you to get back to Buffalo and figure out what's going to come next. I always figured you would do that, eventually."

Even the thought of tomorrow is terrifying—how is he supposed to know what will come next year or five years down the road? All his life he's known that he would be a hockey player, and then he lost it all in the blink of an eye with no Plan B.

"I'm glad we're talking," Jonny adds after a few minutes of silence. "There was all that stuff I knew you wouldn't want to talk about. And I didn't want to bring it up, I thought you would once you were ready."

Somehow, Patrick feels warm and light, more secure and comfortable than he has in a long time, Jonny's arm tightly wrapped around his body. Maybe it's easier to talk about it after Jonny witnessed him at his worst and didn't run away, maybe it's because he wasn't there when Patrick was spending all day staring at the ceiling of a hospital.

Somewhere inside of him, the longing to talk was always there. Maybe it’s the unwavering support from Jonny, that he knew all along what Patrick was not acknowledging, that he never shied away or treated him like a fragile boy—maybe it's knowing that Jonny always had his back that makes him feel ready to share everything with him now.

"After the accident—" he says slowly, struggling to get the words out. It feels important to do this right, to make Jonny understand. "After I was out of the hospital, I wouldn’t talk to anyone. The people around me kept looking at me with nothing but pity and walked on eggshells—it drove me crazy. So I went back to Chicago thinking I'd get my old life back, but it was never the same. I wasn't part of the team anymore. They kept trying to include me, but I always felt out of place. I didn't even know half of them anymore. I was always the odd guy out, so I started ignoring everyone and moved back to Buffalo. And then everyone kept talking about finding another job, and that it's been so long, and that I should find something to do. But I wasn’t even able to wrap my head around never playing hockey again, and it was so much pressure that I left again. I knew everyone worried, but I felt so lonely all the time."

And then Jonny ended up being there—offering help and shared activities, making Patrick feel right at home. The softness in his eyes is so different now. Deeper somehow, still as genuine, but there's something else to it, a familiarity that kept creeping in over these past months. Patrick's unable to look away.

"I couldn't even stand being in the same room with other people," he adds, his voice soft. "But hanging out with you? You never expected me to act a certain way. It was fine for me not to talk and you wouldn't judge that. So hanging out with you—that was always easy."

Jonny nods—he doesn't have to say anything for Patrick to know that it's been natural for him too. Easy in a way it hadn’t been with other people, more comfortable and relaxed and intimate. He bends down and kisses the side of Jonny's neck, feeling a little sheepish at Jonny's soft smile. There's more between them than just Jonny offering a helpful hand. Maybe they can let themselves explore that.

"You'll come back, right?" Jonny whispers. "Once you have some of it sorted out?"

"You can come with me," Patrick says, knowing already what Jonny's going to say. It's still a disappointment when he shakes his head.

"I think you need to figure out a few things first."

Now it's Patrick who nods. They spend a while looking at each other, a melancholic atmosphere in the air while Jonny moves his fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck in gentle circles.

"You can call me," Jonny says eventually. "Anytime. No matter what. I think you should talk to your family, clear the air. But I'm here if you want to talk—I hope you know that."

"I don't know how long it'll take," he says. "Probably—quite some time."

There's so much he'll have to talk about that it will take years to make up for all the crap he has pulled. He thinks Jonny knows that, though.

"Pat, you mean a lot to me. I won't—I can wait for you to take some time for yourself. I can visit. Or you can fly out for a weekend. I want to make it work. And I think we can."

"Yeah?" he asks, his throat dry. He can picture it already, the two of them back at the cabin next summer—fishing, kayaking, swimming, talking more than ever. He wants that so badly.

Jonny hums, the two of them silently looking at each other for a while. Patrick can’t pinpoint the exact moment Jonny became more than just a friend to him. Maybe it's when that moose made an appearance during their first kayak trip, one of the most magical moments in his life. Maybe it's when they kissed, or when Jonny first fucked him, or when he cut his hair and rubbed his back, or when he told Patrick that he knew about his hockey career and the accident all along. Or maybe it happened even earlier and everything else just made him fall harder for Jonny. Maybe none of it matters anyway.

"I could stay for a few more days," he suggests. "To give us some time to talk. And then I'll leave and—" He barks out a laugh. "And I don't know what will happen then."

"I don't think you need to know." Jonny presses a kiss to his nose, his eyes crinkling at the corners when he smiles. "But I'd like to have you here for a few more days."

Patrick nods and then Jonny's kissing him and he melts into it, wondering if they can have sex without anyone hearing. But Jonny just flips them over so he's spooning Patrick, Patrick's back pressed against his chest, his hand sliding along his ribcage. And that's pretty nice, too, especially now that he knows he won't lose this after all.

-

Jonny takes him to downtown Winnipeg the next day, Patrick’s cap low to avoid being recognized, but he manages to relax and almost enjoy being in public—a first in who knows how many months.

For lunch, Jonny guides them to a small restaurant and they're arguing over who pays for their food when a small boy comes up to their table, holding a pen and a hat with a logo stitched on it that looks overwhelmingly familiar. Patrick's heart drops, the smile falters on his face and Jonny opens and closes his mouth without saying anything.

"Excuse me?" the boy asks. He's maybe five or six years old, wide-eyed and starstruck. "Are you Patrick Kane?"

Patrick has to clear his throat, putting the menu down, trying to force a smile to his lips. "Yeah. Can I help you?"

"Do you mind signing this?" The boy holds the hat and Sharpie up higher and Patrick takes it, scribbling his name next to the Hawks logo, heart pounding in his chest. He feels a tiny burst of pride that his hands aren't shaking.

"You're a Hawks fan?" he asks. He used to love this—interacting with young fans, watching their bright faces, knowing that a simple compliment from him could make their day.

The boy nods, his cheeks flushed.

"I was sad when you retired," he says, and—that's exactly what Patrick was scared of hearing. He forces himself to grin like it's no big deal.

"Me too."

He hands the hat back, a small part of him hoping the boy just takes it and leaves, another part of him feeling terrible about it. There is so much honesty and sincerity in his eyes—a look only a child can get away with. Patrick swallows and takes a sip of water to regain control of his voice. Jonny is still watching him, his face unreadable, only a hint of softness in his eyes.

"You’re my role model," the boy adds. "And I think you're very brave."

"Thanks, buddy," Patrick says. "I appreciate it. Uh—do you want to take a picture, too?"

The boy nods excitedly and pulls out a phone so they can snap a picture, Patrick's grin looking like it's frozen on his face in the small display.

"I was in a car accident, too," the boy says just when Patrick thinks that maybe that's the end of it. Instead, he flinches, his blood running cold. "My mom bought me your jersey when I got out of the hospital. And they let me watch hockey when the pain got really bad."

It's not the first time Patrick's heard a story like this. He couldn't begin to count all of the letters he got from people wishing him well, telling them about their own recovery, more letters later on telling him that he's a source of inspiration, even if he barely read any of them.

It's been so long and he's still running. No one should be inspired by that.

The boy thanks him, thankfully not waiting for a reply and Patrick barely manages a good-bye, his hands trembling now as he reaches for his glass of water, aware that Jonny's watching him as he takes slow and measured sips.

"Sorry," he says, still a reflex when he's outside with people who are not used to being recognized and interrupted.

Jonny huffs. "Don't." He takes a sip of his own water, his eyes dark as he looks over at Patrick. "He was nice."

"Yeah."

Jonny raises an eyebrow at the silence but goes back to flipping through the menu, glancing up until Patrick huffs, putting his own menu down.

"What?" he blurts out. Somehow, the way Jonny is looking at him—silently judging—makes his skin crawl. He's so fucking done with pretending not to see everyone look at him with their stupid concern.

Jonny grimaces. "What what?"

"Just say it, Jonny. Whatever it is, please say it and save us an awkward lunch."

It's not Jonny's fault—they're still figuring so much shit out—but god, not another person looking at him like he could burst into tears if they say something wrong. And not Jonny of all people.  There's only so much he can handle, and the last few days have already been a lot. It seems like it was ages ago that he was watching the lightning with Jonny at the lake.

"Fine." Jonny grimaces again. "I just think it's nice to hear. That you make an impact on people."

"Sure," Patrick says, aiming for sarcastic but missing by a mile. It sounds choked off instead. "Because they have no idea that my best friend hates me, that my mom is sick with worry, that my sisters barely talk to me anymore, that I haven't been home in months."

And that he almost fucked things up with Jonny—the one guy whose company he can stand—but that feels like too much to say just yet.

"It's a process," Jonny says patiently. "You almost ended up in a wheelchair. Of course you haven't figured it all out. That doesn't make you weak. You're just expecting too much from yourself and when you fail to meet your own expectations you get bitter and angry and shut yourself out from the world."

It's—well, it's not a conversation they should have in public. But it's one they should have anyway and, in a way, it's nice not to be coddled and treated gently, like he can't handle Jonny's honest opinion. At least Jonny knows what he's signing up for—that a random conversation with a nice boy is enough to throw Patrick off for the entire day.

"I think the problem is that you've been a hockey player all your life and now you don't know who you are anymore," Jonny adds, his voice quiet. "And you don't realize that you've been much more than a hockey player all that time. You're a role model for people, with or without hockey, because you are a great guy who's more than just goals and assists and flashy hockey highlights. And maybe there will never be anything quite as good as hockey. But there are so many other things out there. I just wish you would stop beating yourself up about the time it's taking you to realize that."

Patrick's just staring at him blankly, stuck up on the fondness in his voice. After a moment, Jonny huffs.

"Look, let's just—let's eat, okay? Let's not talk about this here. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring this up in public. And I know it's hard for you, and easy for me to talk when I haven't been through it."

Patrick nods, grateful that the waiter makes a timely appearance, allowing the tension to clear.

"I guess—it sucks to be reminded of what I lost. Of the fact that I love hockey so much but can't even watch a game, let alone touch my skates or a stick. But—it is nice to be remembered by people, you know? To hear that they care."

"Of course they care," Jonny says immediately—at least he has the decency to pretend he doesn't realize that Patrick clears his throat several times before going back to a normal conversation.

-

Patrick finally books another plane ticket without Jonny having to give him gentle reminders and his mom's excited when he announces that he'll come home. She almost cries on the phone, and that gets him all choked up, too.

Jonny's family has a bbq on his last evening there and at some point, Jonny puts his arm on the backrest of the bench they're sitting on. Patrick only means to lean back against it casually, but by the time it's dark, he's fully curled up into Jonny's side—wrapped up in his arms, with Jonny occasionally pressing his lips to his temple. Neither Bryan nor Andrée seem surprised, doing nothing so much as blink. Which is fair—they have been spending a lot of time in Jonny's room, not bothering to pretend that there isn't something going on between them.

If only everything could be as easy as this—letting the conversation flow, sitting with Jonny's family in a way that feels like Patrick's more than just a guest.

His parents eventually excuse themselves to go to bed, and it feels a little like being back at the cabin, just the two of them with the sounds of nature around them. It's not the same—the mountains are quieter and more comforting—but Jonny's arms are around him and that's all Patrick can think about.

"I'll miss you," Jonny says quietly, running his fingers along his arm. "Promise me you'll call."

It should be the easiest thing in the world, a phone call every evening, but his throat is still dry as he forces himself to nod. It's not that he doesn't want to, but he doesn't quite trust himself yet.

"I know it's better that you stay here," Patrick says after a second. "But I wish you could come. I'll miss the comfort of knowing you’re just across the street. I got used to having you around."

Jonny's arms tighten around his waist and it's so easy to tip his head back and meet his lips for a kiss, slow and gentle, taking all the time in the world to explore each other's mouths.

"I was thinking—" Patrick says, shifting so he doesn't have to crane his neck at such a weird angle. "I want to spend my summers in the mountains. I want to be back at the cabin with you."

He'd miss nature too much, the calmness of the lake, the quietness surrounding him. Jonny is right—it is nice to be in the city every now and then, but it gets overwhelming after a while. Living in Chicago was amazing, but he has changed and he's longing for something more peaceful now, a place that truly feels like home again.

"Yeah?" Jonny asks, his lips stretching into a smile.

"We could spend the summers up there," Patrick says. He did spend the last few days thinking about a few things, trying to figure them out. "If we rent out the cabins we'll have an income, and we can spend the winters elsewhere."

"You're turning into a country boy." Jonny chuckles. "But the winters are quite nice. I never told you, but when we were kids we used to play hockey up there. Dad would turn the backyard into a rink for us, so we could have fun and that was great, but getting to skate on the lake was the real highlight."

His voice is slow and careful, like he knows how sensitive the topic is, and will be for a long time. Patrick ducks his head and makes a soft noise. Jonny probably wants these ideas to be planted into his head, and it works. He can still skate and play. Not on bad days, and certainly not on the level he used to, but Jonny's probably a good skater. He's got the legs for it. They could mess around and skate for a while, but Patrick hasn't been on the ice for so long that the thought alone makes him feel nauseous.

He clears his throat. "I'm working on tolerating hockey. Back in Buffalo, I saw a therapist for a bit, but I hated it, so I stopped going after a few weeks. I was so busy with physical therapy, I didn't think I needed anything else. I figured if I was physically healthy again I would feel better but maybe—I don't know, it could help, right? It might be worth going again."

Jonny's face goes all soft and he nods. "Yeah, I think you should try it again."

Patrick nods and then tucks his face into the curve of Jonny's neck, so he can have one last evening of not having to deal with the world. Jonny sighs mockingly but still pulls him in, and Patrick has a hard time not falling asleep like this.

-

"I'll call," he promises at the airport. "I swear."

They're still in the car so he feels safe enough to press a kiss to the corner of Jonny's mouth without anyone seeing it.

"Mm," Jonny replies, his face serious. "It's fine if you don't for a few days. I get it. I won't hold it against you if things get rough and you take some time for yourself."

It's the cop out he's always wanted, a perfect excuse, but Patrick still shakes his head.

"No. I—I don't want you to be an afterthought. I have a dozen people I need to talk to, but we still need to figure some stuff and—" He swallows. "You're too important."

"I’m important, eh?" Jonny's eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles, and Patrick already hates himself for leaving all of this behind for quite a while, probably. It's okay, he tells himself. Jonny will visit. Patrick can come back for another weekend at the lake.

"Of course you are." Suddenly, he has the urge to look away, but he doesn't, instead cupping Jonny's neck and leaning over to press another kiss to his lips. "I love you," he blurts out, cheeks heating up. "I could never forgive myself for chasing you away. I want to come back and be with you and not fuck it up," he adds in a rush as if he’s scared he won't be able to say it if he doesn't now.

"Pat—" Jonny says helplessly, his eyes wide and soft. "Don't—you can't just say that when you're about to leave me."

"I'll call," he insists. "And I need to get to Chicago soon. Make up with Sharpy and see his kid again. For all I know, his wife might already be pregnant again. Maybe—think about if you want to come with me?"

Jonny doesn't say anything, but he nods and kisses Patrick again, cupping his hands with his own. His grip is soft but tight, like he's refusing to let him get out of the car, his thumbs caressing Patrick’s cheekbones, gently brushing over the corners of his mouth, his eyes intense like he’s studying Patrick.

"I love you," he whispers, finally, and Patrick tries not to get choked up. He doesn't deserve any of this. After pushing everyone away, including Jonny, Jonny should not sign up so willingly to deal with all of his issues.

"My plane—" He says weakly, unable to tear his eyes away. "I need to check my bags."

He hates himself for breaking the moment as soon as a soft sigh leaves Jonny’s lips, but he does need to get going. Still, it stings when Jonny drops his hands.

"I'll keep an eye on your cabin," Jonny says, walking him through the airport, one of Patrick’s bags slung over his shoulder. "You know you can always come to the lake or Winnipeg for a few days if you feel like it."

It's a soothing thought that Patrick can cling to and he nods silently, his hands brushing along Jonny's as they stop in front of the security check. There's a huge lump in his throat, the urge to walk straight back to the car with Jonny overwhelmingly strong.

They have to keep their goodbye short because they're in public, and Patrick is far too recognizable in Winnipeg, but Jonny wraps him into his arms again, and it's too tempting to cling to him for another second. His eyes fall shut as he slides his arms around Jonny's waist, taking a deep exhale.

"I'll miss you," Jonny says quietly, and all Patrick can do is nod in response and hold on a little tighter before he'll have to let Jonny go. "Text me when you get there," Jonny adds, finally taking a small, reluctant step back. "And maybe call me later if you can find the time."

Patrick nods again. He already has a feeling that he's going to need a few peaceful minutes on the phone with Jonny after facing his family.

"Thank you," he says, his voice cracking. They both know it's not just for the ride to the airport or the bag Jonny's handing back over, and Jonny's face softens before looking around and dropping another quick kiss to Patrick's forehead, Patrick's chest tightening.

"I’ll see you soon," Jonny says, his eyes never leaving Patrick's. There's no doubt that it's meant to be a promise, and maybe Patrick desperately needed the reminder that it's only a temporary good-bye, that it'll be easy to hop on a plane and get back to Winnipeg for a few days.

He keeps repeating the words over and over to himself as he grabs his bags and makes his way through security, and when he glances back, Jonny’s still standing outside of the security check, waving, until Patrick has to turn around a corner and can't see him anymore.

-

He's restless on the flight—happy about seeing his family, scared of what they'll say, exhausted just thinking about all of the conversations he has to have. But there's a text from Jonny waiting for him as soon as he turns off flight mode—just another reminder to let Jonny know that he's landed safely, but it makes him grin stupidly at the little heart behind the short line.

The time until his bags arrive seems agonizingly long, but deep inside of him, there's still a feeling of arriving home. He missed Buffalo.

The hockey bag is the last to arrive, lying innocently on the dark band while everyone else is clearing out already. He could pretend it's not his or that it got lost on the flight or that he forgot it. He could conveniently lose all of his gear—skates, pads, the damn jersey. But then he's already grabbing the bag, gritting his teeth, forcing himself to keep pulling it off the band until he's ready to leave. It's stupid to be proud of himself, but he kind of is.

His mom is in the arrivals hall, her face lighting up when she sees him and—he was bracing himself for accusations and passive-aggressive comments. But her lips turn into an honest, genuine smile, nothing but warmth in her eyes.

He starts running, throwing himself into her arms like a toddler that hasn't seen his mom in weeks. She's smaller than him, but it feels like she's the one hugging and comforting him, petting his head when he takes a shaky breath and inhales the smell of her perfume. The one his mom has used for decades, a smell like home. Not even the crispy air at the lake can come close to this.

She doesn't say anything as she holds him, but she doesn't need to. His mom is hugging him like none of it is his fault, like Patrick's never done anything to hurt her.

"I'm so sorry," he says, choked up. "I'm so, so sorry."

All she does is hold on tighter. "I love you, Patrick."

He doesn't manage to hold back tears, and sobs, unable to say it back, his throat tight, but he thinks she knows.

There's a lot they have to catch up on. Apparently, he's got a boyfriend now, and a tiny part of him can't wait for the interrogation that will follow. Patrick's never been alone. No matter how much he felt like he was. And there's something to look forward to now—a place that feels like home, a person waiting for him there.

"Let's go," she whispers, smoothing her hand down his back. "Everyone's waiting."

It's scary and overwhelming—his dad and the girls, uncles, and cousins, his grandpa, everyone he's been avoiding—but he nods and grabs his bags. There’s still so much ahead of him, but he doesn’t have to go through it alone, and maybe he’s finally starting to see that.