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Jonny’s always known it was going to happen: the eventuality loomed over him like a perpetual gray cloud, set to break at some blurry point on the horizon whose distance Jonny didn’t dare contemplate. But year after year ticked by, and still, the chain stayed firmly around Patrick’s neck. So after a while, the cloud simply became a part of the scenery. He hadn’t forgotten it: he’d just gotten used to ignoring it.

They’re tucked into their usual booth, warm with the kind of early season home win that Jonny loves: small in the grand scheme of things, but all-encompassing in the moment, where the booze flows easy and the conversation flows even easier, and everyone is collectively drunk on the raw promise of possibility that only beginnings can offer.

Across the table, Patrick ducks his head. His tongue darts to the tip of a canine, and he says to Shawzy, soft, bashful, “Yeah, I do want kids, man,” and the cloud breaks. Years worth of rain comes flooding down in a torrential fucking reckoning, and Jonny’s shocked to find himself caught in the downpour, gripping at his glass like it’s a life boat and trying to desperately stay afloat.  

In the end, this is how he drowns: on an ordinary Tuesday night surrounded by friendship and laughter, staring at the claiming ring hanging from the silver chain, still around Patrick’s neck, but clearly not for much longer, and he wonders whose name it is that’s etched inside the band, this person who Patrick finally found fit to build a home with that’s not Jonny.

But it was never going to be Jonny.





At nineteen, Jonny watched Patrick get drafted to the Hawks on his living room TV. 

This is a key pick to go with young Toews,” the commentators said, and Jonny’s grip grew tight around his remote. Tallon announced Patrick’s name, and as Patrick walked onto the stage and slipped on a Blackhawks jersey, Jonny’s heart raced with a strange mixture of fear and anticipation. He’d played with Patrick before he presented, and against him afterwards: he was brilliant, the kind of player Jonny would give an arm and a leg to be on a line with, if he weren’t an alpha, and if Jonny weren’t an omega. 

But he was, and so was Jonny. 

So at prospect camp, Jonny tilted his chin up: he met Patrick’s bright eyes, and shook his hand with determination. “I’m Jonathan,” he said, and as Patrick grinned back, Jonny remembers thinking: I will not let you ruin me. 





Jonny waits an appropriate amount of time, busying his mouth with his glass and tearing at the napkin that came with it, and when Patrick heads to the bar to grab the table a few more beers, Jonny tugs on his coat, stands, and bids everyone good night. 

It’s Patrick, of course, that catches him on the cusp of escape. “You’re leaving?” His voice snags Jonny three feet from the door, and Jonny stills, and turns around. 

“Yeah,” he says, and he can’t look at Patrick. “Night, Kaner.” 

There’s a pause, and then: “Night, Taze,” he hears, and Jonny forces his lips to lift in response. He turns back around, and walks to the door, and he doesn’t look at Patrick. His hand closes around the handle, and for a moment, he closes his eyes: behind his lids, he sees the ring resting against Patrick’s chest, and he pushes the door open and leaves, ignoring the heavy pulsing in his head.





At nineteen, Jonny used to jut his chin up like a knife. “I don’t want an alpha,” he would say, baring it against the thick disbelief closing in on him from all sides. “So it doesn’t matter.” Over and over: I don’t want kids, I don’t want an alpha, I’m not that kind of omega, at post-game pressers, at media days, at convention panels, to dozens of people asking the same question a dozen different ways. “I just want hockey,” he promised, and was met with raised brows and pursed lips and loud, damning silence. And then, they asked again. And again, they wouldn’t listen. 

But they had to watch. 

So out on the ice, Jonny showed them. Over and over, until he took away their choice to do anything but to believe. And by the time Jonny brought the city a second Cup, no one asked him about anything but hockey. 

At twenty-nine, Jonny thinks back to nineteen: breaking boundaries while clipped to a taut leash, wearing defiance like an armor. Holding his head high to mask holding his breath, back bending from the pressure of measuring his every move: because one missed step meant thousands would fall with him. Terrified of wanting, because wanting meant losing. 

Jonny kneels by his bed and closes his eyes: behind his lids, he sees a little girl with blonde curls, a little boy with blue eyes, and a set of strong, familiar arms wrapping around them both. 

At nineteen, he hadn’t wanted an alpha. At twenty-nine, it’s quiet, and he’s alone. And in the dark of his room, he adds: I couldn't. 

He tucks his chin into his chest and wraps his arms around himself, shoring against a crashing wave of want and drawing strength from the shirt he slipped on in a moment of weakness: old and ratty, loose in the shoulders with a faded London Knights logo stamped on the front, finding its way into Jonny’s suitcase at nineteen and never finding its way out. 

He breathes in, long and deep, and lets the ghost of Patrick’s scent fill his lungs, and wears him like an armor, like a shield, like a home. And for the first time, Jonny lets himself mourn everything he’s had to lose in order to win.





The warm win at home is followed by a cold loss on the road, and Jonny opens his door in St. Louis to find Patrick slouched outside, foot scuffing against the ugly hallway carpet and hand running through his still-damp curls. “Hey,” he smiles, soft and worn down. He takes in Jonny’s old sweats, and his brow creases. “You’re not coming out?” 

The ring rests against the pale hollow of his throat, glinting dully in the dim light of the hallway. Jonny’s fingers curl into the door frame, and his throat goes thick.

When Jonny was a little kid, he used to leak emotions like a broken sink, and they would saturate his scent: after bad losses, he would stew in the bitter tang of anger, and after bad wins, in the sour-sick creep of disappointment, and when he was met with wrinkled noses and dirty looks, he realized everyone else could taste his frustration, too. 

His scent was loud, and it was obvious to anyone in a ten-foot radius exactly what he was feeling: he hadn't known, because he could only smell his own. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that he was an omega, his pediatrician told his mother. It didn’t matter: everyone assumed it did. So, Jonny got good at controlling it. 

He pulls his gaze away from the ring and meets Patrick’s eyes instead. The blue of them is bright while faint purple stamps over the thin skin underneath, and Jonny is tender, and he is tired, but it’s only the second one he lets through: his scent rises, weary at the edges. “Nah,” he shrugs, as smooth as he can manage. “Think I’m gonna rest up a bit.” 

Patrick hums, jamming his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “Getting in your beauty sleep?” He flits a quick look up at Jonny through his lashes, tongue peeking out the corner of his mouth, the corner of his mouth slanting into a smirk.   

Jonny snorts, fondness spreading inside him, thick and suffocating. “Something like that,” he says wryly. 

Patrick dimples. “Fair enough.” 

“Oi, watch it,” Jonny says, delivering a light punch to Patrick’s shoulder, eyes narrowed in mock-outrage. “Could use a bit of beauty sleep yourself, bud.” 

“Ouch,” Patrick laughs, and he’s beautiful. His thumb lifts towards his chest and fits itself inside the band of the ring, rubbing absently, and pain flares in Jonny’s own. Patrick’s phone pings with a text, and he glances down, fishing it out of his pocket and squinting at the screen. “Ah, shit—I better get going.” He looks back up. “You sure you don’t wanna come?” 

Jonny holds his gaze for a few beats before coughing and shaking his head, and he drops his eyes down to the floor. “Don’t stay out too late,” he says to Patrick’s ridiculous sneakers, lips lifting helplessly at the sight of them. He nudges them with his socked foot, and he looks back up. “Not a rookie anymore, you know.”

Patrick rolls his eyes. “Okay, mom,” he grins, and Jonny goes blank for a few moments: when he blinks back on Patrick’s face, Patrick’s still smiling, but his eyes are careful, studying Jonny’s face with quiet focus. Jonny’s pulse quickens: he wonders what it is that Patrick’s looking for. “Have a good night, Taze, yeah?” Patrick says finally, and Jonny brings himself to nod back. After a pause, Patrick turns, and as Jonny watches him leave, he wonders if Patrick found it. 





At nineteen, Patrick shook Jonny’s hand at prospect camp: he grinned up at Jonny with bright eyes and matched Jonny’s firm grip with one of his own, and for a moment, Jonny’s knees went weak.

Patrick was an alpha alright, quietly self-assured in a way Jonny admired and envied in equal measure, chock full of easy confidence that bordered on arrogance, maddeningly charming all the same: he drove Jonny up the wall and pushed him further than anyone else ever had before, and when Jonny shouted at him on the bench, Patrick shouted right back. He made Jonny better, plain and simple, and Jonny made him better, too.

And maybe it would’ve been fine, if it ended on the ice. But Patrick smiled at Jonny more than he shouted, and for every quick spark of anger he inspired, he made Jonny laugh twice as often and twice as hard. 

At nineteen, Patrick would grin at Jonny, and Jonny would grin back, lips lifting helplessly and body flushing with bubbly warmth: a seed of want planted itself deep in Jonny’s gut, and around it, terror bloomed.





In St. Louis, Jonny is tired, but he can’t sleep. He tosses and turns, and he shuts his phone on a blurry selfie of Patrick with his arm slung around Duncs’ shoulders, captioned: wish you were here. He sets it on the bedside table and draws his covers over his head, and in the dark, he is acutely aware of the ruin inside him: the pothole in his chest and the stubborn want weeded in his gut, and all the empty spaces that Patrick’s absence has chiseled out over time, the thick creep of love growing between them like an unruly vine. 

In his head, a familiar thrum of static sets in: his fingers twitch, itching to smooth themselves over the faded London Knights logo on the shirt that’s hundreds of miles away, carefully tucked beneath the pillow in his bedroom. So instead, he draws his covers back down, and he climbs out of the bed. He walks over to the door adjoining his room to Patrick’s, and after a moment of stillness, he drops to his knees in front of it. 

On the day an alpha presents, they receive a blank claiming ring: once they meet the person whose name belongs inside it, they get the ring inscribed, and for a minimum of six months, they carry the name of their future mate over their heart in silence. Then, they drop to their knees: they take the chain off their neck for good, and they slip the ring onto the person who will be its home, and theirs as well. 

At team dinner that evening, Jonny sat on the far side of the table, and watched Patrick fit his thumb into the curve of his ring, over and over. Before Tuesday, Jonny never noticed: now, he notices all the time. And in the dark of his hotel room, Jonny lets himself wonder: did he do that, before? 

His mind goes thick with haze, and Jonny presses his forehead against the scratched wood and closes his eyes, and behind his lids, he sees the chain around Patrick’s neck: it swings like a pendulum, and Jonny wonders how long he has until Patrick takes it off for good, and what will happen to Jonny when he does.





That night, Patrick comes back early: his footsteps are light, and it creeps up on Jonny when he hears the faint beeping of the key reader and the soft swing of the door being opened. Jonny’s forehead is still pressed to their adjoining door, and his knees are sore from carpet burn and supporting the weight of his tired body: he opens his eyes and holds his breath as Patrick begins to move around inside his room, listening to the faint thumps and clattering coming from the other side. 

He finds his lids growing heavy and he closes his eyes, and slowly, the tension begins to seep from his limbs: he sags forward, whole cheek plastering against the wood, and finally, his head begins to quiet. 

And then, Patrick goes quiet, and he goes still. A few moments pass, and he stays still. And suddenly, Jonny’s chest cracks. There are only two circumstances under which alphas kneel: during their proposal, and during the courting period that comes before it. Courting rituals differ from culture to culture and generation to generation, but one custom remains constant: between the day an alpha’s ring is inscribed and the day they propose, every night, they get on their knees, and they commit themselves to their omega, over and over. 

Behind Jonny’s lids, he pictures Patrick on the other side of the door: kneeling by his bed in the dark and pressing his thumb into the curve of his ring, murmuring the name etched into the metal like a prayer, and pledging himself to someone else. Jonny staggers to his feet: the pulsing in his head is now a punching, and he crawls back into bed and draws the covers over his body while longing ruthlessly carves it up inside. Exhaustion pins his limbs to the mattress: not from one bad game, or one bad night’s sleep, but from ten years of living in the bleak landscape of his hopeless desire. 

And still, he can’t sleep.  

The next day, Patrick’s voice catches Jonny at the tail end of the breakfast line. “Morning,” Jonny hears, and he blinks, grip growing tight around his plate: he turns around, and he can’t look at Patrick.

“Morning,” he echoes at Patrick’s ridiculous shoes. One of them reaches out and nudges at Jonny’s foot, and just like that, violent affection momentarily blitzes his brittle exhaustion: Jonny's lips lift helplessly, head lifting along with them. “Hi,” he says, slightly breathless as he meets the soft blue of Patrick’s eyes: they crinkle at the corners as Patrick laughs, warm and low, and Jonny is tender and tired, and achingly aware of the pothole in his chest, fractured open to a chasm.

“Hi yourself.” Patrick taps his toe to Jonny’s once more. “Missed you last night,” he says. “You feeling better?” 

“Yeah, a bit,” Jonny lies, and he desperately tries to muster up the resolve to ask about Patrick’s night in turn: it’s getting more and more difficult to hold together the rapidly tattering illusion of normalcy, and as he opens his mouth, he’s scared of what might come out if he tries to speak. 

But before he can try and then inevitably falter, he finds Patrick’s fingers touching his: they gently pry Jonny’s open, and Jonny’s mouth snaps shut, and he blinks down at the clementine now sitting in his palm. 

“Snagged the last one for you,” he hears Patrick say, and he looks up to see Patrick dimple. “Figured your lazy ass would be late.” 

Love and misery tunnel up Jonny’s throat: they vie to rise through to his scent, and it takes almost all his already dwindling energy to keep them trampled and trapped behind the walls he built at nineteen, weakened and crumbling from ten years of shoring against desire. 

He doesn’t have enough left to even try to attempt even the smallest measure of fake indignation, so he just curls his fingers around the orange, and tries to swallow down the peach-pit lodged in his throat. “Thanks, Pat,” he says, and his lips lift, painfully helpless, and Patrick shrugs, cheeks pinking and fingers scratching at the back of his neck. And Jonny can’t not look at him, and he can’t not wonder, who this person is, that made space for themself in Patrick’s heart: when it is that they first lodged there, and when it is that they moved in for good.  

Jonny can’t not look, and in response, Patrick ducks his head: and Jonny can’t not wonder, about all the small and wonderful ways Patrick will take care of the person he’ll call his. 

Patrick’s thumb darts to press at his jaw, and after a moment, it lifts: it travels down and tucks itself into the curve of his ring, and he says to Jonny, soft, bashful, “Yeah Jonny, of course.” 

And Jonny thinks: you’ve ruined me.