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young love, so much potential

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Ryan is tipsy, which is a lot better than most of the guys at this thing can say. He's not going to begrudge anyone getting a bit drunk; he wouldn't have agreed to come over to Luke and Taylor's—and Connor's, now, actually—if he was. It's good to let off a little steam when they've been working hard all through training camp and now into preseason, and they don’t have a game tomorrow, so. He thinks Luke had said they needed to bond more when he invited everyone over, which is a typical Gazzy thing to say, and also probably true.

So far they’ve mostly just played a lot of Mario Kart. Ryan leaves the living room to get himself another drink and returns to find that Schultzy has taken his spot on the couch next to Taylor. He makes a face at him, gets a sneer back for his trouble, and sits down in the empty spot on the loveseat next to Connor instead. Connor looks up and gives him a tiny smile, and Ryan nods in return.

He thinks that the bottle of beer Connor’s currently picking at the label of might be the same one he’s had all night. He’s about to ask him if it is when, on the other side of the room, Nail whistles.

“Hey, boys,” he says loudly. “Look at lovebird potentials over there.”

Someone hits pause on the game, and suddenly the room is quiet, everyone staring at Ryan and Connor. Ryan rolls his eyes. “Stop it,” he says. “Just because we’ve both got marks on our hands doesn’t mean we’re going to bond to each other.”

“Okay, but like,” Luke starts, “you don’t know that, right?”

“They totally don’t know that,” Taylor says. “Right, Ebs?” He elbows Jordan in the side.

“I dunno,” Jordan says, making an apologetic face at Ryan. “I don’t know any other potentials.”

“They’d have to kiss, right?” Taylor asks. “That’s what you told me, Nuge, right?”

Ryan regrets everything he’s ever said to Taylor. He takes a sip of his drink instead of replying. It’s honestly annoying enough that people in the media keep mentioning that he and Connor are both first overall draft picks who have the potential to bond with someone, he doesn’t need the team to start doing it too. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just rare enough that it’s weird.

“You have to kiss to bond, Connor, right?” Taylor persists.

Ryan looks at Connor out of the corner of his eye and sighs when he nods. “Yeah,” Connor says, and Ryan braces himself.

Nail looks positively gleeful. “You need to kiss, then!” he says, and Ryan sinks down on the loveseat. That’s exactly what he was afraid someone would say.

“Yeah,” Justin agrees, grinning at Ryan. “You should kiss. You gotta at least try.”

Far too many people are nodding like this makes perfect sense. “Come on,” Taylor says, “do it. Who’s it gonna hurt?”

Anton says something to Nail in Russian, and Nail laughs. “Sleppy say he dares you,” he says.

“Oooh,” almost everyone choruses, Justin the loudest of them. “Can’t back down from a dare,” he adds.

Ryan looks at Connor in askance, hoping he’ll say something to protest. If Connor says he’s not comfortable with it, everyone is almost guaranteed to knock it off. Connor is sitting up straight, though, looking unbothered. He turns to Ryan. “Dare’s a dare, eh?”

Ryan drags himself up and puts his drink down on the side table, because of course Connor is right. Ryan’s not going to be the one to wimp out. “Nothing’s going to happen, anyway,” he tells them all. He’s reasonably sure he’s right. He’s kissed other potentials before—he had a bit of a phase in high school—and every time it was nothing, he relaxed a little. This isn’t the perfect situation he’s always pictured for bonding with his soulmate, and it’s supposed to be perfect, so it’s definitely not going to happen now.

He braces himself with an arm on the back of the loveseat and slides closer to Connor. Connor looks—Ryan would have said calm, but then he’s close enough to see him swallow nervously and close his eyes, and shit, that’s too much. Someone starts a chant of ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’ and Ryan huffs slightly and presses his lips to Connor’s before this situation can get any worse.

He abruptly feels warm all over, a sensation not unlike being completely relaxed in a hot tub. There’s a tingling feeling in his fingers and toes, and he can feel Connor lean into him. Everything is heightened for a moment, overwhelming, and then Ryan pulls away and it snaps, leaving only quiet contentment and a flicker of panic that’s not his own.

Connor opens his eyes and stares at him. Ryan stares back. The guys are all laughing and cheering, but they seem very far away.

This isn’t—this wasn’t supposed to happen. Ryan would never admit it, but he’s been dreaming of the moment he would bond with his soulmate since he was old enough to understand what the mark wrapping around his left ring finger meant. His parents were potentials too, and he’s always wanted to have a romantic story just like theirs.

Apparently, the universe is cruel, though, because Ryan went and bonded to Connor McDavid. Connor doesn’t even care about being a potential; Ryan’s heard him say that enough times to be sure of it. Connor’s first thought was probably that he wished he bonded to a winger so that he could use it on the ice.

He gets a pang of a wounded feeling just as Connor frowns at him, and fuck, that’s weird. Ryan looks away.

“Did you bond?” Luke asks.

“No,” Connor says before Ryan can. “Nothing happened.”

Ryan nods. “Told you,” he says. It’s not nearly as self-satisfied sounding as it should be, but no one seems to notice, which, good. He doesn’t want to give any of them the satisfaction of knowing they were right.

“Oh well,” Nail says, “was worth a try.”

Everyone nods their agreement and then collectively moves on; somebody unpauses the video game. Ryan reaches for his drink just so he has something to do with his hands. He can’t look at Connor, not right now. When Luke gets up to go to the bathroom, Ryan steals his seat. He clearly feels Connor’s hurt at that, and he can also feel Jordan’s eyes on him, but no one else notices, so. It’s fine.

There are too many people around, and they’re both pretending as hard as they can that nothing happened, so they don’t get a chance to talk about it before Ryan leaves. Ryan can feel Connor’s confusion and panic and a tinge of annoyance for a while once he gets home, but it isn’t too long before it’s just a muted presence that Ryan assumes means Connor is asleep.

Connor is already awake when Ryan gets up the next day, and he beats Ryan to practice as well. He’s not panicking anymore; his emotions all appear to be, for the most part, hockey-related. It’s uncomfortably familiar, actually. Connor’s primary emotions for the entire day are anxiety and a neutral sort of intensity that Ryan takes as focus, and Ryan feels like he’s back in his rookie year all over again. There was a lot of pressure to prove himself and help save the franchise back then, and Connor’s got the same but worse, so it’s no wonder he’s so keyed up.

It gets to Ryan, too, something he doesn’t realize until he’s switching his stick, and when he steps back out onto the ice, it’s to Taylor raising his eyebrows at him. “That’s the third time in like five minutes, dude,” he says. “What are you nervous about?”

Ryan used to switch what stick he was using frequently when he was a rookie out of nerves, and Taylor knows it. He scowls. “Sorry, it’s nothing,” he tells Taylor. He takes a deep breath and forces himself to relax, even with Connor’s anxiety still loud and clear in the back of his head. It’s irritating to have to deal with this on top of trying to listen to McLellan and get shit done on the ice.

He can’t help but think about how wearing the constant worrying is going to be in the long term, too. Connor is obviously a great player, he just needs to relax and stop second guessing his every move and interaction—for both of their sakes. The more Ryan has to deal with Connor’s emotions, the more he feels like bonding isn’t as simple and perfect as he’s always thought. His parents must have just gotten lucky.

Ryan’s more tired than usual by the end of practice, and he remembers how exhausted he made himself years ago. He had people telling him he didn’t need to worry so much back then, and he figures the least he can do is be that for Connor now, since he’s got a front row ticket to the McDavid Emotions show. He hangs around at the end of practice after almost everyone has left and catches Connor as he’s leaving the locker room. “Hey, kid,” he says, “you really need to chill. It’s allowed, I promise.”

If Ryan didn’t get a wave of resigned incredulousness at that moment, he would’ve figured it out from Connor’s face and the way Connor’s posture goes stiff all over. “Don’t call me kid,” Connor says, annoyed. “You keep thinking about your rookie year like it was so long ago, but it really wasn’t. Besides, we’re bonded? So it’s weird. And believe me, I’ve been listening to your dumb judgemental thoughts about my feelings all day, so I get it. I would relax if I could.”

Ryan blinks. That’s maybe the most emotion he’s ever seen out of Connor, and he’s been inside his head all day. So that’s surprising, and also—“You get words? Is that all?” Ryan feels a little betrayed. It works differently for every bond, but his parents told him that they both get words, and he’s always assumed the bond at least worked the same for both partners, even if it was feelings instead of thoughts.

Connor nods. “I think we need to talk about this,” he says, “like, in a way where I get to actually reply to the things you think really loudly at me.” He rolls his eyes. “Sending emotions at you in response is clearly not working.”

Ryan hadn’t realized any of the emotions were responses. It doesn’t matter, anyway. This whole thing just isn’t at all what he’d been expecting—hoping for, if he’s honest—and he’s obviously just been wrong his whole life. Bonding isn’t that special; it doesn’t mean true love forever, it’s just some freak occurrence that happens to some people who aren’t as lucky as Ryan’s always thought they were. “What is there to talk about?” he asks, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “We’re just going to move on.”

He gets a flood of disappointment at that. It’s confusing—he figured Connor would be fine with just ignoring it, considering he’s said he never cared about finding his soulmate. “Why?” Connor asks.

“What, do you think you have time to deal with this on top of everything else?” Ryan asks defensively. “That’s not the impression I got today. I think you have enough on your plate.”

Connor stares blankly at him. “Okay, I can literally read your mind, so lying to me doesn’t work very well. How about instead you just tell me what you’re actually thinking here.”

Ryan is honestly kind of tired of this superiority act Connor’s pulling, so even though it’s a little childish, he decides that if Connor can read his mind, he should keep on doing that, asshole. Connor raises his eyebrows, amused, but his face gets serious as Ryan thinks about his parents and their fairytale romance, high school sweethearts who waited until graduation to kiss and see if they were soulmates—and they were. Ryan thinks about a house full of silent conversations, outbursts of laughter seemingly apropos of nothing, and years of bedtime stories about bonding that included personal anecdotes.

When Ryan’s done—and he has to admit, it is convenient to be able to just think stuff like that rather than say it out loud—he shrugs and looks away. When he looks back, Connor’s squared his shoulders the way he does before he faces a room full of media. “Okay, so…yeah, maybe it didn’t turn out how you wanted it to. I didn’t realise it was that…I mean, I’m sorry I didn’t realise that there was more to it than I was getting from you.”

It’s typical of Connor to apologize, but it does make Ryan feel better. He gives Connor a little half-smile, and gets a flicker of warm, pleased feeling in return.

But Connor’s not done. He takes a deep breath and Ryan catches a wave of nerves before Connor continues, “I…have you thought that maybe this could be a good thing?”

Ryan narrows his eyes. “Wait, you think it could be a good thing? I thought you didn’t care about finding your soulmate and just wanted to focus on hockey.”

Connor looks a little sheepish. “I don’t know, I thought so, but now…it’s kind of like, you have to go where you’re drafted, you know? Fighting it isn’t going to help.”

“Oh my God,” Ryan groans. “That’s the worst analogy I’ve ever—” Sure, it’s accurate, but sometimes Connor is a parody of himself, and this is one of those times.

Connor laughs. “Shut up, you know it’s a good one. And anyway, do you believe everything you read about me in the media? On that note, do you read all my media, Nuge?”

Ryan gives him the best dead-eyed stare he can, but Connor keeps talking, his smile now a positively shit-eating grin. “Bet the media would love to talk to you if they knew. Ryan, you’ve got an inside look at the mind of Connor McDavid, so tell us—is he actually a robot?”

It’s clear that Connor isn’t going to shut up on his own, so Ryan gives him a facewash, which works way less well when he’s not wearing hockey gloves. Connor goes with it though, laughing, and Ryan says, “I mean, you just compared being bonded to being drafted, so I don’t know what you expect me to think, you nerd.”

Connor keeps laughing until Ryan joins him, more laughing at Connor than anything, but eventually Connor sobers enough to say, “Do you really want to just ignore this, Ryan? Like, do you think we even could?”

Ryan shrugs, chewing on the inside of his cheek a little. “I mean—I don’t know, what do you think we should do?”

Connor shrugs slightly. “You’re the first potential I’ve ever kissed, you know?” he says with a sheepish little smile. “When I said all that stuff about it not mattering…I didn’t think it was gonna be like this either.” He pauses just long enough for the weight of that statement to settle on Ryan’s shoulders. He can feel how unsure Connor is and the moment when he resolves to stop. “So I think we should at least try. Go on a date or something, like people usually would.”

Ryan nods slowly. “And if it doesn’t work…”

“If it doesn’t work, then we’ll be friends who know each other a little too well, I guess,” says Connor with a grin.

They have a game the next day, so they decide to go on their test date the evening after that. They’d agreed to keep it to themselves because their team is full of jerks, but when Ryan knocks on the door, Taylor opens it with a shit-eating grin that betrays that he totally knows just what Ryan is doing here.

“Hey,” Ryan says, trying to play it cool anyway. “Is Connor—”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Taylor interrupts. “Little Daver is totally ready for your date. Luke’s just helping him tie his tie, the poor dear.”

“You are not funny,” Ryan tells him. He’s pretty sure Connor can tie his own tie. Also he has no idea why Connor would be wearing a tie, they’re not going anywhere that fancy. “How did you find out?”

“I asked,” Taylor says smugly, finally stepping to the side and letting Ryan into the house. Ryan frowns at him.

“Sorry,” Connor says, coming down the stairs. He’s not wearing a tie, thank God, though he does look like he made an effort. Ryan is getting waves of exasperation from him. “They didn’t believe me when I said I was going out alone?”

“Damn right we didn’t,” Luke says from behind him. He’s grinning just as hard as Taylor. “He looked far too uncomfortable. He also said no to my cooking? And nobody says no to my cooking without a good reason.”

“Sorry,” Connor says again, rolling his eyes. He’s slightly worried, Ryan can tell, and he guesses that it’s about whether Ryan is mad he told them. He shrugs and smiles at Connor, and the worry disappears.

“I can’t believe our little rookie is going on dates already,” Taylor says. “Get over there, we need to take pictures.” He herds Ryan over to Connor and steps back to snap a picture with his phone. Luke has his out as well, and Ryan considers the merits of trying to make an escape. They’re between him and Connor and the door, though, so that would probably end badly. Connor snickers, amused, and Ryan grins involuntarily.

Luke narrows his eyes at them. “What are you laughing at? Is this a cute bond communication thing?”

Ryan shakes his head, but they don’t look convinced. Connor is still amused, and Ryan turns to glare at him. He could be helpful instead of just standing there. Connor shrugs at him, and Ryan huffs loudly.

“Look at them having a silent conversation, that’s adorable,” Taylor says. “Hey, is this a good filter?” He holds his phone out to Luke.

“Totally,” Luke says.

It takes Ryan a second because he’s still trying to think loudly at Connor in an attempt to get him to do something about this situation, but he processes that exchange eventually. “Hold on,” Ryan says, “are you posting that on the internet? You can’t do that, I haven’t even told my parents.”

Everyone freezes, and Luke and Taylor exchange a wary look. Connor’s amusement is tinged with mild horror now.

“Oh,” Luke says, “yeah, I didn’t just Instagram this… it’s fine.”

“Definitely no public pictures on this end, either,” Taylor says.

They’re lying, of course, so Ryan has to go call his mother while Connor gets them to delete the pictures. It’s way too likely that she’ll see a screencap or something even if they’re gone.

He goes upstairs to make the call, telling them all to leave him alone. Luke and Taylor look at least a bit chagrined as they watch him go, and Connor is back to being worried and annoyed. Ryan hopes none of the annoyance is at him, and he gets the distinct feeling of exasperation as soon as he does. It must not be, then.

Ryan paces in the hall while he waits for his mother to pick up and abruptly stops himself as soon as he hears her say hello. “Hi,” he says. “Are you busy?”

“No,” his mother replies. “Why, is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Ryan says automatically, then makes a face. “Well. I have to tell you something.”

“Of course, anything,” she says encouragingly.

“I kind of…bonded,” Ryan says.

“Oh! Oh, honey, that’s great, you’ve been waiting forever! Tell me all about it,” she enthuses. Ryan bites his lip, not wanting to ruin how happy she is with all the details, and she obviously detects something in the silence, because her voice turns worried. “You don’t sound happy.”

“I…uh. It was to Connor,” Ryan says all in a rush. “McDavid.”

“Oh wow,” his mother says. “That’s a surprise! I’d wondered, but it seemed so farfetched, really. He seems nice, though. You said he was nice, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, he’s nice,” Ryan agrees. “There are worse people to be soulmates with, I guess.”

“Well, there’s no one better for you,” his mom declares. “That’s what a bond means, you’ve found your forever person. Oh—Ryan. You…” She trails off, and Ryan hears her make a sniffling noise.

“Oh no, Mom, don’t cry,” he says, panicked.

“You shush, I’ll cry about my baby growing up if I want to.” After a minute, she clears her throat. “But you’re not happy,” she says again, her voice steady now.

Ryan sighs. “It’s not that I’m not happy,” he says. “It’s just…not what I thought it was going to be?”

“Love rarely is,” she tells him. “You barely know him, Ry. It’s going to take some time.”

That isn’t what Ryan wanted to hear; he was kind of hoping for an excuse to give up. Weirdly, though, it makes him feel better. If his mom, the biggest romantic he knows, thinks it’s going to need to take time, then maybe it’s not a lost cause after all. “But you and Dad have a perfect love story,” he says.

She laughs. “Sure, I like to think so,” she agrees. “But it wasn’t easy. It was scary, thinking we might not be soulmates, and even once we knew we were, we had to adjust to being in each other’s heads. We knew each other pretty well, but the bond is a new level.”

Ryan’s never thought of it like that, but it makes sense. “I can feel his emotions,” he tells her quietly. “He hears my thoughts, but I get all his feelings. It’s…” He trails off, not sure how to describe it. “A lot. Like how I used to feel.”

“Maybe that’s what he needs,” his mother suggests. “Someone to help him shoulder all that pressure who knows what it’s like. Someone who would even if they couldn’t feel all his emotions, that is.”

“Okay, but what about what I need?” Ryan asks, already feeling stupid for sounding so selfish about it. He hopes Connor’s not paying attention right now.

“Well,” his mom says, teasing, “how romantic is this boy? You always liked the idea of being wined and dined, maybe that’s all he needs to do for you.”

Ryan rolls his eyes. “Come on, Mom,” he says.

“I’m serious!” she says. “Maybe you just need somebody to make you feel special. That’s what you deserve, anyway.”

“Ugh,” Ryan says. “Okay. I should actually go, we were supposed to go on a date. Don’t be surprised if you see pictures online, Luke and Taylor got a bit snap happy.”

His mom laughs. “Oh, is that why I’m getting this phone call. All right. Bye, love you.”

“Love you,” Ryan replies before hanging up. He pauses, standing in the middle of the hallway, and listens. He can’t hear them talking downstairs, but he’s been able to feel Connor’s quiet nerves for most of the conversation, and he figures he should go save him from whatever Luke and Taylor are doing now.

But when he comes down the stairs, things look pretty tame; there’s a game on, but the sound is off, and everyone’s scrolling around on their phones, Luke and Taylor with hangdog guilty looks on their faces.

Ryan has an idea. Hey, Connor, he thinks. Connor looks up at him and Ryan catches a wave of curiosity. Talking to my mom went fine, but let’s make these two feel guilty anyway.

Connor laughs quietly and nods, and it’s that noise that makes both Taylor and Luke look up from their phones. As one, they look at Connor, then at Ryan, and then rise from where they’re seated around the island to envelope Ryan in a hug.

“We’re sorry, Nugget,” says Taylor mournfully.

“Yeah, we’re super dumb,” Luke adds.

Ryan’s normal reaction would be to laugh and brush it off, since it didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal, but they deserve a bit of a guilt trip, so he stiffens a little and wriggles out of the hug. “Whatever, guys. C’mon, Connor, we’re gonna be late,” he says, heading towards the door.

He deliberately doesn’t look back, because if he does he’ll probably laugh and spoil it, but he knows Connor’s behind him, and once they’ve shut the door and got safely into Ryan’s car, they both burst out laughing.

“You should have seen their faces as we were leaving, oh my God,” Connor manages between laughs.

“I’ll text them later, let them know I’m not really mad, but that was amazing,” says Ryan once he gets enough breath back to talk.

“What a start to our first date, huh?” says Connor.

“Yeah,” Ryan laughs. “I’m like, exhausted, and we haven’t even gone anywhere yet.”

Connor looks thoughtful. “Well, if you want to…we don’t have to? We could just go back to your place, get some delivery, and watch a movie, or something?”

It’s a little ridiculous how awesome that sounds to Ryan. He feels a little guilty, because going out someplace nice is what you’re supposed to do on a first date, but…this actually is more useful for figuring out if and how they fit together, which is the real point of the evening.

He opens his mouth to answer, but Connor’s already smiling, because of course he heard that whole thought process. Ryan closes his mouth again, chuckles, and starts the car.

When they get to Ryan’s place, he lends Connor a t-shirt and some sweats, because watching a movie on the couch in nice clothes sucks. He didn’t really think that through, though, because when he sees Connor come out dressed in his clothes, Ryan has all sorts of thoughts he wasn’t expecting. He has to work really hard to stop having them, because Connor can hear him, and that’s just embarrassing for everyone.

He distracts himself by ordering them some Thai—if he could hear Connor’s thoughts then he wouldn’t have to go ask him what he wants, but he’s trying not to be bitter about it. Meanwhile, Connor picks them a movie, which turns out to be Ocean’s Eleven.

“Nice pick,” says Ryan as he comes around the corner from the kitchen.

“Thanks,” says Connor.

Ryan has a brief moment of indecision about where to sit on the couch—right by Connor? The other corner?—before remembering, again, that Connor can hear him, and dropping quickly onto the middle cushion. Connor gives him an amused glance, but the only emotions Ryan’s picking up from him are contentment and low-grade nerves, which is frustratingly unhelpful. Ryan leans over to steal the remote and start the movie.

They stay a respectful distance apart through the first half, until their food comes and they eat it and Ryan takes the trash away. But when he comes back, he sits down maybe closer to Connor than he was before. What he wants to do is the time-honoured stealth cuddle, inching closer to Connor until one of them breaks and they’re touching, but it’s really hard to pull off a maneuver like that without thinking about it.

He has to try anyway, though. Deliberately keeping his mind focused on the movie, Ryan shifts a couple inches to his right every minute or so. He’s pretty sure Connor can hear him, which is all but confirmed after a few minutes of this when Connor sits up from where he’s slouched against the arm of the couch, stretches, and very casually leans against Ryan instead. Ryan keeps his eyes straight ahead but wraps an arm around Connor’s shoulders, and Connor shifts a little closer. This is nice, he lets himself think, and the responding little blast of happiness from Connor is…yeah, Ryan could get used to this.

When the movie ends, Ryan says, “Good choice, Davo,” and Connor says nothing. Ryan looks down and realizes that Connor’s asleep against his chest, and that’s…

It’s a lot, and it also occurs to Ryan’s brain right then that Connor is asleep, meaning Connor can’t hear his thoughts, meaning now is an excellent time to freak out about this. He can feel himself starting to shake a little, which is definitely going to wake Connor up, so he gently guides Connor to slump against the arm of the couch instead, goes to the kitchen, and calls Jordan.

“Hello?” Jordan answers, his voice a little hoarse, like maybe he was asleep. Possibly Ryan should have checked the time before calling, but it’s too late for that now, so he barrels ahead.

“Hey, Ebs, I assume Hallsy told you about me and Connor?” says Ryan, very deliberately keeping his voice even.

“Yeah,” says Jordan warily, sounding much more awake.

“Great, okay, can I come over, because he’s asleep now and I need to freak out about this a little,” Ryan says. His voice is still very calm. Too calm, but it’s this or audible panic, so.

“Of course, Nuge, but—”

“Thanks, see you in a bit,” Ryan interrupts and hangs up.

He has to go back through the living room on his way out the door, and he stops to put a blanket over Connor before he leaves. He may be freaking out, but it feels wrong to just leave him like that.

Ryan maybe speeds a little more than is strictly wise on the way over to Jordan’s, but he makes it there fine, and Jordan is waiting for him with a cup of cocoa and an extremely concerned expression.

“Please tell me you were already on the way over here when you called,” he says as he passes the cocoa over.

“I was already on the way over here when I called,” Ryan repeats dutifully. Fortunately Jordan can’t read his mind, not that they don’t both know he’s lying anyway.

Jordan rolls his eyes and bullies Ryan over to the couch. “Okay, Nuge, lay it on me.”

It takes Ryan a minute or two of searching for the secrets of the universe in his mug of cocoa to even figure out where to begin. “Well…I guess it’s just not at all what I expected? I mean, you know about my parents, how they’re bonded, so I sort of had it built up in my head, how it was going to be. And it, you know, wasn’t anything like this, so.”

He laughs, nervously, and takes a drink of his cocoa. “But at the same time, that’s not…completely a bad thing? I don’t know if I’d say it’s better than I thought, so far at least, because I’d built it up pretty high, but…I mean, Connor’s a good guy, you know? And we get along well, and it’s still weird, but…it’s good?”

Ryan’s really not sure where he’s going with this at all, so he turns to Jordan for the assist.

Jordan’s just sort of smirking at him, though. “Is there a problem here, Ryan? Because I heard all of that and I didn’t hear any problem.”

“I don’t—I just feel like there is one?” Ryan says uselessly. “I’m freaking out, that’s a problem, right?”

Jordan strokes his chin, faux-thoughtful. “I think the problem is that you’re making up problems in your head, Nugget,” he says, then leans over to flick Ryan in the forehead.

Ryan scrunches up his face and rubs at the place Jordan flicked. “That’s really not helpful, Ebby.”

“Yeah, because there’s nothing to help. We’ve solved the problem: there is no problem. Boom, done. Now go home to your soulmate, the saviour of hockey,” Jordan teases.

“We’re not friends,” Ryan complains.

“Excuse me, I’m the best friend ever, I let you wake me up so you could whine at me about your non-problems and I made you cocoa. I also didn’t post about your soulmate on the internet, so I’m pretty much the best friend you have right now.”

Jordan has like five good points there, which Ryan can’t just like, admit, so instead he says, “Whatever,” messes up Jordan’s hair, and goes to deposit his mug in the kitchen on his way out of Jordan’s place.

“Don’t do anything with a just-of-age rookie I wouldn’t do, Nuge!” Jordan calls cheerfully as Ryan leaves. God, his friends are assholes.

Ryan is still only getting muted sleeping emotions from Connor, so he lets himself into his place quietly. Sure enough, Connor is curled up with his face smushed against the couch cushion, the blanket Ryan had draped over him tugged over his shoulder and under his chin. He looks particularly young and unbearably cute, and God damn it, Ryan is scared of what their bond means, but…despite everything, he wants to try.

He leans down and shakes Connor gently by the shoulder. “Hey,” he says, at first quietly and then, realizing his mistake, louder. “Connor, wake up.”

Connor hums in question, blinking his eyes open blearily. He smiles slightly up at Ryan. “Hey,” he murmurs.

“Come on,” Ryan says, guiding Connor up and off the couch. “Let’s go somewhere comfier, hm?”

“‘kay,” Connor says. He’s leaning against Ryan’s side, one arm wrapped tightly around his waist, and Ryan is getting a steady content feeling from him.

Ryan gets Connor to his room and deposits him on the bed, where he immediately starts burrowing into the blankets, making himself comfortable. He closes his eyes, and then Ryan feels a spike of confusion, and he opens them again. “Did you go somewhere?” he asks, still clearly half-asleep.

“Shhh,” Ryan says instead of answering. “Sleep.”

Connor apparently doesn’t need to be told twice, because a moment later he’s out again. Ryan goes to brush his teeth and is careful not to disturb Connor when he gets into bed. It’s a little weird, having someone else there, but then Connor rolls over and settles an arm across Ryan’s chest, and yeah, Ryan could get used to this. He falls asleep easily.

Ryan wakes up with a pit of nerves that aren’t his in the bottom of his stomach. He opens his eyes in time to catch Connor trying to slowly move away from him and thinks, What are you doing?

It’s kind of gratifying how fast Connor freezes, one hand still hovering above Ryan. “I, uh. I wasn’t sure how I got here, and I don’t really, like, want to impose or anything…”

Impose. Jesus. Connor looks so serious, and he feels so nervous, and Ryan just. Wants to make him stop, and laugh instead, like he was last night. So he wriggles his arm out from under the covers, reaches over, and boops Connor on the nose.

It works in that Connor starts laughing, but he still feels nervous and confused. Ryan rolls his eyes. “You’re here ‘cause I brought you here last night. But if you want to know how much you’re not imposing, come here, McJesus.”

Ryan catches Connor’s hilariously offended expression, but only for a second before he closes the gap between them. Connor responds immediately, warm and pliable under Ryan’s hands, and just like the other night, it’s kind of amazing to kiss someone when you’re hooked up to their emotions. Like, amazing enough Ryan’s not sure he could go back to kissing other people, maybe.

When they break apart for air, Ryan’s propped up on his elbows, pressed against Connor from chest to waist. Connor’s beaming as he reaches up to push Ryan’s bangs out of his eyes. “Don’t ever call me McJesus again, especially not before you do that,” he complains, but all Ryan’s getting from him is joy.

Ryan laughs and leans down again. “Whatever you say, McJesus,” he murmurs against Connor’s lips.