By the time Patrick gets home, he’s shaking. He can’t even feel the loss of his skate yet. It’s just one more thing that’s awful, alongside the shocked look on Jonny’s face when he realized who he’d bonded with. The panic of the run out of the rink.
He’s thanking every god that might exist that he didn’t give the rink his real address when he got the job. He didn’t want them checking up on his age; fifteen is younger than professional stadiums usually like their janitors, and he never wanted anyone to have the opportunity to talk to his foster family. They won’t find him here, even if they did recognize him. But it probably means he can never go back to work.
He comes through the door and finds both his foster parents waiting on the other side.
“Patrick,” his foster mom says. “We’re very disappointed.”
His mouth opens a little. They can’t have heard. Not about what happened at the rink. And it’s not even dark yet; he has plenty of time to weed the gardens. “What? But I left a—”
“You really think a note is enough to justify this?” his foster dad says, and he points to the living room.
Patrick turns to look. It’s like a factory exploded. Black soot is covering everything in a ten-foot radius from the fireplace, blanketing the furniture and the thick white carpet. Mounds of ash are scattered around the hearthstone.
“What the hell?” Patrick says.
“Chris told me what he saw,” his foster mom says. “I don’t know why you felt like you needed to do this, but it’s completely unacceptable.”
Patrick opens his mouth to argue. He didn’t; he would never; Chris is—
But then he thinks better of it. They’ll never believe him, not over Chris. And if he doesn’t have a job at the rink to go back to, this house is all he has. He can’t make it more miserable than it is.
“Needless to say, you’re grounded until further notice,” his foster dad says. “You’ll be here until you leave for school, and you’ll come home directly afterwards. You’ll work on the living room until it’s clean. If you can’t get it clean, you’ll pay for a professional.”
So he would have lost his rink job anyway. Patrick nods tightly. He needs to get out of there before his face does something he’ll regret. But…there’s nowhere to go.
They leave him with a bucket full of cleaning supplies. Patrick picks it up and takes a few cautious steps into the living room. Every step makes soot puff up in a cloud.
It’s going to take forever to get this clean.
He goes down on his hands and knees and starts applying the carpet shampoo. It’s not like he has anything else to do now, anyway. This is his life now: this house, the limits of its walls, this living room that Chris destroyed for him, eight hours of sitting through classes every day. Not skating on the cold, clean ice of the UC. Not pretending that Jonathan Toews is someone he could know.
God. What Jonny must have thought when he saw the bonding meter go off for Patrick. Patrick’s stomach curdles just to think of it. Here Jonny is, spending all weekend in search of the person to cement his hockey career and bring him to new heights, and he ends up with…the janitor. The one who didn’t belong on the ice in the first place.
Patrick screws up his face because he will not, will not cry over this. Not over this, not over the miles of soot-stained carpet around him, not over the ashy grit working its way into the knees of his only good pair of jeans. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.
As the sun goes down, it gets harder to see what he’s working on. Every time he moves, more soot comes up off the carpet and gets caught in his lungs, making him cough. His hands are getting sore from the strong shampoo, but he knows that if he goes to ask for a pair of gloves, he’ll get a talking-to about consequences instead. So he just keeps scrubbing.
“Hey, shrimp,” Chris says from the doorway, and Patrick doesn’t turn around. He can hear the smile in Chris’s voice, and he’s not about to give him the satisfaction of reacting.
He watches out of the corner of his eye as Chris circles the room, staying clear of the big circle of soot. “Saw what you did last night,” Chris says. “That was pretty ungrateful, don’t you think?”
Patrick grits his teeth. This is his life from now on. He can’t make it worse for himself.
“You know what I think?” Chris says. He leans over the side of the couch so he’s as near as he can get to Patrick without stepping on the soot. “I think you should just leave,” he says in a low voice. “Pack up your bags and leave my family the hell alone.”
“I think you should fuck off,” Patrick says in an equally low voice.
Chris’s face breaks into a wide smile. This is obviously what he wanted to happen, and Patrick winces. “Mom!” Chris shouts. “Guess what Patrick just said to me!”
He tells her, when she gets there. “And he rubbed soot into my sleeve,” Chris says, showing her a sooty patch on his arm that Patrick definitely did not put there.
“Patrick,” she says, looking at him with sharp eyes. “Didn’t we just talk about respect?”
Patrick just looks at her, wanting to deny it, but he knows that nothing, nothing he can say will make this situation better. There’s nothing he can say to defend himself against Chris, not now and not whenever Chris does the next thing or the thing after that. And now he can’t even get out.
“Just—keep cleaning,” his foster mom says to him. “Chris, it’s time for dinner.”
“Can I—” Patrick says, when they’re almost at the door. They both turn around to look at him. He doesn’t want to say it, hates asking for things like this, but he can’t help it. He clears his throat against the soot. “Could I have something to eat?”
She looks at him for a long moment. “Maybe later,” she says, and leaves the room.
Chris waits till she leaves, then gives Patrick a wide smile and follows her out.
Patrick closes his eyes and lets his head drop for a second. With his eyes closed, he can almost imagine himself back there: on the ice, with Jonny, skating fast and powerful and free. The best feeling he’s ever known.
He still has his eyes closed when the doorbell rings.
His foster mom stops by the door to the living room just long enough to slide it shut on her way to the front door. “Stay in there,” she says to Patrick, and he’s not about to argue. He’s covered in soot and shampoo and dried sweat, and anyway, why would he want to go out there?
He hears a couple of men talking with his foster mom after the door opens. He’s not really interested; no one he knows would bother coming to the house. Hell, he doesn’t even know very many people outside this house, aside from his sisters. But then—he stands up fast enough to lose his balance, because oh God, one of those voices belongs to Jonny.
It’s impossible. There’s no way Jonny could be here. But as soon as Patrick thinks it, he’s absolutely sure. Jonny is on the other side of that wall. He knows it in his gut.
He creeps over to the door and opens it just enough to see out. His foster mom is still out there, and he doesn’t need her to be any more furious than she is with him. Beyond her, though, are men he recognizes: Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook and—
Patrick’s first thought is that he looks great, even though that isn’t quite true. He looks stressed and exhausted and desperate. But it’s so good to look at him, even so.
Why is he here? Have they come to tell Patrick off? He didn’t need to bother; Patrick wasn’t going to be dumb enough to go back and try to make something of the bond. He knows to stay away.
Jonny is holding Patrick’s skate under his arm.
Patrick stares at it. Why did they bring it? Did they just not want Patrick to have a reason to come back?
His foster mom is talking: “It’s so nice of you boys to come by,” she’s saying, all fake sweetness, “but as I said, Patrick isn’t here.”
Patrick can see the frustration on Jonny’s face. “With all due respect, ma’am—”
“Hey, that’s mine!” someone says, and Chris comes into the hallway and tugs on the skate under Jonny’s arm.
Jonny lets it go in surprise. Patrick Sharp’s face is a picture of confusion. “I don’t think—” he says.
“Oh yes, my son Chris is a very devoted skater,” Patrick’s foster mom says, which, that’s the first Patrick’s heard of it. “I’m sure he’d be delighted to take part in whatever program you’re offering.”
Chris is tugging on the skate to try to get it on. He hasn’t loosened the laces—as far as Patrick knows, he’s never even worn a pair of skates in his life—and his foot is at least two sizes bigger than Patrick’s, anyway.
“Um,” Jonny says. “Sorry, but there’s no way you’re—”
Patrick watches in horror as Chris turns to hide the skate with his body, flips a switchblade Patrick has never seen out of his sleeve, and slices down the back seam of the skate. “Aw, man, look what happened!” Chris says, holding it up.
“Oh, no,” Patrick’s foster mom says. “Those were his favorites,” she says to the others.
“Well, you guys will get me another pair, right?” Chris says, handing the skate back to a very confused-looking Jonny.
Okay, that’s it; Patrick can’t stay quiet through this. “Or you could just try on the other one,” he says, pulling it out of his bag and sliding the door open.
“Patrick!” His foster mom whirls around. “I told you to stay—”
But it’s too late: Jonny’s already stepped forward, and when he says, “Patrick,” it sounds nothing like when his foster mom says it. Jonny’s face is glowing, like he’s never seen anything better in his life, and Patrick’s heart slams into his throat.
He’d meant to get one over on Chris, to call him out for once on being a douchey liar. He hadn’t really thought through exposing himself to the wrath of the Blackhawks. But what he’s seeing on Jonny’s face isn’t wrath.
“Not home, huh,” Sharp says smugly, but Patrick can’t look at him. Can’t look away from Jonny, actually.
“I’m sorry,” Patrick says.
“What?” Jonny says. He sounds bewildered. “For what?”
“For—the thing,” Patrick says. His voice is thick with soot and shame. “I didn’t know it would happen, I swear. I know it’s not what you want—”
“Are you kidding?” Seabrook says with a snort. “Not what he wants?” Seabrook comes up to slap Jonny’s shoulder. “Look, kid. This guy practically begged the coaches to let him go look for you. Yelled at them for half an hour about the caliber of prospects, and what good even were our scouts if they couldn’t figure out that a player like you was working in the rink right under their noses.”
“He made us play hot and cold all over Chicago before we found you here.” Sharp rolls his eyes. “Worst car ride of my life.”
Patrick feels the heat in his cheeks under the soot. “Really?” he says to Jonny.
Jonny nods. And now his face is a mixture of Patrick’s two favorite expressions: shy, like he’s not sure what Patrick’s going to say, but underneath it so determined, like this is something he won’t ever stop fighting for. Like Patrick is someone worth wanting. “If—if you want,” Jonny says.
“What? Of course I do,” Patrick says, and the transformation in Jonny’s face is marvelous. It’s like the sun rising. Patrick never wants to look away.
“Now, just a minute,” his foster mom says, but Patrick couldn’t be paying any less attention to her. Jonny’s already coming forward, and a second later Patrick’s wrapped up in his arms tighter than he can remember ever having been held before.
Jonny’s getting covered in soot and carpet cleaner and who knows what else, but he doesn’t seem to care. His hand goes to the back of Patrick’s neck, skin on skin, and Patrick can feel the bond snapping into place. It fizzles at the base of his spine and races through his veins.
He presses his face into Jonny’s neck and breathes him in. Warm skin, scented like sweat because Jonny probably didn’t stop to shower before leaving the rink. But it’s Jonny’s sweat, and it makes Patrick’s stomach heat. Jonny’s arms tighten around him, and maybe they should break this hug at some point, but this is the best place Patrick’s ever been. He feels like he’s finally home.
“About time,” Sharp murmurs.
Jonny does pull back eventually, only to put his hand on the side of Patrick’s face and stroke his thumb lightly over his cheekbone. It sends tingles all through Patrick’s body. “Let’s get out of here,” Jonny murmurs. “Unless—” He looks up, looks around. “Did you want to stay?”
“Not in the slightest,” Patrick says.
“I can’t imagine why; you have such charming siblings,” Sharpy mutters, and Patrick hears Chris shout a protest and his foster mother’s voice join in, but he doesn’t care. He’s looking at Jonny.
Jonny smiles at him, big and warm, and takes his hand and leads him into the world outside.