It’s weird how much Patrick feels it, the lack of Jonny’s closeness, when they’re up and getting dressed. Not like they could have gotten dressed while wrapped around each other, but…Patrick’s just being weird. It’s fine.
It helps a little when he has to borrow Jonny’s clothes. He doesn’t have any clothes of his own here—he didn’t take anything with him except the bag he’d brought home from the rink, and he was glad to leave everything else behind, but now he’s glad for other reasons, too. It makes him feel more like Jonny’s touching him again, when his clothes are against Patrick’s skin.
Jonny’s eyes linger on the Toews 19 on Patrick’s sleeve, and Patrick likes that, too.
He starts getting nervous on the trip to the rink. He hasn’t played properly with other people in almost two years. Sure, Jonny was impressed with his skating on Saturday night, but the bond might have already been making him biased. The coaches aren’t going to have anything clouding their vision.
He’s feeling the tremor of adrenaline when they climb out of the car. It’s the Ice House, not the UC—not the place he knows—and it helps when Jonny puts his hand on the small of his back to steer him, but Patrick’s sure he looks like a terrified kid.
Joel Quenneville is every bit as intimidating close up as he looked across the ice. “Nice to meet you, kid,” he says, shaking Patrick’s hand. “You gave us quite the surprise yesterday.”
Patrick gives a smile that’s probably more like a grimace. “Uh, yes, sir, sorry about that.”
“You can make it up to us.” Q crosses his arms over his chest. “Let’s see how you skate.”
Patrick darts a look at Jonny. “I, um.” How did they not think of this? “I don’t have my skates.”
“Where do you think you are, kid?” Q asks. “The equipment guys will find you something.”
Right. Of course. But it won’t be the same. These skates won’t be molded to his feet the way the Bauer skates were. Patrick tells himself it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t, really—he can skate in anything—but it would have made him feel better to have his own skates for this. He remembers Chris cutting into the back seam and bites his lip.
“Hey.” Jonny stops him a few minutes later, when they’re just about to go on the ice. “You’re gonna be okay, you know that? You’re really good.”
Patrick gives him a weak smile. “Yeah. Thanks, Jonny.”
“No.” Jonny puts a hand on his arm. “I mean it. You’re…I’ve never seen someone skate the way you do.”
Patrick’s stomach flutters. “You might be a little biased,” he says.
Jonny’s lips quirk. “I don’t think I’m wrong, though.”
Patrick feels awkward, when he first steps onto the ice. The new skates feel weird on his feet, and all his muscles are sore from crouching and scrubbing at the carpet for hours yesterday. He does a couple of easy laps of the rink, trying to feel like he has his feet under him again, and then Jonny skates up to him with a stick and puck.
“Bet you can’t get it away from me,” Jonny says. His eyes are sparkling with challenge, and Patrick’s grin feels rusty, but it’s there.
He can’t get the puck away, not at first. He’s still feeling off, shaken by everything that’s happened the past few days, and he’s so conscious of Q and the other coaches watching him. But he gets the puck away the second time he tries. And the longer they skate, the more comfortable Patrick feels.
He and Jonny work like this. Passing back and forth, building up speed, honing in on that split-second quickness of hand and leg that gets the puck just exactly where it’s supposed to be. And then Patrick’s flying.
They stop after what feels like half an hour, even though it was probably way longer than that. Patrick can feel the glow in his skin and the sweat gathering under his borrowed jersey. He’s not feeling nervous—that’s not a feeling that can sustain itself when he’s skating that hard—but when he makes his way back to the boards, Q is watching him with a steady look and Patrick feels his stomach tighten.
There’s a long pause. “Yeah,” Q says, “okay.”
“Yeah?” Patrick says, because he doesn’t know what that means.
Q’s mustache twitches a little. “Jonny wasn’t wrong.”
Patrick feels his face split into a broad smile.
They offer him a salary.
Maybe Patrick should have been expecting that, but he wasn’t. His mouth drops open. “Are you…I mean, is that allowed?”
One of Q’s eyebrows goes up. Stan Bowman’s the one who answers, though. “It’s within the range the league permits for underage bonds. We want you to be focused on training this year, and the one-year contract includes a clause that gives us first dibs on offering you an entry-level deal next year.”
As if he’d want to go play anywhere else. They don’t need to offer him…wow. That’s a lot of zeroes.
“You should see about getting an agent,” Q says.
“I’ll put him in touch with mine,” Jonny says, and Patrick’s nodding before he can think about it.
“Now, about billeting,” Stan says, and Patrick goes rigid. “My family would be more than happy to take you in. I don’t know how the foster care system would feel about that, but the team can probably work something out.” He leans forward, broad face, nice face, and Patrick feels sick.
“I thought—” he starts, then cuts himself off, because he can’t just invite himself to live with Jonny. Jonny probably doesn’t want him hanging around all the time, after the bond solidifies. But his stomach is crawling. Going to live with a family again, another family that’s not his—
“What is it?” Stan asks.
Patrick looks at Jonny. He doesn’t really mean to—doesn’t want to seem like he’s asking for anything—but Jonny’s looking back at him, and Patrick can tell that his eyes are doing the asking for him.
“You can,” Jonny says softly, and then, to Stan and Q, more loudly, “Patrick can live with me.”
There’s a long moment of silence. “Is that a good idea?” Stan asks. “You’ll be gone a lot.”
Patrick wants to laugh: like that makes a difference. He’s basically been on his own for the past four years. But saying that will probably just make them want to give him a family more. And he doesn’t want any new family besides Jonny.
“He could stay at your place sometimes when I’m out of town,” Jonny says. “But he should be with me. For the bond.”
He’s looking at them very seriously, all professional concern, but his hand comes up to brush against the outside of Patrick’s thigh, fingers playing with the seam of the jeans that don’t quite fit right.
For the bond are evidently the magic words, because they stop arguing with him then, and Patrick gives Jonny a little smile of relief. Jonny smiles back at him and tugs on his seam.
They send Patrick to one of the trainers next, and she puts him through all sorts of strength and endurance tests. “Better than I would have expected, not playing hockey for two years,” she says.
“I skated a lot,” Patrick says.
She nods. “Could gain some weight, though,” she says, and Patrick makes a face. He knows.
She prescribes him a targeted training regime to bulk up and work on a few key areas. It’s all kind of complicated, but he has a feeling she’ll give him plenty of reminders. Then she makes him work with the weights until he wants to scream.
It’s a relief to flop onto the passenger seat of Jonny’s car after that. “Feeling it a little?” Jonny asks around a smirk.
“You didn’t tell me this professional athlete thing would be so much work,” Patrick grumbles, just to be a dick, and Jonny hits him a little, a light tap of his fingers against Patrick’s upper arm.
“What do you want to do now?” Jonny asks.
Touch me more, Patrick thinks, the desire rising thick and fast in him, and he bites down on both lips. “Um,” he says, and his mind is blank. It’s only early afternoon. He tries to think of what he’d be doing on a normal day without school, but he doesn’t just get free time like this. He’d be at work, or at home doing chores, or trying to cram in some skating or homework. He doesn’t just…go places. But if he could…
He straightens up in the seat a little. “Do you think…we could go see my sisters?” he asks.
Something flashes over Jonny’s face. “Yeah,” he says. “Of course.“
Patrick’s tense as he Jonny types the address into his GPS. His sisters live in a suburb almost two hours away. It’s too long a trip for foster parents to make very often. He’s already starting to wish he hadn’t asked. But…he hasn’t seen his sisters in so long, and if Jonny’s willing…
Jonny doesn’t say anything about the distance. He just pulls onto the highway, and then he puts some awful country station on the radio, and Patrick makes a face and goes to change it—and then stops, hand on the radio dial, because what if Jonny doesn’t like it when Patrick messes with the radio in his car? What if he changes his mind about taking Patrick to see his sisters? But Jonny just rolls his eyes, glowery but tolerant, and Patrick looks out the window to hide his smile of relief.
He changes the station back like one song later, anyway. Jonny really seems to like it.
His sisters live in a nice little house on a quiet street. Patrick didn’t call ahead—should have thought of it, should have remembered that Jonny has a cell, because he doesn’t want to waste Jonny’s time if they’re not home—but he’s glad he didn’t when he sees the expression on Jackie’s face when she answers the door. “Patty?” she shrieks, and within a minute Patrick is inundated with the weight of three sisters, all throwing themselves at him and squeezing tight.
“Hey,” he says, blinking furiously because he is not going to cry in front of Jonny.
“Oh, um,” he says, when the hug has gone on for kind of a while and Jonny’s just standing awkwardly to the side. “This is Jonathan Toews.”
The girls all turn to stare at him.
“You can call me Jonny,” he says.
“Oh my God, it’s true,” Jess says.
“What, did you think I was lying to you?” Patrick asks.
Erica whacks him in the arm. “What the heck are you doing, knowing Jonathan Toews and not telling us?”
“I did tell you!” Patrick says. “And we kind of, um.” He looks at Jonny, who has this helpless little grin on his face. “We kind of just…bonded.”
There’s a short pause, and then all three of his sisters start shrieking at once.
It takes a little while to tell the whole story, partially because of all the interruptions. Jackie gazes up at Jonny with wide eyes, and when the story’s done, she says, “So you’re sort of our brother now.”
“Um,” Jonny says, and his cheeks are flushed red, up high by the cheekbones.
Jackie takes his hand. “Come on, you can see my room,” she says.
Jonny gives Patrick a pleading look, but Patrick just grins and watches them go.
Erica clears her throat beside him. He turns to see her looking at him with this really significant expression. “What?” he asks.
“So, you two are bonded, huh?” she says.
“Yeah,” he says. “No, I mean—it’s not like that,” he says, cheeks heating, when she raises an eyebrow. “It’s a hockey bond.”
“Yeah, and?” she asks, cheek dimpling.
“It’s just—ugh, you know how most of them are.” Patrick shoves his hands in his pockets. “We’re not, like, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, okay.”
“Suuuure,” Erica says, and then she and Jess start giggling, so Patrick has to tackle them both.
Patrick never wants to leave. He’s expecting Jonny to make their excuses way too soon—but they end up staying all afternoon, until the girls’ foster parents come home from work and invite them to dinner.
Patrick likes Mr. and Mrs. Rozier—he likes how they talk to his sisters, the way the girls don’t seem uncomfortable in their house. He’s never paid much direct attention to them before, but he does now, because they’re bonded.
It’s not like romantic bonds are all that rare, but they still make up a minority of married couples. Patrick’s never observed a bonded couple in close quarters before, and he doesn’t really expect to be able to see the difference, but he does. He sees it in the long glances they give each other during dinner, like they’re having a conversation without words. In the way they move so easily alongside each other like they don’t even have to check for the other’s presence. In the way Mrs. Rozier turns towards her husband to answer his question—before he’s even said anything.
It makes Patrick stare. He shouldn’t—it’s rude, and anyway, he doesn’t have a bond like theirs. There’s no reason for him to look.
Fortunately, his sisters are noisy enough to cover any potential rudeness on his part. Jackie practically bounces in her seat through all of dinner, and Jess complains about her history teacher, and Erica half-tells him stories about their latest school dance that Patrick thinks he should probably look into more closely. And they all have questions for Jonny.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Jackie asks while their foster parents are up getting dessert.
Jonny looks taken aback, and Erica elbows her. “Don’t be stupid.”
“Why?” Jackie asks. “He could have a girlfriend.”
“Um, no,” Jonny says. “No, I don’t.” He sounds like he’s trying not to laugh. Patrick looks down at the table, trying not to telegraph anything, and when he looks up again, Jonny’s eyes are on him.
Patrick would look away, but the way Jonny’s looking at him—he gets caught in it. He can’t tell what Jonny’s trying to say, but it feels like it means something, and he wants to find out. Wants to hold onto the feeling he gets when their eyes are locked like this.
“Ugh, bonds,” Erica says next to him, elbowing Jess, and Patrick lets his eyes drop.
They have to leave long before Patrick’s ready. He always has to leave before he’s ready when he’s visiting his sisters. He’s tired, but he’s not ready to shut the door between their faces and his.
He feels gutted on their way out. Maybe it should be different now—he doesn’t know what his life will look like from now on, but maybe he won’t have to go six months or a year before they get to spend an evening together again. It’s just that it doesn’t feel different.
He’s quiet on the drive home, and later when they’re getting ready for bed. He doesn’t want to make Jonny think he’s mad or ungrateful or anything; he just…doesn’t have any words or smiles in him right now.
Jonny’s quiet, too, as they put on sleeping clothes and brush their teeth. Maybe that should make it awkward, but Patrick finds himself relaxing into the silence. Usually when he’s missing his sisters, he’s alone. Now he has Jonny here, quiet, comfortable, the bond thrumming in the air and making Patrick feel connected.
When they go to bed, Patrick figures it’ll be like last night: Jonny taking his hand, the two of them falling asleep touching like that. Maybe, if he’s lucky, waking up wrapped around each other again. And Jonny starts the same way as before: wrapping his fingers around Patrick’s. But then he slides his hand up Patrick’s back, moving closer, and his hands are gentle as they ease Patrick onto his side. And then Jonny spoons up behind him.
Patrick almost doesn't dare to breathe. He feels it like—like a delicacy. Something of unimaginable richness, maxing out his senses, and he doesn’t know how long it’ll last, but he’s going to do his best to absorb every last bit of it while it does.
“So,” Jonny says in his ear, “you don’t get to spend a lot of time with your sisters, huh?”
Patrick goes—not exactly tense. But the words crack his surface, piercing deep, and he doesn’t know if he can talk about this. Not if he wants to keep it together. Doesn’t want Jonny to see him—
He reaches for the feeling of the bond, of Jonny’s skin humming against his, the connection that can’t be broken. Holds onto it.
“That was the first time I’ve seen them in almost a year,” he says.
Now it’s Jonny who goes tense, a startled movement against him. “What? But the Roziers seem…”
“Yeah, it wasn’t them,” Patrick says in a low voice.
Jonny’s breathing is soft in his ear. Patrick expects more questions, more words that will poke at the edges of the sore place in his chest, but Jonny just moves a little closer and tightens his arm around Patrick’s middle. Not too much, just enough to be reassuring. Enough to make Patrick feel held.
Patrick closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the feeling. Jonny’s got him.