Patrick goes to practice with the Hawks again the next morning, and Stan pulls him aside on his way in to tell him that he doesn’t think his foster family will be causing any more trouble for him. The hardness in his eyes is more reassuring than his words. Like he’s ready to get in the way of anyone who tries to mess with Patrick.
Patrick’s pretty sure Jonny would be right there beside him, maybe a few steps ahead.
It’s weird, but he actually feels better now than he did before the thing yesterday. Like the other shoe has dropped. And it’s not that he had a lot of doubts about whether the team would stand by him before, but now he knows it for sure.
He doesn’t tell the rest of the team about the thing at school. They don’t need to know. But he does mention that he’s going to be traveling with them.
It’s…not as much of a surprise as he expected.
“Well, obviously,” Sharpy says, rolling his eyes. “Like they would leave you behind.”
“I kind of thought they would,” Patrick says, because, sixteen-year-old who can’t play yet? Not much point in flying him all over the country, now that the bond lets him and Jonny be apart.
“Pf,” Sharpy says. “Have you seen how Jonny plays when you’re in the arena?”
Patrick turns to look at Jonny, who’s studying his skates with great attention, but the back of his neck is red. He has seen how Jonny’s played when he’s in the arena—of course he has; he almost never does anything but watch Jonny while he’s in the arena. But he hadn’t quite put together that there was something different about it, something other than the amazing power and drive Jonny had all last year. He knows that having a bond is supposed to stabilize players, help them find their center on the ice, but— “I mean, he’s always good,” he says.
“Not like he is when you’re there,” Sharpy says.
Seabs cuffs Patrick around the neck on his way by. “Yeah, don’t let him tell you anything different,” he says.
Jonny's still bent over his skates, neck flushed. Patrick sits down next to him, nudges his arm. “So, you play better when I'm there, huh?” Patrick says.
“Shut up,” Jonny mumbles, but when Patrick nudges him again, Jonny pushes back right away, firm and solid against him.
Patrick gets to travel with the team the very next weekend, and it’s awesome, but it turns out he maybe should have paid more attention to Stan’s promise about keeping him up on his schoolwork.
He’s only been on the plane to Florida for half an hour—the first plane ride he’s been on in about five years, and it’s with the fucking Chicago Blackhawks—when Jonny gets up to use the bathroom, and Sharpy slides into his seat. “Okay, time to do math,” Sharpy says.
Patrick stares at him. “Um. I think Jonny—”
“He’ll get over it,” Sharpy says. “Have you done cosines yet?”
Patrick looks down at the book Sharpy is opening, which is, unmistakably, a copy of his trig textbook. “Do you even know this stuff?”
Sharpy gives him an even look. “Please,” he says. “I am a man of many geniuses.” He pauses. “And also Abby talked me through it last night.”
“Right,” Patrick says. He cranes his head to look over the seat to see if Jonny’s coming back, and Sharpy bops him on the nose with his pencil.
“None of that,” Sharpy says. “Or I won’t get up and let you snuggle on Jonny’s shoulder when I’m done.”
Patrick feels his cheeks heat up. “I don’t want to…whatever,” he says. “Are we doing trig or not?”
Sharpy is, surprisingly, not horrible at this. If only because he reads the textbook to Patrick, and it’s, like, the fourth week of trig, so nothing is too complicated. And because his very presence means that Patrick has to pay attention instead of zoning out like he normally would. Although Patrick maintains that he would learn better if Sharpy let him eat his in-flight M&Ms while he studied.
“Enjoy this while it lasts,” Sharpy says, blocking Patrick’s access to his carry-on. “Duncs is teaching you history next.”
After Sharpy finally gets up, though, Jonny slips back into his seat before Duncs can come anywhere near it.
“What the fuck was that?” Jonny asks.
“Apparently the whole team is tutoring me in twelfth grade,” Patrick says.
“Oh.” Jonny startles and half-rises out of his seat. “Should I go?”
“No!” Patrick says, maybe a little too fast. But it works, because Jonny sits back down, and a minute later, when Patrick leans his head against Jonny’s shoulder, he doesn’t move away. He sits there for a minute, then tips his head to match, ear resting on top of Patrick’s head as they both fall asleep.
Duncs doesn’t get to teach him anything on that flight, and Patrick’s pretty okay with it.
Their hotel room has two beds.
Patrick sees this coming about five minutes before they get there and spends the time trying not to hyperventilate. Jonny hasn’t made them stop sleeping together at home—but that might just be routine. Here, they don’t have a routine yet, and it would be easy for Jonny to take one bed and let Patrick take the other. Which—it would be fine. Patrick’s used to sleeping alone. Except for how he is very much not used to it anymore and the idea of sleeping across the room from Jonny makes him feel like he’s going to do something horribly embarrassing, like start crying in the lobby of the Sunrise Radisson.
He doesn’t start crying, and when they get to their room, Jonny throws his suitcase on the bed nearest to the door. Patrick just stands there, wondering if he should take the other one, until Jonny says, “Here, you can put your suitcase on this bed too if you want, and we can use it for stuff.”
Oh. Patrick starts to smile. “Okay,” he says.
They don’t have anything scheduled that night, and Patrick tags along on the team dinner. He feels like a little kid pretending to be a grownup, sitting around the long table in the restaurant and ordering a trainer-approved steak that he can pay for with the money from the first paycheck that came in at the end of last week. The waiter tries to card him even though he didn’t order any alcohol, and the guys around him laugh for like five minutes. If they’d tried to hide their laughter Patrick might care, but somehow the volume makes it okay. Like he's part of the joke, not outside of it.
Going to bed with Jonny hasn’t started to feel normal yet. Patrick’s not sure it ever will: sliding under the covers next to Jonny’s warm body, feeling the heat of his skin where their thighs press together. Patrick always jerks off in the shower before bed, always always, because he’s not sure he could keep himself from reacting otherwise, when Jonny whispers good night across the pillow and pulls Patrick a little closer.
Patrick wishes he could stay awake longer and enjoy the feeling, but it’s too relaxing, and he always drops off right away.
The next day, he joins in on morning skate at the BB&T Arena, and that night he watches Jonny power down the ice and score a third-period goal to take them to overtime, and he can’t believe this is his life now, but he loves it.
They get back to Chicago a few days later, after beating the Blues and losing to the Wild, and Patrick’s tired enough that he can’t imagine how the team manages to travel and plays games.
He tries to argue that he should be allowed to watch TV the night they get back, but Jonny hides the remote and won’t give it back to him until he finishes the homework he’s missed.
“You should have spoken up more in that meeting with the principal; she would have stopped worrying,” Patrick grumbles as he drags his way through his chem homework.
“I don’t want us to be the reason you get behind,” Jonny says, like he hasn’t been saying the same thing for the last twenty minutes.
Patrick rests his cheek on his book. Definitely not as soft as Jonny’s pillows. “Why do I need to do this, anyway? I just need to skate over the ice, not analyze its molecular structure or whatever.”
Jonny’s silent, and after a minute, Patrick looks up to find him looking kind of uncomfortable. “What?” Patrick asks.
“It’s just—I’ve known a lot of guys, okay?” Jonny says. “Guys who’ve been injured, or had to stop playing, or whatever. I don’t want you to…not be prepared for stuff.”
Patrick goes a little cold. He forces a laugh to try to cover it. “Don’t want me to end up on the street, huh?”
Jonny gets the kind of furious look he gets when the ref makes a really stupid call. “You would never end up on the street,” he says.
“Okay,” Patrick says, and he feels—that was a lot of anger Jonny just showed over his well-being. It’s hard not to be warmed a little, when someone says something like that.
“That’s not…it’s not about that,” Jonny says. “I just don’t want you to be bored or whatever. Like you can’t do anything interesting with your life, if something happens.”
“I don’t think chemistry will ever count as something interesting,” Patrick says, but he’s definitely blushing now. Half at Jonny’s words, and half at the look on his face, like it’s embarrassing for him to show that much emotion, but he’s going to do it anyway.
“So, uh. No remote until you’re done,” Jonny says, scrubbing a hand over his mouth.
“I could just get up and turn it on by hand,” Patrick points out, but Jonny’s kind of leaning into his side now. And, well, he should probably finish this, anyway. If only so the school doesn’t get mad about him traveling with the team. Not because Jonny wants him to, obviously.
They fall into a sort of routine. Jonny’s game and practice schedule is too irregular for it to be a day-of-the-week thing, but Patrick goes to games when they happen and cheers for the Hawks from the family section. They don’t win every time, or even most of the time, but Jonny is always amazing to watch.
Patrick gets to go to about every other practice. He also gets to go on the road trips, and once Q deems him ready, he starts playing with a couple of good U18 and U20 teams around Chicago—not often enough to feel like part of the roster, but enough to give him some real game-time practice. Patrick loves that: joining in on practices is great and all, but nothing beats a real hockey game, even if it’s not with the Hawks.
His favorite, though—and maybe it’s sacrilegious to say this—are the evenings when he doesn’t have a game, and neither does Jonny, and they get to sit down in front of the TV and curl up together, Jonny with his arm around Patrick and Patrick with his head on Jonny’s shoulder, pretending that the scent of Jonny’s skin doesn’t make his pulse flutter.
He’s pretty sure by now that Jonny doesn’t have feelings for him. Well, he has some feelings, obviously, but not feelings feelings. Not the kind of feelings Patrick has when he looks at Jonny in the morning with his sleep-rumpled hair and drowsy eyes and wishes Jonny would lean forward and press him into the mattress.
It’s okay. Patrick can get over it. He has so much more than he did a couple of months ago—he has Jonny, he has hockey, he has his sisters squealing beside him in first-row seats at a Hawks game where he’s friends with the players on the ice—and it’s okay that he doesn’t have this, too. It would be way too much to ask for.
Except that sometimes he looks at the way Jonny’s lips part and eyes light up when he’s talking and thinks he’ll die if he can’t kiss him, and he wishes there were someone to ask, someone who could take their bond and make it something it’s not. Someone who would make Jonny love him back.
Time passes quickly enough that Patrick’s surprised when it’s almost his birthday. He can track the passing time in the muscle mass he’s gained—almost enough to make the trainer happy with him—and in how used he’s gotten to talking to his sisters every night, to driving to the Ice House with Jonny, to having Chris avoid him in the halls instead of the other way around, to going home to a place that actually feels like home. But it still feels like something he just started yesterday, sometimes. And now he’s almost seventeen.
He doesn’t expect anyone but his sisters to remember the day. But on the morning of November nineteenth, Jonny pulls him aside when they get to the rink, and says, “Wait, I have a surprise for you.”
Patrick follows him into the equipment room, and—“Oh,” he says, because it’s skates.
He has skates already, of course. But he doesn’t love them, not really, and these are just like the ones he lost when Chris cut the seam: Bauer, last year’s model, with the gray ankle cushions and the gray-to-white swoosh on the side that Patrick would know anywhere. They’re even worn in a similar way, and they have a scrape across the right toe, just like—
“Oh fuck,” he says, and starts to cry.
“Hey,” Jonny says, sounding alarmed “no, don’t cry—I didn’t mean—” but Patrick’s sobbing into his shirtfront now, gripping him tight, and Jonny’s arms come up around him.
It always feels so good when Jonny hugs him like this. Especially right now, when there are way too many feelings for him to handle by himself.
“I knew you cared about them,” Jonny says softly, into his hair. “I could see your face when that guy—well, anyway. I had them fixed. I hope that’s okay.”
Patrick presses his face into Jonny’s shoulder and tries to steady his breath. He doesn’t usually notice the bond much anymore—it’s become a part of who he is, like his heart beat or his lungs—but it’s buzzing at him now, singing across his skin and urging him to grip Jonny harder. Jonny, who kept his old ruined skates, Jonny who had them repaired because he knew how much they meant to him. Jonny who’s holding him now with a hand pressed into his hair.
“They’re perfect,” Patrick says. “I love them,” and if he wants to be talking about something other than the skates, Jonny doesn’t need to know.
A bunch of the team insists on coming over that night to help Patrick celebrate. They would take him out, but: “Then you wouldn’t be able to drink,” Sharpy says as he hands Patrick a beer.
“Excuse me, he’s a minor,” Jonny says, hands on his hips.
“So’re you,” Sharpy says. “Or did you want to give that back?” He grins and points to the beer in Jonny’s hand.
Jonny glares harder. “I’m over eighteen,” he says. “It’s different.”
“Is not,” Patrick says, because he doesn’t want Jonny to see him as different. He grabs for the beer. “Anyway, it’s not like I’ve never had one before.”
He actually hasn’t. He probably could have, if he’d partied with the kids at school before now, but he was always busy working, and anyway, he hated getting attached to people when he knew he was probably going to get shunted somewhere else in a few months. And no one was clamoring to hang out with the weird foster kid in the first place.
He doesn’t love the taste of the beer, but he likes the slightly dizzy feeling he gets when he’s on his second one. It makes him want to lean against Jonny more than ever, so he does that while he fumbles through Mario Kart.
Sharpy and Burs and Duncs and Seabs are all there, all the guys Patrick’s gotten closest to on the team, and Patrick loves this. Loves having all of them around him, feeling at the center of something. Loves the way Jonny will look for him first when he walks into the room, ignoring all the guys who are actually on the team with him to find Patrick’s face with his eyes. Patrick’s never had someone like that before, someone who looks to him before anyone else.
He doesn’t even care that the beer makes him crash and burn at Mario Kart. He wins exactly one race, and that’s only because Sharpy gets a phone call in the middle of it. “Lame!” Patrick shouts as Sharpy lets his car crash into the mountainside.
“Sorry, kid. Abby trumps Mario Kart,” Sharpy says, rumpling Patrick’s hair and springing out of the room.
Seabs slides over and steals the controller. “Psh, bondies,” he says.
“Huh?” Patrick says, because Jonny isn't even in the room right now. “Who?”
“Abby and Sharpy,” Seabs says. He starts up another game, and Patrick frowns at the TV. He may have had like four beers at this point, but he’s pretty sure that didn’t make sense.
“I thought Sharpy was bonded to Hossa,” he says.
“Yeah, of course,” Seabs says, and then when Patrick still looks blank, “That’s just a hockey bond. Doesn’t mean he can’t have a romantic bond with Abby.”
“Wait,” Patrick says, and okay, the room is spinning a little now. “You can do that?”
Seabs shrugs. “I mean, it’s rare, but.”
Burs throws some popcorn from the armchair. “Why, you want us to set you up?” he asks. “Think there’s a market for tiny hockey players out there?”
Patrick’s tongue feels thick in his mouth. He doesn’t answer, because he’s busy imagining. Jonny, sitting next to him on the couch, and then getting up because he has a phone call—Jonny sliding his arm around someone else—
“Hey, what’s going on?” Jonny asks, walking back in from the kitchen.
“I don’t feel so good,” Patrick says, and Jonny is at his side in a second, one hand on his wrist and the other on the back of his neck.
His fingers stroke along Patrick’s hairline, and Patrick leans into the touch. “Didn’t you guys make him drink water?” Jonny asks the others.
“Thought that was your job,” Burs says, but Patrick’s not paying any attention. He’s not paying attention to anything except how Jonny’s touching him. How right this minute, no matter what happens later, he’s still Patrick’s.
Jonny makes everyone leave after that, and he gets Patrick to drink two full cups of water before they go to bed. “Only had like four beers,” Patrick says to him, but he’s feeling it so much more than he was fifteen minutes ago. He sways into Jonny where they’re standing, pushes closer when they get into bed.
“Don’t bond,” he whispers when they’re curled up together, Jonny’s hand warm on his back, and Jonny says, “What?” But Patrick’s already fast on his way to sleep.