Jonathan Toews is looking for a hockey bond.
It’s the kind of news that gets splashed all over every sports blog and sports section everywhere. Hockey players don’t go looking for bonds that often—mostly they just happen, in juniors or college or rookie year, with coaches and agents helping things along if nothing’s taking. It’s basically unheard of to make a major event of it, but then, no one else has ever become a major star without a bond, until Jonathan Toews. So it’s the kind of news that has everyone talking, that has bond-eligible rookies across the whole league sharpening their skates, that has bloggers questioning whether the Blackhawks know what they’re doing, making such a public attempt to bond the one player who’s never been able to do it.
It’s the kind of news that makes a lot more work for Patrick.
He heaves the dripping mop back into the bucket and checks his watch. Normally he wouldn’t be here so late before school, but BHTV is filming something today to publicize the big event, and they want everything to be as shiny and perfect as possible. As if they’re going to have trouble convincing people to come try and bond with the great Jonathan Toews. Patrick could say no to the extra hours, but—well, they did him such a favor hiring him last year, when he was only fifteen, and he doesn’t want to give them any reason to reconsider. If he loses this job, he won’t have any money to send to his sisters.
Not to mention that he won’t have anywhere to skate.
Patrick can just see the ice from where he’s mopping one of the tunnels. It looks—God, it looks perfect, an unblemished sheet that might as well go on forever. He wishes he could go out there right now and carve the first snowy arcs into it with his blades. But, school first.
It’s only the second week of twelfth grade, and so far, this year seems a lot like last year: eight hours of classes that Patrick can’t care about at all. He would much rather draw hockey plays in the margins than pay attention. But if he doesn’t do well, what is there for him after high school? Who’s going to help his sisters get through college?
So he does pay attention, sort of—there have to be some hockey plays in the margins—and when the last bell finally rings he bursts through the doors, breathes the fresh air, and heads back to the UC for his regular afternoon shift.
This part, he kind of loves. Maybe he shouldn’t, since it’s just cleaning, but he’s cleaning the UC. Where the Blackhawks clinched the conference finals last year. Where Patrick gets to sit in the stands during games, way high up so that he’s not taking anyone else’s seat, and watch the players zip around the ice with his heart in his throat and his hands clenched on the edge of the chair. He loves this place. And he knows, while he’s scrubbing or sanding or whatever it is they need him to do that day, that every minute he works is a minute that’s bringing him closer to his time on the ice.
He finishes cleaning by seven-thirty. This is when he could go back home, but—well. His foster parents are well-meaning, they really are, and it’s not their fault Patrick feels like an intruder in their house. It’s a little more his foster brothers’ fault, but even then, Patrick gets it. It can’t be easy to have some random kid around and to be told you’re supposed to treat him like family. Anyone would have trouble with that.
It’s easier to stay at the rink, anyway. Less transit time. He sits in one of the lounges and does his homework—trig and bio, ew—and waits for the hands on the clock to crawl closer to ten.
He’s not expecting anyone to be around, not while it’s still the preseason, but evidently the filming is still going on, because there’s a rattle of footsteps and voices down the hall, and then Jonathan Toews comes into sight with a camera crew.
Patrick hunches down in his seat and pulls his hat lower on his head. It’s not that he’s not supposed to be here, but he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. Doesn’t want people to start asking questions about him.
They don’t come into the lounge, thankfully. He watches them walk by outside, catches a glimpse of Toews’s face as someone asks him questions for the camera. He looks engaged, eyes bright, spots of color high on his cheeks. Excited about whatever he’s talking about.
This is the player no one can bond with, the one who won the Calder last year and almost bagged the Art Ross. Patrick’s never spoken with him before, but he’s seen him on the ice, knows how good he is. Would never dare talk to him.
He sits quietly and waits for them to go by, and then endures the next hour and a half until it’s ten o’clock and he can officially go skate.
This was part of the bargain he struck with management when he started working here. As long as there isn’t a game or other official event, Patrick can go on the ice and skate anytime after ten p.m. or before seven a.m. His curfew is midnight, so he can’t really skate after a Hawks or Bulls game, and once the season starts he’s usually dragging himself out of bed well before the crack of dawn to get to the rink in time to get a few hours of workout in. But tonight—tonight, there’s no game, no event, nothing, and for a few blissful hours he has the ice to himself.
It’s really better than anything he could have dreamed of, a year ago when he was moved here. It doesn’t make up for being so far away from his sisters, but there was nowhere to skate at all at his last foster home. He had tried to keep playing with the rec league from his previous home, but it was too far a drive for his foster parents and he was outgrowing all his gear. They would have had to buy him all new stuff, and that was too much to ask of foster parents who were just trying to make ends meet.
Here, though. Patrick steps onto the ice and feels that familiar feeling sing through him. Cold, clean ice under his blades. The freedom to move.
His skates are amazing. He won them, at the end of last year, in a raffle at the rink. He had bought a ticket and put his name in even though he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to—it’s not like he had bought a game ticket—but when they called his name, nothing could have kept him from claiming those skates. He got to meet with the Bauer people and have them fit specially to his feet, and they feel like an extension of his skin.
It’s not always very effective, practicing with no one else on the ice with him. And maybe it’s stupid to try to keep himself in hockey condition when he knows he’ll never play again, not for real. But he loves it: hitting around a puck with the old sticks the equipment guys were going to throw out, practicing his deking and dangling, pretending there are real defensemen he’s maneuvering around. The puck snaps sharply off the boards, and the UC is cavernous and empty around him, a whole arena just for Patrick.
Two hours is enough to get him sweaty and panting and sore. But he would never cut it short for anything.
He goes home, takes a shower, falls into bed, and gets up at four a.m. to do it all over again.
It’s not really enough sleep. But it’s skating.
It seems that Toews’ bonding search is going to be a three-day event. Unbonded rookies from all over the league are going to be there, and even some of the top draft prospects for next year. They wouldn’t be able to play yet, but if they bond with Toews, there won’t be any question about their place next year. Dozens of them will be descending on the UC the weekend after next, along with thousands of spectators: some of them fans, rooting for him to find his perfect match, and some of them gawkers who want to stare at the spectacle of a superstar with no bondmate.
There are all sorts of rumors about it. Rumors that Toews is stuck-up, unfriendly, and that’s why no one will bond with him. That he didn’t even want to try last year, because he thought he was so much better than everyone else and a bond would just slow him down. That he just won’t modify his playing style enough to make it work with anyone else.
That last one is pretty obviously crap, since he led his team to the Stanley Cup finals. You don’t do that unless you’re able to make your play work with other people’s. And Patrick knows the bonding rooms were in use a lot last year. He wasn’t down there when the players were, of course, so he doesn’t know who was in them, but there weren’t a lot of rookies on the Blackhawks. He’s pretty sure most of that was Jonny.
None of that is Patrick’s problem, though. He just has to clean up after it.
At the moment, on the ice before any of the staff gets here, he doesn’t even have to do that. He’s working on passing this morning: trying to hit the puck cleanly towards targets, since he doesn’t have anyone else to work with. He’s tried a few things in recent months to give himself moving targets—hitting one puck slowly, then skating away and hitting another towards it to try to knock it off course—but none of it is quite what he needs yet.
He’s thinking about that when he leaves school that day, about how he might get some real passing practice in, and that’s why he doesn’t notice that Chris is waiting for him.
Chris is the oldest of Patrick’s foster brothers, and the worst. They all get after him from time to time, but Chris is the most determined about it. Patrick knows better than to keep going if he sees that their paths are going to cross. But he’s thinking about how he could set up passes for himself to intercept, and so he doesn’t see Chris standing there until he’s too late.
“Hey, shrimp,” Chris says, and Patrick stops at the sound of his voice. Chris is barely an inch taller than Patrick, but he’s been calling him that all year. “Off to go figure skating?”
Patrick shoves his hands in his pockets, just in case he’s tempted to hit Chris at some point in this interaction. “That’s not what it is,” he mutters.
“I don’t know. Seems girly enough,” Chris says.
Patrick starts walking again, right past him. He’s learned a lot about putting up with taunting over the years, and he’s not always good at implementing what he knows, but ignoring someone is usually the way to go.
Not always with Chris, though. “Hey, shrimp, I’m talking to you,” Chris yells, and leans forward to grab the hat off Patrick’s head.
It shouldn’t be that big a deal—and it wouldn’t be, if it were any other hat. But this is the one Patrick picked up on the ice last fall, after Jonathan Toews’ first hat trick in the NHL. The one his boss, Louie, saw him holding afterwards and took one look at his face and told him to keep. Patrick knows better than to get attached to objects, living the life that he does, but—this hat.
Patrick gives a shout and reaches up, but of course Chris is already dancing away. He’s holding the hat out of Patrick’s reach, turning it in his hands, like he’s trying to figure out the best way to deface it.
“Ew. I think this is more shrimp sweat than hat by now,” Chris says, waving it around in the air. “Shouldn’t be allowed around normal people.”
“Give it,” Patrick says, sounding, he knows, like a stupid kid, but the panic has its claws in him by now. It’s not like he’d ever be able to get another hat like this.
“Nah, I think I’ll finish the job you started,” Chris says, and throws the hat across the parking lot.
Patrick runs for it. He’s ashamed of it, hates himself while he does, but he can’t help it. He runs to where he saw the hat fall, just past the rows of cars, and sees it—
Right at the edge of the lot, buried rim-deep in mud.
Patrick sticks two fingers in and fishes it out. It’s shiny mud, reflecting rainbows, like it was made with dirt and engine oil. Someone’s crappy school car has been leaking oil into the dirt at the edge of the lot.
He hears Chris’s laughter across the parking lot. Hot tears spring to the corners of his eyes. The mud drips off the hat in globs and lands at his feet.
He has to go to work. He makes his way to the subway in a daze, telling himself not to be stupid, it’s just a hat, it doesn’t matter. He’s given up trying to have nice stuff he gets to keep, moving from house to house the way he does. It’s just his skates and—this hat. But it doesn’t matter. There are so many bigger things in his life that have gone wrong, and this is a stupid one to cry over. He shouldn’t have let himself get attached.
The mud has dried kind of crusty by now. Patrick’s looking down at it as he goes into the rink, blinking hard, and that’s why he doesn’t see the other person until he bumps into him.
Patrick takes a step back, and it’s Jonathan Toews.
Patrick feels himself flush red right away. “Oh—I’m sorry—”
“No, no, my fault, it’s okay,” Toews says. Then, “Hey. Are you okay?”
Patrick ducks his head. He doesn’t know what he looks like, but he’s sure there are tear tracks on his face, maybe some mud. He feels like such an idiot: a sixteen-year-old crying over a hat. “Yeah, it’s nothing.”
“Okay,” Toews says. He’s hovering awkwardly. Patrick doesn’t know why he doesn’t just go away. “I mean, if you—um.”
He’s staring at the hat. Patrick’s sure it looks gross, can see that it does, and feels his cheeks burn hotter. He feels like he needs to explain, even though—
“It’s, uh, from your first hat trick,” he says, and immediately feels stupider than if he’d said nothing at all. “I was there, and, uh—God, sorry, I’m being so stupid.” He swipes angrily at the tears that are trickling down his cheeks again, probably getting more mud on his face. Why can’t he just keep it together, in front of the star of the Blackhawks?
“No, hey.” Toews’ voice is closer, and Patrick startles at the touch of a hand on his shoulder. Toews is right next to him now, and, wow. Patrick’s seen so many interviews with him; how did he never realize his eyes looked like this? They’re this beautiful clear brown that makes Patrick forget to breathe for a minute.
“I don’t know if this will help,” Toews says, “but, uh, here. If you want.”
He takes the hat off his head, the Blackhawks cap with the Indian head logo in the front, and holds it out to Patrick. Patrick stares at it.
“I’ll just—“ Toews puts the hat on Patrick’s head, sliding it down over the curls. “There.” He gives a tentative smile. “Okay?”
“Um. Yeah.” Patrick’s trying to remember to breathe again. Jonny grins at him, wider this time, and takes off down the hall.
Patrick stares after him. Jonathan Toews just gave him his hat. The hat off his head. He saw Patrick being a sniveling mess and—and actually cared. Wanted to make it better.
And this is the player no one can bond with. Patrick would think they’d be lining up around the block.
The next week is crazy. The whole maintenance staff is working overtime, and Patrick has school, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to pull his weight. It just means he works extra hours after school and during the weekend.
It also means he’s not home very often. When he drags himself home on Saturday night, after he’s scrubbed what felt like a hundred thousand square feet of stadium risers, his foster mom is waiting in the kitchen for him.
“Patrick,” she says when he walks in the door, and he knows he’s in trouble.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says. “It’s not curfew yet or anything, right?” He twists his wrist to look at his watch.
“It’s not curfew,” his foster mom says. “But you know, curfew is just a limit. It’s not an encouragement to stay out until midnight.”
Right. Patrick knows that. They’ve had variations on this conversation before, when he was out skating too much, or when he tried to take public transportation to visit his sisters and was away for fifteen hours. “Sorry. It was just work.”
“Right,” she says. “Chris and Kyle did your share of the laundry this week.”
Patrick freezes. Fuck—he forgot about the laundry. He’s been trying to keep up with his chores this week, after coming home from the rink, but there just hasn’t been enough time. He hasn’t even been skating as much as he wants to. And if Chris and Kyle had to do his chores, he’ll never hear the end of it from them. “Oh God, I’m so sorry,” he says.
“They were happy to do it,” she says, which he knows is a lie, even if she doesn’t. “But you need to learn to be responsible, Patrick. You can start by doing their share of the laundry tomorrow, and raking the lawn.”
Patrick can do that. If he gets to the rink earlier than usual, he can leave early and do the lawn. “Right, of course.”
“All right.” She seems mollified, but her mouth is still turned down. “Here, I saved some dinner for you.”
She passes him a plate of meatloaf and vegetables, and Patrick hadn’t realized how hungry he was until now. He tries to find time to buy lunch while he’s working, but sometimes he’s concentrating and forgets, and he tries to save what money he can. And being so active all day means he’s hungry all the time.
“Do you think—could I call my sisters?” he asks when he’s halfway through the plate.
She considers him for a moment. “It’s late. You can call them tomorrow,” she says.
Patrick does call them tomorrow, when he’s folding laundry. He waits while their house phone rings.
Jackie’s the one who answers. “Patty!” she says, and he feels his face break into a smile. It’s the biggest he’s smiled all week.
“Hey, chipmunk,” he says. “How’s it going?”
“Good,” Jackie says. “But Jess won’t let me have my turn with the jump rope.”
“Tell Jess she should be nice to you because I’m not there to do it,” Patrick says.
“I’ll try,” she says doubtfully. “Guess what? I can jump for five minutes without stopping now.”
“Wow,” he says. “I don’t know if I can do that much.” He definitely can; it’s something he’s worked on at the gym in the UC basement, as an endurance exercise. But the lie is worth it for how she giggles. “Did you get the money I sent you guys?”
“I think Erica did,” she says. “She took it to the bank after school.”
“No one else on the account, right?” Patrick says. “Just you guys?”
“Just us,” Jackie says. “I want to save up to buy a house.”
Patrick laughs. “A house?” he says. “What would you do with a house?”
“Have you live in it with us,” she says, and all of a sudden Patrick has to stop folding, has to screw up his face against the tears that are trying to spill out.
He knows how the foster system works. Knows that sometimes people want just boys or just girls, that four is a lot of kids to place, that they’re lucky to have found one family that would take all three of his sisters. But he hasn’t lived with them since he was thirteen, since the car accident that changed everything, and sometimes he just wants. A room with all four of them bundled together. A door he can lock.
“Patty?” Jackie asks.
“Yeah,” he says, only gasping a little. “Yeah, chipmunk, I’m here.”
“Do you want to talk to Jessica?” she asks. “She’s pulling on my sleeve.”
“Of course I do.”
He talks to Jess and Erica, hears about Jess’s crappy math teacher and interrogates Erica about the money—“You guys are saving it, right?” “Yes, Patty, what kind of idiots do you think we are?”—and tells them about the new passing drills he’s working on and the craziness surrounding the bonding event. He doesn’t tell them about the long hours or his foster mom bugging him. They don’t need to hear that.
“Hey, are you okay?” Erica asks him near the end of the call.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. You just sound a little off.”
Patrick tugs on his hat, the Jonathan Toews hat. He knows he looks like an idiot, wearing it indoors, but he’s only taken it off to sleep or shower. It makes him feel better, having it on. “Just—Jackie. You know.”
“Yeah.” He knows Erica gets it. Jackie’s young enough to still stay stuff that cuts them deep without knowing it.
“You know she wants to buy a house for all of us?”
Erica laughs. “Yeah. She drew a floor plan. The top floor has four bedrooms and one big cuddle room.”
Patrick tries to smile, but he’s not sure that’s exactly what his face is doing. “Okay, I’ll totally fund that.
“Yeah,” Erica says quietly. “I know you would.”
He doesn’t know if it makes him feel better or worse, talking to his sisters. Mostly it just makes him want to talk to them more.
One more year. Just over a year until he’s eighteen, and then—well. They don’t usually let eighteen-year-olds with part-time jobs assume custody of three underage siblings. But Patrick’s trying not to think that far ahead.
Work keeps on being crazy, and school keeps on being boring and more difficult than it should be. Twice Patrick actually falls asleep in his Psychology class. He knows it would make his life easier if he stopped skating, at least until the craziness of this bond event is over, but then—what would be the point? He has to have something to look forward to. He can’t go to sleep just to wake up and go to sleep again. He has to be on the ice.
Thursday, the night before the big event, they’re there late putting up big pictures of Toews’s face all over the UC. Patrick thinks they chose a kind of dumb one. It makes Toews look overly serious and intense, like all he cares about is winning or something. Patrick knows he can look like that, out on the ice during a faceoff, but he likes it better when Toews looks softer, when he’s smiling and a little embarrassed. Like he was when he gave Patrick the hat. Patrick doesn’t know; maybe they’re going for a serious hockey angle, here. But he thinks whoever bonds with Toews should know about the softer side, too.
Of course, what does he know? He’s just the one applying the glue.
He doesn’t have time to skate that night. He has to run out of the UC when they’re done and hop on the El to get home just before curfew. Then he has to do his chores, and by the time he’s done, it’s after two and he can’t even think about setting the alarm early enough to skate before seven.
When he wakes up the next morning, it’s the first day of the bonding search.
Patrick learned years ago how to fake a note to a school about missing a day. It’s all about having the right expression on his face when he turns it in to the front office, reminding them of the “poor kid who lost his parents” side of his narrative rather than the “potentially troublesome foster teen” side. He tries not to pull the trick very often, because he doesn’t want anyone getting suspicious or, even worse, reaching out to his foster parents about it.
He does it for the first day of the bonding search. They’re going to need all hands on deck, for one thing, and it’s all anyone’s talking about in hockey these days. There’s no way he’s missing it for school.
He gets to the UC a little before eight. The events don’t officially start until nine, but of course all of the players are here, and a lot of the fans are, too, hoping to meet the players and see them warming up. It’s raining out, so Patrick has work to do right away, cleaning up by the entrances where people have tracked in water and mud.
His boss, Louie, calls him over a little before nine. “Kane,” he says. “You’ll be on ice-clearing duty today. That okay?”
Patrick can’t help the huge smile that appears on his face. Ice-clearing duty is his favorite. He gets to do it during games sometimes. He doesn’t get to shovel snow in the middle of periods—he doesn’t exactly fit the description of an ice girl—but sometimes when there’s crap left on the ice from fans’ popcorn or someone’s hat trick, he gets to go pick it up. And then he’s on the ice during an NHL game.
It’s not like anyone’s looking at him, or caring about him in particular. He knows that. But still. Just to be there. To pretend, for a few seconds, that these are his teammates, that he’s going to be the one driving the puck towards the goal once the whistle blows.
It’ll be different today. This isn’t a normal game; they’ll just be running drills and such, a few scrimmages to give everyone a chance to skate alongside Toews, to try build up chemistry. Still, though, it means Patrick will get to be next to the ice all day. It means he’ll get to see what’s going on.
What’s going on, a few minutes later when he makes it to the stands, isn’t anything much. The unbonded players are skating around the ice, warming up. Most of them are rookies or prospects just a year or two older than Patrick; a few of them are older players whose bondmate has retired or been injured. Not as many of those, though. Patrick guesses the Hawks don’t want Toews paired with someone who’ll be reaching retirement age in just a few years. They want someone for the long haul.
Some of the players on the ice Patrick recognizes as this past summer’s top draft picks. If they bond with Toews, and the bond is strong enough, they’ll come to play for the Blackhawks instead of the teams that drafted them. Patrick’s sure there are already agreements in place for what the Blackhawks would give up if that happened.
There are bonding meters at either end of the rink. It’s a rough way to calibrate bonds, wide-ranging meters like that, but if something significant happens on the ice, they’ll pick it up.
The clock flips over to nine, and a buzzer goes off. “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” a voice says over the loudspeaker. “Jonathan Toews!”
The stadium fills with cheers as Toews skates onto the ice. He looks great: strong, smooth strokes. But then, he always looks great when he’s skating. There’s a reason people are calling him the best player on the Blackhawks roster.
A few other Blackhawks skate out behind him: Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford. Patrick guesses they’re there to help put things in the context of normal Hawks play. The bonding meters are probably already calibrated to account for their bonds—except for Crawford, of course. Everyone knows goalies don’t do hockey bonds.
The prospects watch as they skate out, standing in a couple of rows along the blue lines. Patrick feels his heart beat race. It’s all about to start.
The first bit is set up a little like a practice, the kind of practice Patrick remembers taking part in once upon a time. There are drills, all kinds, the bonding prospects going up against Toews and the current Blackhawks mostly watching from the bench. It’s impossible to have Toews on the ice at all times—no one can skate that hard, that constantly—but when he’s sitting out the prospects get to compete against each other, keeping it fun for the audience.
The whole weekend is set up for entertainment as much as anything else. It makes sense: in committing themselves to doing this as a weekend-long extravaganza, the Blackhawks have pretty much promised the crowd that they’ll enjoy themselves.
Patrick figures out pretty quickly that there’s more to it than that, though. Yeah, the competitive element makes it more fun to watch, but the guys who do the best in the drills are also the ones who get to play the most on Toews’s team in the scrimmage that follows. And that makes sense, too: the Blackhawks would want the best players to bond with Toews, not the worst. And it takes time to build up a bond. The ones who play with Toews the most will be the most likely to bond with him. The entertainment aspect of the competition is just a bonus.
Besides, the real fun comes from knowing that at any moment, the red lights on the bonding meters could go off.
Patrick only gets out on the ice twice that day, both during breaks in on-ice action: once to get a broken stick, and once to retrieve a child’s stuffed animal that somehow got thrown over the glass. (He suspects an older sibling.) He also cleans up two piles of vomit, one little kid’s bathroom accident, about five thousand mashed hot dogs, and so many spilled sodas he can’t count them.
He doesn’t care. He still gets to be here.
He suspects the powers that be among the Blackhawks are less thrilled with the day, though. It’s not like anyone expected the bonding meters to go off the first day—again, bonding takes time—but there’s no one Patrick can spot who’s even pulling away from the pack, in terms of chemistry with Toews. James van Riemsdyk is good—there’s a reason he was the first draft pick—but he doesn’t click particularly well with Toews. Same with Sam Gagner, but then, he’s a center anyway. It’s not unheard of for two centers to bond, and it’s still helpful to have a hockey bond even if you’re not usually out on the ice with your bondmate, but less so. What you really want is a center bonding with a winger, or two wingers or D men bonding with each other, so that the instinctive knowledge of your bondmate’s position can help you make plays.
Watching Toews with any of these guys is nothing like watching Sharp with Hossa, or Seabrook with Keith: that effortless connection. Obviously you need time for that. But Patrick’s itching to see it. Toews is so good already; what will he be like with someone on the ice whose presence he can sense with his eyes closed?
Patrick thought he did a lot of cleanup during the day, but it turns out to be nothing compared to what’s waiting for them after the day’s events are over. The stuff from the fans is pretty standard—it’s not a bigger crowd than they get for games, after all—but Louie wants things to be way cleaner than normal because of all the behind-the-scenes filming that’s going on, and besides, there usually aren’t over a hundred hockey players in the locker rooms.
Patrick makes a face as he wipes down one of the shower bays. He doesn’t know how guys with short hair manage to clog the shower drains so badly, and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to know. It’s extra gross because it’s all still damp—he did wait until all the players were done showering, but only just; he can’t get home late tonight.
He’s wiping down a second bay when he hears voices. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up over it, man,” someone says.
“I know.” Someone else sighs gustily, and Patrick tenses, because he knows that voice. That’s Jonathan Toews.
“No one expected it to happen on the first day,” the first guy says, and now Patrick knows him, too. Brent Seabrook.
“Right,” Toews says. “It’s just…”
“Really weren’t feeling it with any of them, huh?” someone else says—Patrick Sharp, Patrick thinks.
“None of them felt right at all,” Toews says, and the frustration in his voice is sharp. “You guys know how much I’m trying.”
“Give it time,” Seabrook says.
“Yeah, they’re probably just getting over the shock of having to play with your ugly mug,” Sharp says. “I mean, I know I’m still not over it.”
“Go fuck yourself, Sharpy,” Toews says, but he actually sounds better: just annoyed, rather than bitter like a moment before. Patrick wonders if that’s what Sharp was going for. He remembers what it was like: the connections you form with teammates, even the ones you only play with for a single tournament. The ways you learn how to get each other to relax or amp up.
It doesn’t seem like Toews has any problem making that kind of connection. Patrick wonders why it is that no one can bond with him; whether it makes him feel like there’s something wrong with him. Patrick hopes not. From what he’s seen, there’s nothing wrong with Jonathan Toews at all.
Patrick can’t stay to skate that night. He’s been home just before curfew too many nights that week, and he needs all his energy for the next day. Instead he goes home and cleans the bathrooms, because he’s falling behind on chores even working as hard as he can, and he sits through a dinner where Chris and Kyle and Andrew have a competition to see who can do the most to hurt him when their parents aren’t looking.
Patrick bites his lips raw and doesn’t say anything when their fingers dig into the sensitive skin on the inside of his elbow. He’s been a foster kid for almost four years; he knows better by now.
He goes to bed early and drags himself out when it’s just getting light. He’s hoping to get some skating in—he wants to imitate some of the drills he saw the bonding prospects doing yesterday. There was one with angling around obstacles that they seemed to be having a lot of trouble with, and Patrick wants to see if it’s really as hard as it looks.
When he gets to the rink at six, though, the Zamboni is already resurfacing the ice for the event. He stands and watches it for a minute, legs itching to move, and then goes and starts cleaning the locker room instead.
It’s just one weekend. It’s not a big deal if he doesn’t get to skate. But it’s frustrating, watching other people skate all day and not being able to do it himself, even for half an hour before he starts work. He knows he doesn’t belong out there with them, he just—wants to skate.
He doesn’t get put on ice duty today. He’s in the corridors, directing people to the bathrooms and cleaning up messes as they arise, and so he doesn’t get more than a few glimpses at the on-ice action during his breaks. From what he can tell, it isn’t going any better. Toews—well, Toews is always great, but there’s no chemistry between him and any of the players Patrick sees him skating with. He looks ten times better with Sharp and Hossa than any of them. Patrick cringes at missed passes and awkward plays, and the bond meter stays silent.
Until around five o’clock, that is. Patrick’s not sure what he’s hearing when the whooping siren sound starts, but a second later he puts it together and runs into the stands.
Sure enough, the red lights on the bond meters are flashing, and two players are standing at center ice, clasping each other’s forearms. Patrick knows that hockey bonds are almost never romantic, unlike the majority of bonds formed between adults, but they’re still cemented via touch. He looks at the faces of these two, both kind of stunned, staring at each other like they can’t believe what just happened.
Neither of them is Toews.
Patrick looks around and sees Toews standing a ways down the ice. He’s staring at these two, two rookies Patrick’s barely even heard of. These two who have bonded on the ice.
“Their teams are going to be maaaad,” one of the fans says to Patrick’s right.
“Eh, I’m sure they saw this kind of thing coming,” someone else says. “Crazy idea, bringing all the rookies together like this. Of course you’re going to get bonds.”
That hadn’t occurred to Patrick, actually. He’s been so focused on Jonathan Toews; how can anyone look at the other players while he’s on the ice, anyway? But he’s sure the teams have provisions in place for this.
He looks back at Toews. He looks...kind of frustrated and glare-y. Patrick can’t imagine how he couldn’t be. These two guys, effortlessly getting the thing that Toews has been working so hard to have for over a year now.
Patrick goes back into the hallway so he doesn’t have to see the wounded look on Toews’s face anymore.
By the time the second day ends, Jonathan Toews still hasn’t bonded with anyone, and Patrick is drained.
He feels antsy, though. He hasn’t had ice under his skates in over two days, and if changing that means waiting until everyone else has left the Center, he’ll do it.
It’s past ten-thirty when he finally takes his skates out of his bag. The UC feels so different when it’s empty. Patrick’s always liked it like this: the hallways dim, hushed, every footstep loud. It feels like it’s his own world. Lacing on his skates feels even better: the snug leather hugging his feet, the familiar precariousness of trying to walk with skate blades on rubber matting. He needs this.
When he gets to the end of the tunnel, though, someone else is already out on the ice.
Patrick’s surprised enough that he drops the puck he’s holding. The person on the ice must hear, because he turns and starts towards him. Patrick backs up into the tunnel, but he’s not fast enough: the guy reaches the tunnel entrance and swooshes to a stop.
It’s Jonathan Toews.
Jonathan Toews is standing at the mouth of the tunnel.
“Sorry,” he says, all Canadian o’s and politeness. “Were you going to use the ice?”
Patrick’s tongue has completely lost its effectiveness. “No, it’s okay,” he mumbles. “I didn’t realize—I’m just going.”
“No, hey, wait,” Toews says, and Patrick does. “We can share.”
Patrick feels like his legs have been replaced by rubber bands. He’s being invited to share the ice with Jonathan Toews. It’s enough to have him fumbling his stick as well as the puck, but it’s not like he’s going to say no.
“What’s your name?” Toews asks as Patrick makes his wobbly way back to the mouth of the tunnel.
“Patrick,” he says. “You’re—I mean, you’re Jonathan Toews. Obviously.”
“You can call me Jonny,” Toews says, and, oh, God, how is Patrick supposed to skate like this?
He does, though: his legs and feet know exactly what to do once he steps onto the ice. He closes his eyes for a second and glories in the glide of it. Yeah, it’s been too long since he got to feel this. It’s hard to feel normal if he’s not skating every day.
He figures they’ll each stick to their half of the ice, but Toews—Jonny—is still looking at him when he turns around. “Hey, I know you,” he says. “You’re the guy with the hat, right?”
Patrick feels himself go brick red. “Uh, yeah,” he says.
“You’re not one of the bonding prospects, are you?” Jonny asks, and Patrick can see him watching him as he skates—evaluating his form, probably. It’s enough to make the blush stick to his cheeks. He hasn’t played on a hockey team in a year and a half, and now Jonathan Toews is evaluating his form.
“No, I just came here to practice,” he says, and hopes Toews (Jonny) isn’t going to ask too many questions.
“All right, then,” Jonny says, and he smiles that smile that makes his whole face go lighter. The one that’s so much better than the pictures they plastered all over the stadium. “Let’s practice.”
Patrick stumbles a bit, even though the ice is smooth. “What?”
“You heard me,” Jonny says. “You came here to practice. Let’s do it.”
Patrick glides for another second, then scrambles around and races to where he left his stick and puck by the bench.
It’s totally different practicing with a real live person. There are so many things Patrick hasn’t been able do on his own, and for the first couple of passing drills he’s awkward, trying to remember what it feels like to exchange passes with someone else and not the wall. But then—God, it’s easy, it’s wonderful.
This is what he’s been missing. The energy of having another person on the ice. Jonny is just as powerful a player as he’s always looked during games, and Patrick finds himself pushing a little harder than he can ever get himself to push in his solo practices, trying to keep up. Trying to outdo him. The first time Patrick steals the puck from him, Jonny laughs in surprise and chases him up the ice, and Patrick shoots it straight into the back of the net and drops into a celly. He hasn’t gotten to do one of those in years.
“Doesn’t count,” Jonny says. “There’s no goalie.”
“Guess you’ll just have to play better defense, then,” Patrick says, and Jonny nabs the puck and races pell-mell for the other end of the rink.
Not fast enough, if Patrick has anything to say about it.
It’s exhausting. It’s fun. It’s the best time Patrick’s had in years. Jonny’s had so much more experience than Patrick, but Patrick’s faster, and his hands are soft enough that he steals the puck from Jonny almost as much as Jonny steals it from him. Jonny would have the advantage at checking, but they’re not wearing pads, so it’s pretty much non-contact hockey; that levels the playing field a little. And when they’re racing down the ice and Patrick has the puck, there’s nothing Jonny can do to take it away from him.
Patrick declares that he wins their makeshift scrimmage. “Sixteen goals to fourteen,” he says.
Jonny’s face darkens. “Not fair. You counted one twice.”
“Bounced out, I hit it in again,” Patrick says. “Should have been faster, Toews.”
“Maybe if I hadn’t already been playing hockey all day,” Jonny says.
“Excuses, excuses.” Patrick steals Jonny’s water bottle and tips it up to drink.
When he lowers it, Jonny’s looking at him with a weird look on his face. “How come you aren’t a prospect?” he asks.
“Huh?” Patrick asks.
“You heard me,” Jonny says. His look is really...intense. A little like the one on the posters, and maybe Patrick should reevaluate his opinion on them, because it’s actually pretty compelling from two feet away. “You’re really good. Why aren’t you on the ice this weekend? Are you already bonded?”
“Oh.” Patrick fumbles the cap to the water bottle. “Um, no. That’s...I used to be, sort of, heading for that? But then some stuff happened, so.”
Jonny’s brow draws together. “Are you injured? Because it didn’t seem—”
“No, no, I just—oh fuck. Is that really what time it is?” Patrick catches sight of Jonny’s wristwatch, and it’s twenty minutes to twelve. The trip home takes at least that, and he isn’t out of his skates yet. He had no idea how late it was. “Fuck, I have to go, sorry.”
“What?” Jonny says. “Hey, wait—” But Patrick’s already halfway down the tunnel and running for it. He can’t be late. He can’t.
He has to run all the way to the train, and then he pants against the doors and prepares to run again as soon as he gets to his stop. He watched the seconds tick by on his watch and feels his stomach wind tighter and tighter.
It’s eleven-fifty-eight when he opens the front door, and that’s basically a miracle. His foster mom is waiting for him in the hall. Patrick toes off his shoes, trying to find the breath to apologize, and she just watches him, fingers tapping on the side of her mug of tea.
“You know, your brothers had to sweep the garage for you today,” she says finally.
Patrick slumps against the wall for a second. Fuck, he forgot that was scheduled for Saturday. He thought he’d taken care of Saturday’s chores Friday night, but that one had fallen off his list. “I’m so sorry,” he says.
“Well.” She taps on the mug. “You can make up for it by doing the gardening tomorrow.”
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, right, I will.”
She puts her hand on the banister, like she’s going to go up to bed, but then pauses. “You know we all want this to work out, Patrick. But you’re going to have to put in a little more effort.”
He squeezes his eyes shut after she’s gone. He can’t lose this home. He’s already had three, and if he has to leave here, they’ll probably send him to a group home. Patrick knows the kind of things that happen there. And who knows where it would be—maybe somewhere even farther from his sisters, somewhere he can’t get a job, somewhere he can’t find a place to skate. Tonight was a careless close call, the kind he knows better than to make.
At the same time, he can’t help thinking, as he wipes the sweat off his brow: worth it, worth it, worth it.
He doesn’t normally dream about skating. Not the way he used to when it was new, or the way he still does when he’s gone a few weeks or months without it. It’s too much a normal part of the way he moves for it to take over his nights like that. But tonight that’s all there is: moving down the ice in a heady rush, Jonny on his heels, the crisp slice of the puck from one stick to the other.
All night long, skating with Jonny in his dreams.
One of the hardest things about getting something he’s always wanted is knowing that he’ll probably never get to have it again.
Patrick’s had to learn that, bouncing from home to home the way he does. The good things rarely last—the foster mom who kisses him on the cheek, the social worker who buys him new clothes without saying anything about it, the good bedroom without a draught. He knows that he’ll never get to skate like that again, all alone on the ice with someone at Jonny’s level, stretched to the limits of his abilities and straining for more and feeling it all slot into place so perfectly. And that’s…that’s okay. What happened last night was a gift, the kind that comes along once in a lifetime if you’re very, very lucky. And Patrick feels lucky, even while he’s dragging himself out of bed at six the next morning to report for another day of picking up used napkins and scraping at gum.
He hesitates for a couple of minutes before leaving the house. He’s not going to be able to weed the garden until after he gets out of work, which means he’ll be weeding in the dark, and his foster parents will have a full day of thinking he’s probably skipping out on it again even though he’s not. There’s not a lot he can do about that—he leaves a note on the kitchen table, but he doesn’t have a lot of illusions about his credibility at the moment.
It’s not like he can stay home from work today, though. He made a commitment to be there. And—and maybe it’s not a good reason, but he really, really wants to see who Jonathan Toews ends up bonded to.
Louie puts him on hallway duty that morning. It’s probably a good thing: he’s okay never skating with Jonny again—knows he doesn’t belong anywhere near those prospects on the ice with him today—but seeing it might still hurt. Just a little.
He should probably start thinking of him as Toews again. He can’t quite bring himself to do it, though. Doesn’t want to let go of what they had last night quite so quickly. Jonny, with his bright eyes across the ice. Shooting a quick pass twenty feet in front of Patrick and whooping when Patrick ended up in exactly the right position to intercept it. Tackling Patrick after he made a particularly pretty goal, strong arms lifting him off the ice for just a moment.
Patrick shakes his head to clear it and goes to bag up an overflowing trash bin. He needs to get his mind off the ice and stop dwelling on things that aren’t his.
The crowd is riled up today. No bonding the first two days—not for Jonny, anyway—and that means today has to be it.
“Betcha he doesn’t bond with anyone,” some kid says to his friends in the line for the bathroom, halfway through the morning.
“I’ll take that action,” one of his friends says. “Twenty bucks says those bonding lights go off by three.”
“No way, man.” The first kid scoffs. “Have you seen him? He’s, like, cold. He’s not bonding with anyone.”
Patrick bites his lip and grips his broom tighter. He’s just supposed to be the guy sweeping the corridor; it would be grossly inappropriate to tell this douchebag where he can get off.
Jonny, cold. Patrick remembers the feeling of his arms going around him, Jonny’s sheer exuberance at Patrick’s goal. Jonny could never be cold.
“Don’t be an idiot,” a third guy says, and for a moment Patrick wants to give him a high five. Then he says: “You know it’s all pageantry anyway, right? They probably have someone in the wings they know he’ll bond with, and they’re just waiting till four-thirty or whenever.”
Oh, fuck. Do they? Patrick pauses, mid-sweep. He hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense: they wouldn’t want Jonny to bond with someone on the first morning after they’d sold tickets to the entire weekend. Kind of unlikely that he would, given the time it takes to bond, but sometimes it happens fast, and they wouldn’t want to take the chance. Maybe they do have a sure thing waiting in the wings.
Patrick doesn’t know why he finds that so unsettling. It’s not like he doesn’t understand that the team is trying to put on a good show here. He wants Jonny to get bonded, and even if the process is a little bit fake, that’s what would be coming out of the weekend: a stable bond that would make Jonny a better hockey player and happier person. It’s actually preferable to leaving it to chance.
So Patrick doesn’t know why the idea is gnawing at his stomach like this.
…Right. Sweeping. He’s supposed to sweep.
He does, cleaning one hallway at a time and just catching occasional glimpses of the ice. Jonny’s skating as well as he did last night. Probably better, since he’s more rested now, but Patrick finds it hard to imagine anyone skating better than Jonny did last night, so. Whenever he catches a glimpse of him, powering down the ice with the puck on his stick, it makes him want to stand and watch forever. He tries to focus on the sweeping.
Louie comes by around one and tells him he wants him on ice duty for the afternoon. “You got your skates?”
“Yeah, of course,” Patrick says. He tries not to fumble as he sweeps the last pile of dust into the dustpan.
It’s not a big deal. This is what Patrick did Friday, after all. It’s just that on Friday, he didn’t know what it felt like to be on that ice with Jonny.
It’s not the same, he reminds himself once he’s near the bench, tapping his hands nervously on the wall. The way Jonny was playing with him was probably, like, a tenth as intense as what’s going on on the ice right now. It just felt more intense because Patrick was a part of it.
He knows that. He knows it so thoroughly. It’s just that his gut doesn’t know it, and every time Jonny skates near the boards on his side of the rink Patrick’s stomach flutters like a traitor. He pulls his hat lower over his face in case Jonny looks over.
The kid who bet on a bond by three o’clock is losing his money. Three comes and goes without anything on the bond meters. The prospects are playing a little more roughly, and Patrick can see the frustration on Jonny’s face. He keeps looking around at all the other players, like he’s willing one of them to jump out of the crowd and connect with him, but none of them does.
Play gets more violent as five o’clock comes nearer without a bond, especially among the rookies. Patrick knows it would make any of these kids’ careers to bond with Jonathan Toews, and clearly they know it, too, with the way they’re going at each other in this scrimmage. It’s not a setting where Patrick would have expected fights—this isn’t a real game; there’s no reason to go to bat for your teammates—but around four o’clock, two of the rookies start shoving at each other, and before the refs can get there, the gloves are dropped.
The fight doesn’t last very long, but it’s messy: the first kid just clocks the second, right in the face, and the second kid gets him back with an uppercut to the chin. Patrick can see the blood on the second kid’s face, and—shit, those are teeth on the ice.
Patrick’s over the boards without hesitation. This is solidly at the center of his job description, at the moment: clean up debris that lands on the ice, even when that debris is (ew) human teeth. He doesn’t know anything about how to help the injured, but fortunately they have other people for that. He can see a trainer coming out of the tunnel, and one of the other players is skating over as well, just a few feet from Patrick. It’s Jonny, actually; Patrick just catches sight of his face, and—
Lights flash red, and a siren goes off.
Patrick’s not sure what’s going on for a moment. He stops skating, because that’s a weird sound, and Jonny’s stopped to stare at him with his mouth open. Patrick figures Jonny’s recognized him, but—wait, everyone else is staring at him, too, and now he has no idea what could be going on. Unless…
Shit. Are those the bonding meters?
The crowd is making all sorts of noise. A couple of other people show up at the mouth of the tunnel, coaches and management, and oh, fuck, they’re going to kill him.
Patrick is off the ice and down the tunnel before anyone can catch him. He’s always been fast, and everyone else is still too startled to go after him properly. He hears voices once he’s near the locker rooms, but by then he’s pulled his skates off and is grabbing the bag with his shoes and pulling them on and stuffing everything else inside and running full-tilt to the exit before anyone can stop him.
Maybe they won’t have recognized him. Maybe he’ll be able to keep his job and keep skating; he could avoid Jonny. Or maybe he could work at some other rink. It doesn’t have to ruin everything. It doesn’t.
He’s halfway to the El before he realizes he left one of his skates at the UC.
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.
This story is so far from over. :)
Updated: The gorgeous drawing at the end of the chapter is by essoufle, my new hero! It might properly belong at the end of the previous chapter, but it felt a little spoilery, so I put it here instead. I am so unbelievably thrilled that she drew this for me. Thanks, love!! <3
In case you missed it, the lovely and talented essoufle drew Jonny in the hallway of the UC, looking at the fallen skate! It’s pasted at the end of the last chapter, and it’s also here.
Most of that first evening is Jonny taking care of Patrick. Patrick feels like maybe he should be embarrassed by it, but it’s so nice, having someone look out for him like this. It’s been so long.
“Are you hungry?” Jonny asks. They’re sitting in the backseat of Brent Seabrook’s—Seabs’s—car, and Patrick kind of wants to slide over, snuggle into Jonny’s side, but he doesn’t know if Jonny wants that. Besides, he’s still soot-ridden and gross. Jonny has his hand, though, fingers warm and tight.
“God, yes,“ Patrick says, to the hunger question, and they go through the drive-thru at the nearest McDonald’s.
“Enjoy it,” Sharp says. “This is the only time Jonny will ever let you eat McDonald’s without hassling you about your nutrition plan.”
“Shut up,” Jonny says. “He needs food.”
Patrick does need food. He hadn’t realized quite how starving he was, but he basically inhales three Big Macs and a thing of fries.
“Where to?” Seabs asks when Patrick’s down to the little nubbins of fries at the bottom of the bag.
“He can come to my place if he wants,” Sharp says. (Sharpy; Patrick has to get used to calling these larger-than-life players by their nicknames. Especially after they’ve seen him get ketchup all over his shirt.)
“No,” Jonny says, a little too fast, and then looks embarrassed. “I mean, no, he should stay at mine.”
“That makes sense,” Seabs says mildly, while Sharpy smirks at Jonny. “Have to cement the bond and all that.”
Jonny puts his hand back over Patrick’s. He took it away when Patrick was eating, and Patrick is so glad to have it back now. Every time Jonny touches him, he can feel the bond flare up, like little invisible electrical wires in his abdomen connecting him to Jonny.
If he were back at his foster home, he’d still be on his hands and knees on the carpet right now. He wonders if they’ve called social services yet. If they’ve—
“Shit,” he says. “I need to call my sisters.”
For a second he wonders whether he can make them pull over so he can find a payphone. But then Jonny just hands him his cell, and—and of course he does, of course he has one, but it feels like a miracle right now.
He punches in the numbers with his left hand, because Jonny still has hold of his right. Jess answers on the third ring, and she may not recognize the number, but she does recognize his voice. “Pat? What’s up?”
Okay, so they haven’t heard anything yet. “I just wanted to give you a heads up that, uh, something kind of weird happened.”
“Are you okay?” He can hear her voice getting sharper.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “I’m just…going to be staying with a friend for a while. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Patrick looks across at Jonny, who’s still holding his hand and not even pretending not to listen. “Jonathan Toews,” he says, and he hears Sharpy snort.
“The Blackhawk?” Jess asks, voice rising. He hears other voices in the background, loud and skeptical.
“Look, I have to go,” he says, “but tell the others I’m okay, all right?”
“Okay,” she says, “but if you’re not telling the truth, Erica’s going to kill you.”
He laughs, and Jonny squeezes his hand. “I’ll explain later,” he says. “It’s…kind of a crazy story.”
“You’d better!” he hears Erica shout into the line, and it sounds like Jackie’s there, too, and…soon. He’ll talk to them soon.
It’s quiet in the car after he hangs up. Then Sharpy says, “Hey, kid, how old are you?”
“Seventeen in November,” Patrick says, and he sees Seabs give Jonny a glance in the rear-view mirror. Jonny’s hand tightens on his.
“So you won’t be able to play in the league this year,” Sharpy says.
“He could train, though,” Seabs says. “We’ll have to talk to Q and—”
“Tomorrow,” Jonny says. His thumb strokes over Patrick’s hand. “Take us home first.”
Jonny’s place, when Seabs drops them off, turns out to be a fancy condo. Patrick’s afraid to step into it with his sooty feet.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jonny says when he sees Patrick hesitating in the doorway.
“But the carpet,” Patrick says, because there’s carpet in the hallway, and Patrick knows how tough this stuff is to get out.
“You’re more important,” Jonny says, and goes back and takes his hand and pulls him towards the bathroom.
Jonny leaves him alone to shower. Patrick’s not thrilled about the door shutting between them—even though he knows Jonny isn’t going to disappear; it’s Jonny’s home—but getting into the shower is amazing. The water pressure is way better than at his foster home, and he can stay in there for as long as he wants without anyone pounding on the door. He tips his head under the water and watches the soot-blackened water flow off his skin and disappear down the drain.
When he comes out, he gets into the sweatpants and t-shirt Jonny’s left for him. They’re soft and worn and smell like fabric softener and Jonny. They hang off him a little, but he likes that, too, the way it makes it more obvious they’re not his.
He’s in Jonathan Toews’s house, in Jonathan Toews’s clothes, and he’s somehow expected to stay here. Like it isn’t a dream.
Jonny’s cooking eggs in the kitchen when Patrick comes in. Which is maybe ridiculous, considering how much Patrick ate in the car, but Patrick’s face breaks into a smile anyway. “Awesome.”
“Who says they’re for you?” Jonny grumbles, and Patrick’s smile just gets broader.
Jonny serves them each a big veggie-stuffed omelet, and Patrick’s halfway through his—it’s delicious—before Jonny stops him and grabs his hand. “What happened?” he asks.
“What? Oh.” Patrick looks down at his hand, where the skin is dry and red now that it’s clean. “Carpet cleaner.”
Jonny makes a face and gets up from the table. Patrick eats the rest of his eggs, a little disconcerted by Jonny’s sudden absence, but Jonny comes back a couple of minutes later with a bottle of something.
“Give me your hands,” he says, and when Patrick does, Jonny starts massaging lotion into them, slowly, his big hands gentle on Patrick’s cracked skin.
Patrick swallows. His skin kind of hurts, but Jonny’s being really careful with it, fingers skating over Patrick’s like they’re infinitely breakable. His touch is sending tingles all through Patrick’s chest and torso and down to his groin.
He shifts his knee so that Jonny won’t see him reacting. They haven’t talked about what kind of bond they have, but most hockey bonds aren’t romantic. It would be stupid to assume this one is any different. Jonny wants to play hockey with him; that doesn’t mean he wants to do anything else, like lean forward and kiss him, and wow, Patrick should definitely stop thinking about this while Jonny’s hands are on him.
Jonny keeps massaging until all the lotion’s absorbed into Patrick’s skin, and then he does another coat, fingers working slowly into the pads of his fingers and the center of his palm until Patrick’s drifting on the warm pleasure of it and can barely keep his eyes open. He tries to hide it—doesn’t want this to ever end—but Jonny catches him yawning.
“Sleepy?” Jonny’s voice is soft as it breaks into the silence of the kitchen.
“A little,” Patrick admits.
“Let me go set things up,” Jonny says, and disappears down the hallway towards the bedrooms.
He has a guest room; Patrick saw it, on his way to the bathroom. A nice guest room, with a bed bigger than any Patrick’s had before and linens that are probably wonderfully soft.
Patrick doesn’t want to sleep in it. As soon as he thinks of it, he gets this panicked fluttery feeling in his chest and has to get up and take the dishes to the sink just for something to do. He just—he can’t imagine being in that big room alone, no matter how nicely decorated or soft the bed is. It’s only because everything is so new, because he feels so unsettled, but he can’t imagine being that far from Jonny all night.
He can’t say anything about that. It would be ridiculous. Jonny’s let him into his home, been so nice already, and Patrick can’t ask for…. He grips the edge of the sink and squeezes his eyes shut and prepares himself not to show Jonny anything.
“I, um,” Jonny says, and Patrick turns around. Jonny’s standing in the doorway of the kitchen, looking kind of awkward. “Look, you don’t have to do this, and you should tell me if it’s weird, but I’ve done a lot of reading about bonds.”
“Okay,” Patrick says slowly. That makes sense: the one hockey player who couldn’t bond with anybody. He’s probably read everything that’s ever been written on the subject.
Jonny’s twisting his hands together. “Anyway, it’s really important to—cement them, I guess, in the first few days.”
“Yeah?” Patrick says. He knows that. Everyone does.
“And one of the best ways is proximity,” Jonny says in a rush. He looks up and meets Patrick’s eyes, and he looks, if possible, even more awkward than he did when he first came in. “So, I mean, again, you don’t have to, if you think it’s weird or anything, but I was thinking maybe you could—sleep in my bed? With me?”
“Oh.” Patrick lets go of the sink edge. He can feel his eyes going wide.
“Unless you don’t want to!” Jonny says quickly. “There’s a guest room—it would be totally fine—”
“No, no, I do,” Patrick says. He was so prepared to not show anything, and now—he can feel his face stretching in a silly smile. Jonny grins back at him, tentative at first, and then wider once it becomes clear Patrick isn’t changing his mind, until they’re two idiots grinning across the room at each other.
Patrick can’t quite look Jonny in the face as they get ready for bed. He still doesn’t know what Jonny’s expecting. Jonny’s question made it clear that he’s not assuming their bond will be a romantic one. But Patrick almost doesn’t care how much Jonny wants to give: Patrick’s going to be climbing into bed next to him tonight, and that feels like more than enough.
He was right about the beds. Jonny’s is huge and so soft it feels like he’s lying on nothing at all. It’s not like Patrick’s had terrible beds in his foster homes or anything. But he’s never had a bed bigger than a twin or a mattress as fancy as this one, and he’s definitely never had anyone in there with him.
He lies down and looks across the pillows. Jonny blinks back at him, eyes big and brown, and for a second Patrick can’t breathe properly. He wonders if it would be okay if he slid closer, if Jonny would put his arms around him like he did in the hallway of the foster home. He really wants to feel that again. He doesn’t want to risk it, though. But then Jonny—Jonny reaches out a hand, under the covers, and his fingers brush against Patrick’s.
Patrick opens to it and lets Jonny slide their palms together. It’s not the same as Jonny’s arms around him, but it sends the tingling warmth of connection up Patrick’s arm and into his chest. The warmth of the bond.
Jonny’s eyelids close, and Patrick lets his own slide shut. The warmth of Jonny’s hand is pulling him down, deep into slumber like a rock falling through the sea.
When he wakes up, Jonny is wrapped all around him.
Patrick’s first thought is warm. Jonny’s plastered to his back, arms and legs thrown over Patrick’s body, and maybe it should feel like too much, but instead it feels like it’s filling up a void in his chest. Like Patrick has been hungry for this.
He can feel the thrum of the bond under his skin. It’s just a faint awareness, the feeling of Jonny. He doesn’t know what Jonny’s thinking. Most bonds never get strong enough for that: physical presence only, maybe really intense emotions. But Patrick’s whole body is singing with Jonny’s presence right now.
It feels late. The sun coming through the windows is bright. Patrick feels well-rested, in a way he hasn’t felt in weeks. Maybe even years. He’d forgotten what it felt like, to get all the sleep he needs.
Jonny stirs a little behind him. “Hi,” he says into Patrick’s hair, and a shiver goes down Patrick’s spine. Wow, he really shouldn’t be feeling like this with Jonny so close, even if Jonny can’t read his emotions. If this goes on too much longer, there’ll be other ways that Jonny will be able to tell how good this feels to him.
But he can’t quite bring himself to move away. He pushes back a little closer into Jonny’s embrace.
“Skating today,” Jonny says, like it’s something to look forward to, which—Patrick will always agree with that.
“Mm,” he says. Then—“Oh, fuck.” He makes a face. “Um. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to go to school.”
He can feel Jonny’s surprise in the way he stiffens momentarily. “Oh,” he says, and Patrick waits for him to pull away and send Patrick off. But the next thing he says is: “Well, obviously you can’t do that. You have to be here.”
Patrick smiles and has to hide it in the pillow. Yes, here. Here, in Jonny’s arms. “Yeah?” he mumbles. “You gonna defend me when the truant officer shows up?”
“Like they’d ever find you here,” Jonny says, but he’s reaching for his phone anyway, reaching over Patrick to get at the night table. It presses him more firmly against Patrick’s back, and Patrick hopes he can’t feel him shudder.
“What’s your school?” Jonny asks, and then he types some stuff into his smart phone, and the next thing Patrick knows, Jonny’s on the line with the front office. “Yes, this is Jonathan Toews with the Chicago Blackhawks,” he says, sounding all official.
Patrick snorts. He turns over onto his back so that he can see Jonny’s face without properly leaving his arms. Jonny gives him a stern look, but his lips are working not to smile.
“I wanted to inform you that Patrick Kane won’t be in school for a few days.” A pause. “Thanks for your concern, but he’s fine. He’s dealing with a bonding issue.”
Patrick feels a warm glow in his stomach, and he knows his face is doing that stupid smiling thing again. He can’t help it, though. Bonding. They’re bonded.
Jonny’s smiling, too, whether in response to the person on the phone or Patrick’s smile, Patrick doesn’t know. Jonny leans over and tangles their fingers together. Patrick watches as his eyes light in surprise at whatever the person is saying. “Thank you, ma’am, it does look like the preseason games will be—yes, those do sound like great seats.”
Patrick bites his lip to keep from laughing, and Jonny uses their joined hands to smack him on the chest a little. “Yes, thanks, I—yes, I will. Bye.”
He hangs up, but he’s smirking. “She’s going to come see us play the Blue Jackets.”
“Yeah?” Patrick moves their hands a little, brushing them on his chest. “I want to come see you play the Blue Jackets.”
Jonny smiles down at him. His eyes are so warm. “I’m sure you will,” he says, and for a second Patrick is sure, absolutely, completely positive, that Jonny’s going to lean down and kiss him. His lips part in anticipation.
But Jonny doesn’t lean down. He blinks, and then his eyes go distant, and he says, “So, skating?”
“Um,” Patrick says. “Yeah, for sure,” and he follows Jonny out of bed, lips buzzing from the kiss that didn’t happen.
A lot of people have been asking about their ages, so let me say that Patrick is sixteen here. He’s turning seventeen in November, and he was fifteen when he first started working for the rink, which has caused some confusion. Jonny is nineteen and only did one year at UND, so he’s in his second year in the NHL.
There is some additional fudging of personnel and timelines in this chapter. I’m claiming AU privileges. :)
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.
They go clothes shopping the next afternoon.
It’s a relief when Jonny suggests it, because Patrick’s tired of wearing jeans that won’t stay up over his ass, but then it’s just as quickly a source of panic, because Patrick doesn’t have any money yet.
Everything he earned at the UC went into his sisters’ account, and he hasn’t gotten his first paycheck yet. So he’s tense as they leave the car to go into the mall. He must be walking slowly, too, because Jonny gets ahead of him, and then turns and waits, brow furrowing a little as he watches Patrick approach.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” Patrick nods a couple of times for good measure. “It’s just that I don’t, um…I don’t have any…”
“Oh.” Jonny’s face clears. “Well, I can take care of that.”
Patrick bites his lip and doesn’t say anything. He knows Jonny has enough money, and it’s not that he doesn’t want the clothes, but he hates feeling helpless like this. Hates feeling like he’s always taking, never giving. But he doesn’t really have a choice. “Okay,” he says.
Jonny shrugs. “I mean, you can pay me back if you want to. Once you get your first paycheck. But, um, I’d kind of rather you didn’t?” He’s talking kind of fast now, and his eyes dart to Patrick and then back down. “I’m just, I’m, well. Really happy you’re here. And I’d like to do this for you, if you’ll let me.”
Patrick’s stomach does something funny, and it probably shouldn’t be a good feeling, but it is. “I guess that’s okay,” he says. He wants to reach out and touch Jonny, but that would be weird, so he doesn’t.
Jonny ducks his head a little. “The Gap?” he says.
Neither of them really knows much about clothes shopping, so mostly they go to a bunch of stores and try on a ludicrous amount of things and hope that some of them fit. Although Patrick would probably try on more, actually, if Jonny didn’t keep trying to cramp his style.
“No, you can’t get a ‘Sun’s out, guns out’ tank top,” Jonny says, glaring at him across a table of the most delightful shirts Patrick’s ever seen.
“What’s wrong?” Patrick asks with a grin. “Worried my gun show is going to be better than yours?”
Jonny just looks befuddled. “No.”
Patrick laughs, because yeah, that’s totally fair—Jonny’s arms are forces to be reckoned with—but give him a couple of years, and Patrick will absolutely get there. “You are. You’re afraid I’ll look better than you.”
Jonny’s frown gets murderous. “Give me that,” he says, yanking the tank out of Patrick’s hands, and he adds it to their pile of things to be bought.
He does make Patrick buy some less interesting items of clothing, though, like button-down shirts. “We should get them loose,” he says, frowning at Patrick in the changing room. He’s been doing a lot of that today. “Because you’ll be getting bigger, here.”
His hands skim Patrick’s shoulders, and a shiver runs down Patrick’s whole body. “Yeah,” Patrick says breathlessly. “Yeah, okay.”
Jonny also makes him get a suit, even though Patrick tries to get out of it by saying he’ll grow. “So we’ll get you another suit later,” Jonny says, and then Patrick has to stand to be fitted.
If he leans against Jonny a little bit after, when they’re waiting in line to check out, well. Jonny’s just—really broad, and really nice to lean on, and Patrick’s tired after shopping and skating all morning and doing the weight room. So sue him.
Patrick has to go back to school on Thursday. Jonny looks kind of grumpy about the idea, but he doesn’t suggest calling the school and canceling again, so Patrick knows he really has to do it this time. He can’t stay out of school forever, not when he’s barely even seventeen yet, and they can only claim the bond as an excuse for so long.
He expects it to be kind of annoying, having to sit in class all day instead of doing any of the exciting things he’s been doing over the last few days, like skating. He’s wrong, though. It isn’t annoying.
The headache starts almost as soon as he walks through the doors. He made Jonny let him take the subway—he’s going to have to, when Jonny’s out of town or at practice, and he doesn’t want to start counting on something he’ll have to give up—and he was fine for the trip, more or less, but as he’s walking into the school, a pounding starts up at his temples.
He doesn’t think much of it. It’s school; it’s basically governmentally required to give you a headache. But it doesn’t let up throughout math, or history, and by the time he’s in English class, he feels like someone is picking up a desk and slamming it against his head. He’s also queasy, though that might just be because of the pain. And he wants to call Jonny more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life.
There’s a phone in his backpack now; Jonny got it for him the day before, signing a bunch of contract stuff while Patrick felt its large cool weight and tried not to feel dizzy about being put on a family plan. It’ll get confiscated if he takes it out at school, but he can probably use it in the hallway or the bathroom without getting caught.
He almost does; almost shoots off a text to Jonny about five hundred different times. But Jonny’s working out, and doing team stuff, and the thought that Jonny might take a while to respond is enough to keep Patrick’s thumb away from the home button. He’d rather not text at all than know that Jonny doesn’t feel this like he does.
The headache stops getting worse sometime around eleven in the morning, but it doesn’t get much better, either. Patrick barely eats any lunch, and he doesn’t think he absorbs any actual information in his classes. His notes are a mess of scribbles where he wrote Jonny over and over in the margins and then covered it over so that no one would see him being pathetic.
He stumbles out of the building as soon as the bell goes, heading toward the subway, and stops short when he sees Jonny standing in the pickup area in front of his car.
His headache immediately gets about ten thousand times better. He staggers forward again, faster, and Jonny’s coming to meet him, and then they’re holding each other tight, tight, tight and the relief of it is like air after being underwater.
“Fuck, that was awful, that was awful,” Jonny says into his hair, and Patrick just grips harder.
He’d like to stay like that for a while, but they’re in front of his school, and he doesn’t actually need kids making fun of him until the day he graduates. “Let’s go home,” he says instead.
“Uh,” Jonny says, “there might be a few people at the apartment.”
“Yeah?” Patrick says.
“Well, apparently the guys thought I looked a little off today,” Jonny says, looking really adorably embarrassed. “They may have invited themselves over for video games.”
“That’s cool,” Patrick says, because he doesn’t really care about anything right now. As long as Jonny’s there.
Once they get back to Jonny’s, he catches on pretty fast that the guys are mostly there to meet him, what with the way they crowd in around him and ask him about a million questions. He doesn’t mind: they seem cool, and he’s already met a bunch of them, anyway. Most of the guys from the bonding weekend are there, Seabs and Sharpy and Duncan Keith, along with Dustin Byfuglian and Adam Burish, who is sarcastic enough that Patrick likes him right way. And yeah, okay, he can take a few hours out of his busy schedule to beat these guys at video games.
It turns out he doesn’t beat them, probably because he hasn’t actually gotten much of a chance to play video games over the past four years. But Jonny’s even worse than him, and way more competitive, so it ends up being hilarious.
Patrick’s feeling great for the first hour or two. Then Jonny goes into the kitchen to get more snacks, and his stomach turns, and an ache starts pinging away at his right temple.
“You okay?” Seabs asks him, from the couch where they’re both waiting their turn at Mario Kart.
“Yeah,” Patrick says. He puts his hand to his temple. “Just, um.”
“New bond.” Seabs nods knowingly, and Patrick looks at him in surprise. “I remember when Duncs and I had to be apart for the first time. I thought I was going to pass out or something.”
Patrick nods. Yes, he is now intimately familiar with that feeling.
Seabs claps him on the back, and Patrick winces a little at the touch that is not Jonny. “It gets better,” Seabs says. “You’re just riding the aftermath now. By tomorrow you’ll probably be fine.”
Right. Good. But that doesn’t help him now, when his head is aching like Jonny’s across town and not just in the kitchen, fifteen feet away and not—
Jonny comes back into the living room and comes up to the couch behind Patrick. Patrick can feel his presence, and it helps, but it’s not enough until Jonny puts his hands on Patrick’s shoulders and rests his chin on top of his head. “Who’s winning?” he asks, and warmth is flowing from his hands all through Patrick’s body, making his shoulders relax.
“This asshole,” Burs says, jerking a thumb at Sharpy. “Hey, where’s the snacks?”
“Oh.” Jonny takes his chin off Patrick’s head, and Patrick tries not to feel bereft.
“Get distracted, did you?” Sharpy says with a smirk.
“Shut the fuck up,” Jonny says, and plucks at Patrick’s collar. “Hey, help me in the kitchen?”
Patrick’s only too happy to.
Going to school again the next day is one of the hardest things Patrick’s ever done.
He’d be tempted to try to get out of it, but Jonny’s got his first day of training camp, and Patrick knows he can’t go to that. Or, well, maybe he could, but then he’d have to stand by the sidelines watching Jonny skate with people who are not him, and that seems too painful. But every time he flashes back on what the pain was like yesterday, he almost gives in and asks to skip again.
Jonny seems like he’s thinking about the same thing, if the way he insists on driving Patrick to school is any indication. He stops the car even though you’re not supposed to do that in the drop-off lane and leans over to give Patrick a really long hug.
“I have to,” Jonny says when they separate.
“What? I know,” Patrick says, because obviously Jonny has to go to training camp. Patrick’s not asking him to do anything different.
“I just—have to know that I can skate when you’re not there,” Jonny says, and he looks scared, and Patrick gets it, suddenly, how hard this is for Jonny. As if Patrick’s inability to function at school is anything next to Jonny’s potential inability to function at training camp.
“You’ll be great,” he says, meaning it, and he wants to lean in and kiss Jonny but doesn’t.
School is…actually not that bad. Patrick’s relieved for himself, of course, but when he thinks of what that probably means for Jonny at training camp he’s fiercely glad of it. He has a little bit of a headache, but it’s the kind where if he gets absorbed in something he doesn’t notice it much. Of course, he’s at school, so that doesn’t happen that often, but he thinks it’ll be okay for Jonny skating. He would still rather be with Jonny, still feels that pull, but he can make it through the next eight hours like that.
He’s six hours in when Chris corners him outside of Chemistry.
Patrick does a double-take when he sees him. It’s not that he’d forgotten Chris existed, it’s just…well, yeah, he sort of had. Chris feels like part of a life Patrick left behind years ago. Seeing him in the hallway of the school, looking just the same as last week, makes him feel like he’s stepped through time.
“Hey,” he says, before he can think better of it.
It’s not loaded—just a greeting, but Chris’s face gets hard, and he plows forward and slams Patrick into the lockers.
There are dozens of kids around, going from one class to another, but Patrick has no illusions that any of them would intervene. Chris’s enraged face is two inches from his.
“Hey, loser,” Chris says through his teeth. “You think that was funny, what you did last weekend? Walking out on my family?”
Patrick’s pulse is pounding under Chris’s grip. He remembers the feeling of crouching on the soot-ridden carpet, dust clogging his lungs and ammonia burning his hands, while Chris towered smugly over him. “You told me to go,” he says, even though that’s not why he left; it was…
“You’re a fucking pervert and I oughta give that Toews pansy something better to come home to,” Chris says, and draws his fist back.
Patrick sees it coming and ducks in a flash. He’s not used to moving this fast off the ice, and there’s a part of him that doesn’t believe he’s contemplating this with his foster brother, the one who once had the power to get him kicked back to the mercy of Social Services. But the rest of him is bringing his fist up to nail Chris in the belly.
He feels the impact through his whole arm, and Chris doubles over. Patrick doesn’t hesitate: he brings his foot up and slams his shin into Chris’s groin. It’s not a very direct hit—Chris’s torso is in the way—but it still has some power, and he hears Chris’s new whoosh of breath as he falls to his knees.
Patrick takes a step back. He’s shaking. “And you stay away from me, got it?” he says, and his voice isn’t steady, but he doesn’t care. He picks up his bag and staggers into Chemistry class.
His phone buzzes in his pocket as soon as he sits down. He puts his bag in his lap as cover and sneaks a look at the phone screen. Two texts from Jonny: R u okay? and then, a second later, What the fuck was that?
Patrick unlocks the phone. I’m good, tell u later, he sends, and then he puts his head down on the desk and waits for the shaking to go away.
He’s expecting to get called to the principal’s office for the rest of the day, but nothing happens. The last bell rings, and Patrick hightails it to the UC.
It’s weird, walking in and knowing he’s not an employee anymore. He could have kept working there—wanted to, a little, but Stan and Q talked him out of it. They want him to focus on training.
He should probably be training now, but the pull to be with Jonny is still strong, and he follows it into the main stadium.
Jonny’s on the ice. God, Patrick loves watching him on the ice: loved it even before the bond, and now he just feels more in tune with it, can pick him out without even looking for the name and number on the back of his jersey. They’re playing three-on-three, and as soon as Patrick walks into the stands, Jonny looks up at him, finding him without a search.
Patrick grins at him. And then grins more broadly when Sharpy steals the puck out from under him.
After that it’s like Jonny has a fire behind him. He takes off after Sharpy and steals the puck back and slices a sweet pass to Duncs, who gets it past Khabibulin like he’s not even there. Patrick cheers and settles in to watch.
He does eventually get down to the gym, but as soon as camp is over for the day, he makes his way to the locker room like he’s been magnetized.
Jonny’s on the other side of the door, and he sweeps Patrick into his arms as soon as he comes in. Then he pulls back and looks at his face. “Are you okay?” he asks. “That was fucking scary, that thing this afternoon.”
Patrick is definitely okay. So much more okay right now than he was before, even though both he and Jonny are sweaty and gross. “You could feel it, huh?”
“Oh yeah, what the fuck was that?” Duncs asks from his stall. “Jonny just went really weird around one o’clock, stopped skating and ran for the tunnel.”
“I did not ‘go weird,’” Jonny mumbles.
“Um, hi.” Sharpy pokes his head over Jonny’s shoulder. “Yes, you did.” He pats Patrick on the head. “Glad you’re not dead.”
Jonny elbows Sharpy out of the way. “But you’re okay?” he says to Patrick. He still has his hands on Patrick’s back, and Patrick’s kind of embarrassed, but it’s not like he’s going to ask him to stop. Even if he can see the other guys grinning and nudging each other.
“Yeah, fine,” Patrick says. “It was just…Chris. My foster brother. He, uh, was kind of mad.”
Jonny’s eyes go dark, and Patrick’s seen him glare, but this is something totally different. His hands go tighter on Patrick’s back. “What did he do to you?” he asks. “Did he—”
“No, he didn’t do anything.” Patrick lets himself smile a little. “I, uh, sort of beat him up.”
“Yeah, you did,” Burs says, and holds up his fist for a fist bump. “Nice.”
Patrick gives him the fist bump, embarrassed but grinning.
Jonny doesn’t look satisfied, but he does let Patrick go, at least long enough for them to shower. And Patrick is good about not looking at Jonny in the shower, even if he really wants to.
Jonny still looks a little squirrelly when they get home, so Patrick doesn’t object when they end up curled on the couch watching Netflix. Not that he would object anyway. But, you know, this way it’s selfless.
They’re scheduled for a publicity event the next day, the two of them, and Patrick wants to die.
“I don’t do this stuff,” he says as Jonny gets him into the new suit that Patrick is kind of relieved Jonny made him buy.
“I mean, it’s not like I’m good at it, either,” Jonny says, and that’s hilariously true. It makes Patrick feel better, and he says so, which gets him Jonny slugging him on the shoulder and then wrestling him to the bed until Patrick cries out in defense of the suit.
(If it’s also just in time to keep Jonny from noticing his boner, well, no one needs to know about that.)
Patrick knows he’s lucky not to have had to do an interview right after the bonding. They wanted him to, he thinks, because he heard Jonny talking them down. But he knew they were going to want to trot him out eventually.
There’s a PR person who puts makeup on them at the rink and tries to do something with Patrick’s hair. “I guess that’s okay,” she says doubtfully, poking at the curls. Jonny smirks at him from across the room.
Patrick sticks his tongue out at him as soon as the PR lady’s back is turned. Just because his hair always looks good.
The lights are really bright when they’re on camera with the BHTV guys. Some reporter is interviewing them, and Patrick’s trying not to pass out.
“Um, yeah, it’s been really crazy,” he says, and he’s sure he sounds like an idiot. “But everyone’s been great. Especially Jonny, here.” He meets Jonny’s eyes, and then looks away before it can become one of the long stares that the guys on the team have started teasing them about.
“This must be a very different future than you were anticipating,” the interviewer says. “Did you ever think you’d end up on this path?”
It’s one of the questions they coached him on, so Patrick’s expecting it. But as soon as he starts thinking about his answer, he flashes back on being thirteen: winning games, getting points, coaches already talking about how far he might go. His parents in the stands cheering him along.
“Um, obviously it’s something you dream about,” he says. “I guess I just never thought it would come true.”
There are some questions for Jonny, then, about what it’s like to finally have a bond after a whole year of trying. They went over these answers already, too, and Patrick tunes it out a bit.
He snaps back to attention when the interviewer says, “So, Patrick, you were in a foster home until recently. Can you tell us a little about that?”
This…isn’t one of the questions they prepped them on. Patrick’s breath catches in his throat, and for a second he panics. He can’t say—well, any of the things that come to mind, and—
Jonny’s hand slides over his. Patrick grasps it right away, threading their fingers together so tightly it’ll probably cut off both of their circulations. But it works: he feels the grounding of Jonny’s presence, feels the panic ebb into something manageable.
He looks at Jonny in gratitude, at Jonny’s warm brown eyes looking back at him like they’ll never stop. “I’m just happy to have a family now,” Patrick says.
Jonny yells at the PR people as soon as the interviewer was over. “How could you let them come out with that question?” he demands. “You know that wasn’t on the list!”
“We know.” Tiny PR lady is standing unswayed before Jonny’s rage, so presumably she deals with angry hockey players a lot. “I’ve already spoken with the news organization.”
“They can’t just ask invasive questions like that,” Jonny says.
“And that’s what I’ve told them,” she says.
“You have to cut it from the tape.” Jonny smacks a fist against his thigh, turning to pace a little. “It’s not fair—”
“Jonny.” PR lady stops him with a hand on his arm. “Calm down. It was great.”
Jonny stops flailing and stares at her.
“We’re not cutting it,” she says. “Patrick’s answer was amazing. You know that’s the clip they’ll be going with now.”
Jonny looks over her shoulder, meets Patrick’s eyes. Patrick tries to tell him what he can’t quite say out loud: that he doesn’t mind them knowing how he feels about all this. How he feels about Jonny.
“All right,” Jonny says with a grimace, and Patrick grins and takes his arm to drag him out of there.
“Sorry about him,” he says to the PR lady, and Jonny grumbles at him but lets himself be dragged.
They did the filming during a break in training camp, so the other guys are there when they’re done washing off their makeup. Evidently news travels fast, because Sharpy and Burs catch Patrick in the locker room and pull him into a double bear hug.
“Are we your family, little Kaner?” Burs asks.
“I didn’t even know we were ready to adopt,” Sharpy says to Bur.
“Fuck off,” Patrick says, but he’s laughing.
“Sharpy has to be the mom,” Burs says.
“I do have the best hair,” Sharpy says, and Jonny has his arms crossed over his chest, and Patrick is smiling, and smiling, and smiling till his cheeks hurt.
Now that Patrick has a phone, he’s been talking to his sisters more often than not. They don’t have cell phones, but the Roziers are good about them using the home phone, and most nights Patrick spends at least an hour talking to them. The first night he does it in the guest room so he doesn’t bother Jonny, but he kind of hates shutting himself away from Jonny for so long, so he starts doing it while they’re both sprawled on the couch. (Jonny has a really great couch.) Jonny sometimes snorts a laugh when the conversation gets too inane, but Patrick just prods him with his toes until he shuts up. Or, more often, until he drags Patrick’s feet up into his lap and gets a firm grip on them, and that’s even better.
His sisters give him grief about the BHTV interview. “You have a family now, huh?” Erica says, grin in her voice.
“Oh, shut up, you know I didn’t mean you weren’t,” he says. He didn’t actually meant to offend them, he just meant—but she’s laughing.
“I know who you were really talking about,” she says, sing-song, and he growls at her until Jonny starts shooting him mildly disturbed looks.
Patrick hangs out in the stands at training camp for most of that weekend. By the time Monday rolls around, he’s resigned himself to going to school again, but Jonny stops him before he can get out of bed. “Q was hoping you could come into practice today,” he says.
That stops Patrick. He—well, he would love nothing more, but he definitely wasn’t expecting this. Q’s talked about getting him to play in different leagues this year, some USPHL games, some smaller regional stuff, getting him as much experience as possible. But nothing about practicing with the team. “You know I can’t play with you this year,” he says.
Jonny stretches on the mattress, and the movement against Patrick’s side is very distracting. “He wants the two of us to get used to playing together with other people,” he says. “Not just one-on-one.”
That makes sense. They’ve done a lot of one-on-one over the past week, and it’s been amazing, but it never really happens in the context of a hockey game.
Playing with the rest of the Blackhawks is a heady experience. Patrick’s in a no-contact jersey, which he’s embarrassed about, but…well, let’s just say that the other guys might have a few pounds on him. And he hasn’t been on the ice with this many people in years.
It’s disorienting at first. He’s gotten used to watching this from outside the rink, to having lots of clean, open ice to himself when he’s skating. Now there are people everywhere.
But then, the problem with the open ice was that it was boring. Here it’s anything but. Everyone’s trying to take the puck from him all the time, and he has to maneuver around the opposing team and be aware of his teammates’ positions and be in place to receive their passes and not take the puck offsides and find an opening and—
“Goal!” Sharpy shouts, and everyone’s glomming onto Patrick until he’s buried in a pile of sweaty hockey players, Jonny’s delighted laugh in his ear.
Of course, the payment for his elation is that he has to report to the principal’s office that afternoon.
He’s expecting it, because Stan pulled him aside before he left the rink and told him he’d be having a word with the school about getting Patrick onto a more flexible schedule. So Patrick’s not surprised when he gets the summons during Spanish, and he’s not surprised when he gets to the office and sees Stan there.
He is surprised to see his foster mother and his social worker in the other row of chairs.
Patrick stops dead in the doorway of the office. “What,” he says, and then the rest of his words are lost. His foster mother has Chris next to her, and he’s sporting a dark bruise around his eye. He spots Patrick and gives him a smug look.
“Patrick.” Stan’s giving him a questioning look, eyes darting over to the others and back. “Is there something going on here I don’t know about?” he asks in a low voice.
Patrick doesn’t know what to say, and before he can try for something, the door to Principal Tanner’s office opens. “Patrick?” she says. “Great. You can all come in now.”
Everything in Patrick rebels against the idea of following his foster mom and Chris into a confined space. But he does it, his feet feeling like lead. Then the door closes behind him, and his foster mom starts ranting about him.
He’s forgotten what it was like to have her voice in his ear. “—and it’s a travesty, letting this happen to poor innocent boys in the halls of your school,” she says, while Principal Tanner tries to get a word in edgewise. “It’s enough to make you question whether the school has any rules at all. I knew Patrick was capable of some horrifying behavior, but I didn’t expect—”
“Mrs. Green!” The principal finally manages to cut in. “I realize you’re upset. I’m just hoping to get some clarity on what happened—”
“He attacked me!” Chris says, and Patrick wonders if he’s the only one who can hear the gleeful tone in his voice. “He shoved me into the lockers and started punching me for no reason.”
Principal Tanner looks at Patrick. “Is that true?”
“I—” Patrick starts to say, but his foster mom starts talking over him.
“Of course it’s true,” she says. “Chris came home with bruises all over him. I’ve never seen him so upset. Frankly, I think a serious look needs to be taken at this boy and the influences in his life.”
“Right,” the principal says. “And that’s why you’ve brought Ms. Arbright here.”
The social worker clears her throat. “There do seem to be…quite serious concerns about his placement at the moment.”
Patrick goes cold. “No,” he says, and from behind him, Stan says, “Now, just a minute—”
“It’s very unusual for a minor to be moved outside of his system without consulting his case worker,” the social worker goes on. “I’m astonished it was allowed to happen.”
“I already cleared this with your office last week,” Stan says. “They said—”
“You realize they have him living with a nineteen-year-old boy?” his foster mom says, ignoring Stan. “As soon as I realized where he’d gone after he walked out on us, I knew I had to intervene. Barely any true adult supervision, and in the middle of a violent environment—”
“No,” Patrick says again, but his voice feels small.
“—well, naturally things like this will happen,” she says. “To participate in a vicious sport like hockey, he needs a stable home to come back to. Now,” she pauses and gets a long-suffering look on her face, “we’ve had our problems with him in the past, and it’s not every family who would agree to give him a second chance. But given his obvious need—”
The door bursts open, and Jonny comes rushing in.
He’s breathing hard, and his hair is sticking up, like he came straight from a shower. Patrick’s never been so happy to see him.
He moves straight to Patrick’s side and puts a hand on his shoulder. “What the he—heck is going here?” he asks.
Patrick’s foster mom gives Jonny a look that could freeze water. “And here’s his adult guardian.” She doesn’t put “adult” in air quotes, but Patrick can hear them in her voice, and he can tell his social worker does, too. “You can see why we need to reexamine this situation.”
“Mrs. Green.” Principal Tanner spreads her hands. “I’m not sure how any of this is relevant to—”
“You guys should expel him,” Chris bursts in, too loud, and everyone startles a little bit, but Mrs. Green picks up the thought smoothly.
“As my son says,” she says, “Patrick should be severely punished for his behavior. However, given the difficulties he’s faced recently, we’re prepared to waive that expectation. If,” and she pauses for emphasis, “we can be sure he’ll be moved to a proper family environment.”
She turns to look at Patrick for the first time, and there’s a look in her eyes like—like greed. Patrick feels sick.
Jonny’s hand tightens on his shoulder. “You can’t do that,” he says gruffly. “Patrick needs to stay in the place that’s best for him.”
“And I will be the one to decide where that is,” his social worker says.
“We haven’t heard from Patrick yet,” Principal Tanner cuts in. “Patrick? Do you have anything to say about this?”
Patrick looks at them: the four of them, all staring back. “I didn’t hit him in the face,” he says.
There’s a slight pause. “Excuse me?” Principal Tanner says.
Patrick feels dizzy, like maybe Jonny’s touch is the only thing holding him up. “I didn’t hit him in the face,” he says, and his voice is still faint but a little stronger this time. “He—he shoved me against a locker and went to punch me, and I ducked, and I hit him in the stomach and then kneed him in the groin.” He looks at Chris. “I never even got near his face.”
The social worker is frowning, confused. But next to Patrick, Chris’s face has gone red around the bruise, and Mrs. Green’s has gone white.
“I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying,” Principal Tanner says carefully.
“He’s lying, obviously!” Chris says. His voice has gone louder and more desperate. “He shoved me to the ground and beat me up. That’s where I got the bruise.”
“Earlier,” Principal Tanner says, “you said he shoved you against the lockers.”
Another pause. “Well—yeah, he did,” Chris says. “To the lockers, and then to the ground. And then—and then he kicked my face.”
The bruise could have come from a kick. It’s a vicious one, swelling up the skin around Chris’s eye so that he can’t open it all the way, a purple so dark it’s almost black. There are lots of ways he could have gotten it, but Patrick knows it didn’t come from him. “Or did you get it sometime later?” he asks, and he catches the tight fear on Mrs. Green’s face.
“This is ridiculous,” she spits at him. “I don’t know what you’re implying, but I don’t need to sit here and—”
“Just a minute,” Principal Tanner says. She has her hands steepled together in front of her, and she’s fixing Chris and his mom a narrow-eyed glare. “Let’s all agree that there are a lot of things that could have happened here. But,” she goes on, override Mrs. Green when she tries to interrupt, “Mrs. Green, as someone familiar with the foster system, you’re no doubt aware of the mandatory reporting rules that apply to someone in my position when someone makes a suggestion like this.”
Mrs. Green’s mouth is open, but she’s not talking.
“Fortunately, you’ve brought your own social worker with you,” Principal Tanner says. “Ms. Arbright, I expect you’ll want to look into this?”
The social worker’s mouth has turned into a thin line. “Yes, I think you’re right,” she says, standing up. “Mrs. Green, if we might…?”
“This is ridiculous,” Mrs. Green says again, but her voice has gone higher than usual. “You can’t possibly think—”
“I believe the social worker has made a request of you,” Principal Tanner says, and Mrs. Green shuts up and stands, pulling Chris up next to her. She starts talking to him in a low, hurried voice as they go out the door, and Ms. Arbright follows.
There’s a brief silence in the office after they leave. Jonny’s hand is a little less painfully tight on Patrick’s shoulder, but he’s standing closer now, close enough that Patrick can feel his body heat.
Principal Tanner breaks the silence. “Patrick,” she says. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?”
“I don’t know if they really hit him,” he says, and Jonny’s hand twitches against him. “I mean, they never hit me.”
“If that’s the case, there won’t be anything for Ms. Arbright to uncover,” Principal Tanner says. “On the other hand, it might make it harder for them to get another foster child placed with them.” She fixes him with a look. “Are you all right with that?”
Patrick feels something within him loosen, something he hadn’t known was tight. “Yes, ma’am,” he says, and Jonny makes a little abortive noise.
The meeting goes quickly after that. Stan has brought a bunch of papers for the principal to sign, giving Patrick permission to miss school on a regular basis for practice. “And we’d like him to travel with the team sometimes,” he says, and Patrick startles.
Principal Tanner turns the same sharp-eyed gaze on Stan that she’d turned on Mrs. Green. “I don’t want him to fall behind.”
“Believe me, we’ll be making every effort to keep him up to speed,” Stan says, and she purses her lips but nods.
There are some other details after that, but Patrick can barely pay attention. He feels shaky, the aftermath of unspent adrenaline. Jonny’s pressing up a little against Patrick’s back, and Patrick focuses on his grounding warmth. He wants to lean back and close his eyes and let the rest of the world disappear.
They leave Principal Tanner’s office with two periods still left in the school day. Patrick should probably go back to class, but no one suggests it—Stan looks stormy, like he’s going to make some angry phone calls to the foster system when he gets back to the office, and Jonny is silent until they reach his car.
They say goodbye to Stan at the car, and as soon as they get inside, Jonny reaches across the front seat and pulls Patrick into a tight, clinging hug. “That fucking woman,” he says.
“She wasn’t that bad,” Patrick says, and Jonny pulls back a little, enough so that Patrick can see his eyebrows shoot up to his hairline.
“She wasn’t that bad?” he repeats.
Patrick shrugs and looks down. “I mean, she really didn’t hit me,” he mumbles.
Jonny lets out a half-amused breath and rubs his hands up Patrick’s back. “Fuck, Patrick, not hitting you is, like, the bare minimum of being a good foster parent.”
Patrick pulls away a little, turns to face forward in his seat. He knows Jonny’s right, but he can feel a lump climbing into his throat. “It’s not that easy, having a kid in the house who’s not yours.”
“Sure,” Jonny says, but—”
“No, it’s really hard,” Patrick says. “It makes sense that—I mean, they need things, you know? Food, and clothing, and—they take up space—and it’s not crazy. To want something in return.”
Jonny looks at him for a beat. “You’re allowed to need things,” he says softly.
Is he? Patrick’s not so sure. He’s allowed to need the things he knows he can get. Anything other than that just hurts. “My second family,” he blurts out, and he doesn’t know why he’s saying this, but he is now. “They got money from the state to have me, right, they always do. But it wasn’t enough, and I used to hear them talking about how they were going to make it work. Buying me new clothes, and all the extra food. But you can’t just not grow, or not eat—”
“Of course you can’t,” Jonny says, quiet.
“And then, this family,” Patrick says, twisting his hands together, “wanting someone to do work around the house, that’s not that much. They weren’t asking for anything I didn’t owe them. They were giving me food and clothes and a place to live and it was fair to ask for something in return. It was just that,” he draws a shuddering breath, “it was just that I tried, really hard, I swear I did, and even then—”
“Patrick,” Jonny says, and he’s pulling Patrick into his arms, reaching across the gear shift to hold him. Patrick gets a face full of Jonny’s shirt, and he breathes in gulps of air.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Jonny murmurs in his ear. “You’re not—a burden. Anyone would be lucky to have you, and they shouldn’t need anything in return. You—just you—you’re so much more than enough.”
Patrick closes his eyes and holds tighter. Here in Jonny’s arms, he can almost believe it.
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.
Patrick wakes up with a headache and last night’s conversation replaying in his mind.
He groans and pushes his face into the pillow. Isn’t alcohol supposed to make you forget the awful things that happened the night before? He thought that was the whole point.
Jonny’s not in bed, probably because it’s past eight on a Saturday morning and he’s a freak. Actually, he’s probably on his way to practice—the practice Patrick should possibly be at, but evidently Jonny decided post-birthday hangover was a good enough reason not to go for someone who’s not actually on the team.
Patrick could get going right now, catch the second half, at least from the stands. But he thinks of Seabs’ words from last night and pushes his face harder into Jonny’s pillowcase instead.
It’s a stupid thing to be worried about. Jonny isn’t even dating anybody. But sometimes romantic bonds happen spontaneously, and just the thought of it is enough to make Patrick never want to get out of bed again.
A romantic bond wouldn’t change anything. He’d still have a hockey bond with Jonny, and it’s not like it was ever going to grow into anything else, anyway. It would be the same situation he has now. Except that it wouldn’t: there would be a new most-important person in Jonny’s life, a new person Jonny would look to first when he walked into a room, and Patrick would have to move out and live alone and go to bed each night in a bed that didn’t have Jonny in it.
It’s enough to have him closing his eyes and pulling the covers back up to his chin. It’s the day after his birthday; he’s allowed to lounge a little. Or mope. Either way.
He’s dozing when Jonny gets back from practice, and he wakes up to the feeling of Jonny’s fingers in his hair. “Feeling better?” Jonny asks.
Patrick’s eyelids flutter, and then he forces them open to look at Jonny. His hair is still damp from the shower, his skin scrubbed fresh and pink and his eyes bright from skating. Patrick has to bite his lip to keep from doing something he’ll regret.
What he does instead is grab Jonny’s arm and pull him down toward the bed. Jonny looks surprised at first, and then he goes, curling up behind Patrick and tucking an arm over him. Patrick pushes back into the embrace and closes his eyes again, head feeling better already.
The headache comes back later that day, though. Jonny’s sitting in a chair across the room, paging through some Canadian fishing book because that’s the kind of thing he does for fun, and Patrick’s sitting on the couch ostensibly trying to write an English paper, but what he’s really doing is glancing up at Jonny every few seconds and willing him to come touch him.
It’s so stupid. Jonny touches him all the time. Just because this one time Jonny’s sitting somewhere else, Patrick shouldn’t be crawling out of his skin over it. He tries to press down the part of him that’s feeling anxious about this, the part that’s all twisted up about things that haven’t even happened yet, but it’s all rising to his head and throbbing in his temples and he can’t keep his eyes from going back to Jonny.
Maybe he stares a little too hard, because Jonny looks up. “Hm?”
“Oh. Nothing,” Patrick says. He attempts a grin. “Just doing my English paper. You know.”
“Need a hand?” Jonny asks, and oh thank God, he gets up from his chair and comes and sits next to Patrick on the couch. Close enough that Patrick only has to lean in an inch for their shoulders to be next to each other; close enough that Patrick’s stomach can unclench. Jonny leans in a little farther to see the book. “Oh yeah, Ethan Frome, that sucked.”
“Right?” Patrick says, but he’s breathing again, and the headache is receding. Not gone, but almost out of reach; something he can bear easily when Jonny’s right next to him.
The headaches come back, off and on over the next few days, probably because Patrick’s making himself miserable obsessing over it all. Turning it over in his head, trying to prepare himself for the possibility that Jonny might find someone but not ending up prepared so much as just sick over it.
It would be easier if he could stop wanting. Sometimes he thinks he can—but then Jonny will turn to him with bright eyes, or whisper something in his ear, voice low and lips brushing the lobe, and Patrick’s stomach will jolt and he’ll sway forward, helpless and aching.
It doesn’t help when he wakes up later that week to find Jonny hard against his ass.
Patrick’s not sure what he’s feeling at first—he’s half asleep, nice and warm under the blankets, and Jonny’s stretched long and snug against his back and Patrick just wants to drift like this forever. Then Jonny moves a little and something nudges his ass and whoa.
It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. It’s just one of those things, autonomic or whatever, the kind of thing a guy can’t help, and Patrick usually tries to ignore the heat it stirs in his belly like the polite person he is. But this morning he can’t quite push it down: Jonny’s so warm against him, and Patrick’s sweating a little, and Jonny’s cock is nudging right between his ass cheeks oh god.
Jonny’s breath is light and even against the back of his neck. Patrick can feel his own cock swelling, can feel how much he wants that cock between his legs, or even, oh fuck, in his ass. It’s shivering all over his skin, that possibility, waking up all his nerves. The head of Jonny’s cock is firm and hot against him and he’s trying to keep his breathing down, trying not to clench, trying to ignore the growing ache—
Jonny shifts, cock jerking once against Patrick’s ass, and sweet pleasure runs all over Patrick’s body. He gasps and jerks forward, out of Jonny’s grasp, scrambling off the bed and onto the floor.
“Wha?” Jonny says muzzily behind him.
“Nothing.” Patrick straightens up, not facing the bed. “It’s—I’m gonna,” he says, and he darts into the bathroom and locks the door.
He leans against the wall and feels the blood pounding in his cock. He shouldn’t jerk off like this—shouldn’t reinforce whatever stupid doomed crush he has on Jonny—but he can tell he’s not coming down from this in any other way.
He slips his hand inside his boxers and sighs in relief. His cock has already left a damp patch on the fabric, and he swirls the slickness of the precome over the head and shivers. He imagines what it would feel like to do this to Jonny’s cock. Imagines what Jonny’s face might look like if he did. Jonny’s cock, bare this time, slipping between his ass cheeks, Jonny’s mouth opening on his neck and his arms coming up to envelop Patrick as he thrusts inside, taking all of him, inside and out. The way Jonny might breathe in his ear, fast and desperate because he wants it, wants Patrick—
Patrick gasps and comes hard, mouth open on a silent cry and back arching against the wall. Then he slumps down, legs all trembly and heart racing and fuck, he just came thinking about Jonny. Again.
He’s been trying so hard not to do that. He tries to wipe his mind of anything but physical sensation when he’s jerking off, just his hand on his cock, but he thinks about it all the time and no matter how many times he tells himself it’s creepy and he should be grateful and he shouldn’t ruin what he has, he can’t stop.
“What is wrong with me,” he mutters into the wall.
His head may be fucked up, but his hockey is fine.
More than fine, really. He’s still playing games with the Cougars and the Steel when Q asks him to, and Jonny finally has a free night later that week that overlaps with a game, so he comes to watch.
It hasn’t been as tough getting back into games as Patrick was afraid it would be. He thought he might be totally outclassed—but compared to the Blackhawks he’s been practicing with, these guys are practically little kids. There’s definitely stuff to get used to: the speed of shift changes, the difficulty of identifying players on the ice when he hasn’t been playing with them for long, the unfamiliar feeling of using newly developed muscles. It’s all stuff he has to work on, stuff that’s making him a better player than he was three months ago.
Nothing compares to the player he is when Jonny comes to see him, though.
Patrick gets two assists and a hat trick by the end of the second period, and…it’s like the opposition defense isn’t even there. He can practically feel Jonny’s attention on him, and it’s like wind at his back, like he’s skating with the force of two people instead of one.
He gets it, now: why hockey bonds help even when the players aren’t on the ice together.
He has four goals total by the end of the game, a six-point night, and Jonny’s waiting for him when he comes off the ice. For a second, looking at how Jonny’s eyes are trained on him, Patrick has a momentary flash of him dropping to his knees in the middle of the tunnel—but Jonny just wraps him in his arms, of course he does, and Patrick sinks into it and pushes down the throb of heat at the other thing.
After a moment Jonny lets go and holds him at arm’s length. “We are going to take the NHL by fucking storm next year,” he says.
“Yeah we are,” Patrick says, breathless and beaming, and the desire to have Jonny’s lips on his pales in comparison to this, this glowing golden certainty that fills him. That together, they’ll be unstoppable.
He’s still buzzing on it the next morning. Evidently word has spread about his game last night, because Burs comes through the door and slaps him on the back hard enough to leave a mark. “Six points! That’s my boy!”
Duncs punches Patrick in the shoulder, and Patrick would maybe mind if he didn’t feel so good about it. “It doesn’t really count,” he mumbles, but no one hears him, probably because Jonny’s already talking him up across the locker room.
“It was awesome,” Jonny’s saying to like five different people at once. His face is kind of flushed, like it is after he scores a goal himself. “There was this one play where there were like three people in front of him, and he just deked around all of them, got a breakaway, no one could touch him. Tipped it in right around the goalie’s glove.”
“Nice,” Laddy says to Patrick, and Patrick bumps his fist, but he’s distracted by looking at Jonny. His eyes are sparkling as he talks, and he looks so beautiful Patrick can hardly stand it. He thinks maybe he’ll be struck down where he sits. That’s because of me, he thinks, that look on Jonny’s face, and it makes him dizzy to think of it.
Sharpy’s elbow startles him out of his daze. “You’re pretty into him, aren’t you?” he says in a low voice.
“Wh-what?” Patrick jerks in surprise. “No, I’m not.” His heart is galloping, and he clenches his hands on his thighs.
Sharpy regards him through narrowed eyes. “You’re coming to lunch with me after practice,” he says, and Patrick is filled with a new sense of dread.
“You’re going to lunch with Sharpy?” Jonny says, brow furrowed in confusion.
“Well, you know.” Patrick shrugs. “He’s a cool guy,” he says, because it sounds better than he found out about my secret love for you and now we have to have a terrifying conversation about it.
“Okay,” Jonny says, and there’s something almost…almost insecure about it. Patrick wants to reassure him that the last thing he has to worry about right now is Patrick not liking him best, but, well.
“I’ll be home right after school,” he says instead.
The thing is, Patrick actually does like Sharpy a lot. And he’d be happy to have lunch with him, under nomal circumstances, when Sharpy’s not going to talk to him about his debilitating crush.
Sharpy doesn’t bring it up right away, just talks about normal things, and Patrick is enjoying himself up to the point when Sharpy says, “So, how long have you been in love with our illustrious baby captain?”
Patrick chokes on his burger. And coughs for like three minutes while Sharpy hands him water and watches wryly. “I’m not…whatever. What you said,” he says, when he can finally drag in a breath again. “It’s just a crush, okay?”
“Uh-huh.” Sharpy’s eyebrow looks deeply unconvinced. “So, how long have you had this ‘crush’?” he asks, with air quotes.
Patrick…doesn’t actually know the answer to that. It seems like this is how he’s always felt: like as long as Jonny’s been in his life, Patrick’s felt this way about him. Like he never had the option of feeling anything else. “Um, you know,” he says. “A while.” Then: “You can’t tell him, okay?”
“Please,” Sharpy says. “Like I would betray the solemn brotherhood of Patricks.”
Patrick fiddles with a french fry. “It’s just…you know. Something I have to get over.”
Sharpy looks at him like he’s said something insane. “Why?”
Why? Is that an actual question? Patrick could name about fifty reasons why, starting with: “Because he doesn’t feel the same way,” he says, looking down at his plate. And then, the one that makes him sick: “Because he’s going to meet someone else at some point.”
“Someone he looks at the way he looks at you?” Sharpy says, his voice weirdly gentle, and Patrick suddenly finds himself on the losing end of the battle against the pricking feeling in his eyes. The way Jonny looks at him sometimes, eyes going a little soft at the corners, the way his mouth wobbles and his whole face seems lit with a light that shines on no one else. Patrick feeds on those moments, breathes them in like air. Can’t imagine them going to someone else.
“It’s just something I have to get over,” he says again, trying to feel as resolute as he sounds.
Sharpy looks like he’s going to say something else, but instead he just pats him on the arm. “We’re here for you, kid.”
Patrick’s head throbs throughout the afternoon at school. Too much talking about it; too much thinking about the things he’s desperately afraid to lose.
It helps a little when he goes home to Jonny and slumps against him on the couch after dinner, but he can’t stop thinking about it. Even with Jonny’s arm around him, tight against his chest, all he can think is: I’m going to lose this someday. And, even worse: There’s someone else he’ll be holding like this, like she’s precious.
He shifts against Jonny, and Jonny makes a questioning mm.
“I’m kind of tired,” Patrick says standing up. “I think I’m going to bed.”
“Want me to come?” Jonny asks, looking up at him with big earnest eyes.
Patrick wavers. But then he thinks of Jonny wrapped warm around him and, “Yes,” he says. “Sure.”
He offers Jonny his hand to get up, and then Jonny doesn’t let go once he’s up, just keeps holding Patrick’s hand. Patrick doesn’t let go, either; he holds tight, all the way down the hallway, feeling like Jonny’s palm against his is the only thing that’s keeping him from being lost.
“You have to tell him,” Erica says the next day at their foster home. It’s Saturday, and the Hawks have a game that night, but Jonny let Patrick borrow his car while he stayed home for his pre-game nap.
“Are you crazy?” Patrick says. “I’m not telling him anything.”
Jess shakes her head. “No, you have to,” she says. She’s sitting on his other side, Jackie across from him, the four of them in a tight huddle on the grass in the Roziers’ family room. “Otherwise what if he’s in love with you, too, and he just doesn’t want to say anything?”
Patrick sighs. “Jess…”
“Jonny’s awesome.” Jackie looks across the circle at him with her big eleven-year-old eyes. “He should be in love with you.”
Patrick lets his head drop. He doesn’t want to feel this, not now when—“That’s not how love works, Jacks,” he says.
He feels little hands on the top of his head. “Do you want head scratches?” Jackie asks. He nods, and her nails scritch away the top surface of his headache, the one that’s always lurking just behind his temples these days.
The Hawks win the game that night, and it’s a shutout: four-nothing against Arizona. Jonny has two goals, the second one of them the prettiest thing Patrick’s ever seen, and no one argues against the general roar in the locker room in favor of going out.
They go to one of the few bars that will let Patrick in without a fake ID—too risky, the fake ID thing, if he might be high-profile next year—and Patrick wonders when that became the team default, is warm with the feeling of belonging.
He gets a big black X on the back of his hand, but he’s in a booth with seven enormous hockey players; no one’s going to see if he takes a sip of beer every once in a while. Jonny’s underage, too, but Seabs slips him a victory beer, and Patrick gets to steal sips. He keeps nudging Jonny, and Jonny keeps sliding his glass over to him while Sharpy makes jokes about Patrick becoming a lush and Patrick loudly tells Jonny how he needs to defend his honor.
Jonny just laughs. He’s bright-eyed and animated, clearly still flying off that last goal. Patrick can almost feel it: the tug of elation, that endless moment when the puck sailed right over the goalie’s knee and into the back of the net. Maybe because Jonny can’t stop talking about it. Patrick would think it was funny if he weren’t so busy thinking it’s adorable and charming and other adjectives he shouldn’t say out loud.
“Oh—I’m sorry,” Patrick says the next time Jonny starts telling the story, “did you score in this game? I must have missed it.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Jonny says, jostling him, but the gleam in his eyes is bright and happy. He’s pushing into Patrick’s shoulder, face tipped toward him and flushed red along his cheekbones, and Patrick’s stomach is bubbling, sweet and hot. He thinks about what Jess said: that maybe, maybe there’s a chance that it’s not just him. That maybe Jonny feels the same buzz, the same yearning pull. That maybe if Patrick just told him…
He almost feels like he could do it, when they’re like this. But if Jonny doesn’t feel the same thing—if he pulls away, if it all falls down dead and cold at Patrick’s feet—then Patrick will lose so much. Everything.
Jonny’s too high on his goal to notice if Patrick’s expression falters for a moment. Patrick lets it go, dives back into the conversation, watches how Jonny’s face lights up.
Jonny’s leaning in toward Patrick, telling him for maybe the third time about the look on the one D-man’s face when he saw the puck go in, when Buff comes up to them. “Hey, Tazer,” he says. “Don’t look now, but super hot girl is macking on you from the bar.”
Jonny looks, right away, head jerking up and toward the bar. Patrick feels it like a spray of ice on his face. He leans back a little, feels his ribs go tight. This is it: this is the thing, how it starts.
“Fuck,” Burs says across the table, “total ten. Go get it, Taze.”
“Um,” Jonny says, “I,” and he looks at Patrick.
Patrick jolts a little because—no. Jonny can’t think Patrick would—he can’t know. Patrick presses his mouth into some sort of smile and makes himself look at the bar. “Yeah, she’s super hot,” he says, even though his eyes aren’t quite focusing quite well enough for him to be sure what she looks like.
There’s a pause from Jonny. “You think?”
And…what can Patrick say? He doesn’t want Jonny to be with her, doesn’t want him to be with anyone, but he can’t tell him that. Feels his stomach crawling up his throat at the very thought of it. “Yeah, you should go talk to her,” he says, the brightness of the words tasting sharp and wrong in his mouth.
“Oh,” Jonny says. “Okay. I guess, uh, I will, then.”
Patrick can’t watch him go. Can’t quite see anything, for a moment. He hears Burs cheer for Jonny, and then he’s cold all along the side where Jonny was pressed against him.
He turns back towards the table. There’s kind of—a rushing sound, in his ears, and it’s really hard to breathe. Like there are weights on his chest. But he can do this; it’s fine. He just needs to sit here, and breathe, and—he knew this was coming. He’s fine.
He can feel Sharpy’s eyes on him, and his eye sockets feel hot and dull. He looks away, over to the bar.
His eyes go to Jonny right away. It’s what they do, the two of them: they look at each other, unprompted, faster than thought, eyes locking together like they’re magnetized. Patrick’s gotten used to Jonny’s dark brown eyes snapping to his as soon as he walks into a room, as soon as he seeks him out. Except this time—this time Jonny’s not looking back.
He’s looking at the girl. The girl who’s smiling up at him. Patrick can see that she’s hot—can’t make himself care about that, not when Jonny’s right there, looking the way he does, but he can see, objectively, that she’s attractive. She’s laughing, like maybe Jonny said something funny, and he’s smiling back at her a little. And then he reaches out and touches her arm.
The pain is sudden and fierce: it shoots through Patrick’s head like an ice pick jammed through the back of his skull. He thinks maybe he cries out, but then it’s like everything’s seized up, and all he can do is squeeze his eyes shut and pain pain pain. It’s not a headache like any he’s had before; it’s debilitating, and he feels it radiating through his whole body. His stomach is trying to lurch its way out of his mouth, and he can’t draw enough breath, and the noises of the bar are like bright hammer strikes on his skull—
There are voices around him, rising in alarm, and unfamiliar hands touch him and do nothing to help. Then—a pair of hands that does help, that beats the pain back just a little, and Patrick relaxes a tiny bit into Jonny’s grasp.
“Patrick, oh my God, what happened?” Jonny’s voice is sharp, urgent. Patrick can’t reply, just pushes himself farther towards where Jonny must be. Jonny’s side comes up against his, and the veil of pain lightens a little.
“Should we call someone?” Duncs asks. “Nine-one-one?”
“We probably should,” Seabs says. “He just keeled over, fuck, maybe he’s—”
“No,” Patrick manages to bite out. If they call someone, he’ll have to get farther from Jonny, and that’s—he turns his face into Jonny’s shoulder and breathes in the scent of him. “Just,” he grates out, “migraine,” and Jonny’s hands squeeze and relax a little.
“I think I’m just gonna take him home,” Jonny says. Then the next moment, Patrick’s being moved—but it’s Jonny, so it’s all right. Jonny gathers him up into a standing position against his chest, and Patrick’s head still hurts, but this is better. He holds on tight.
“Pat,” Jonny says, soft, into his ear, “baby, can you walk like this?” and Patrick manages to move himself around, lean against Jonny’s side so Jonny can help him out of the bar.
They wait for a cab like that, Patrick tucked into Jonny’s chest again and Jonny’s cheek resting on his head. Then they’re sliding onto the worn vinyl of a cab seat and Patrick can sit down properly and slump into Jonny’s neck.
This—this is good. His head is still pounding, but every breath is making it better. He feels like it could be even better: if he opened his mouth on Jonny’s skin, maybe, sucked on the collarbone he can see right in front of his eyes. Got his teeth in there and bit. He licks his lip, and his tongue feels thick with want: the desire to slide his mouth along Jonny’s skin and find the places that would make Jonny gasp. To take Jonny’s mouth with his own and lick in deep and spell out mine with every flick of his tongue.
He doesn’t do any of those things. He just presses his lips together and squeezes his eyes shut and stays where he is. The migraine thrums along inside his skull, and Jonny’s hands clutch him tight, and Patrick holds on.
He only remembers a few things about getting home after that. Remembers the relief of falling into bed in a dark room and letting his eyes close. Remembers Jonny’s soft, “Should I go?” and his own hand reaching out to keep him there. Remembers the glow of finally drifting off in Jonny’s arms, pain receding at last under the soft brush of Jonny’s fingers over his scalp.
Patrick wakes up the next morning, utterly humiliated.
He…he gave himself a migraine. He was so upset about Jonny touching some woman’s arm that he gave himself a migraine so bad he couldn’t even walk out of the bar alone. Just because Jonny was touching someone’s arm. What the fuck is wrong with him?
Well: it could be worse. Jonny could know.
Jonny’s up already, sheets a little warm where he must have been lying. Patrick chases the warmth, curls up where Jonny was lying and remembers: that desperate, pulsing desire to have Jonny under his hands, to place his mouth on that skin. It makes heat trickle through his blood, and he forces it away. Drags himself out of bed, limbs still a little shaky from last night, and pulls on some clothes and goes into the hall.
Jonny’s in the kitchen, making breakfast. His head snaps up as soon as Patrick comes into the room, and he crosses to him right away and puts his hands on either side of Patrick’s face. “Are you okay?” Jonny asks, hands carding back through his curls like he’s going to find a bump or something.
“Yeah,” Patrick says, and he can’t help pushing into the touch. “It was just a migraine.”
“It was awful.” Jonny’s hands slow down, less seeking, more stroking, and tingly pressure races down Patrick’s spine. “I could feel it: like a sharp stabbing, and it was just…fuck, I’m so glad nothing happened to you.”
Jonny’s fingers on his scalp are making his eyes want to flutter shut, and Patrick can feel heat building at the base of his spine again. “I didn’t know the bond worked like that.”
Jonny regards his face: eyes dark, intent, so close. “They vary,” he says in a low voice.
Patrick feels his pulse pick up. It’s suddenly hard to breathe, hard not to be conscious of Jonny’s breath, so close, a gentle brush on his face. Of Jonny’s lips, slightly parted, the soft pink tip of a tongue coming out to press against the bottom one.
“Did you, um,” Patrick says, and he can’t quite talk without panting. “Are you okay? Now?”
“Yeah,” Jonny says, just a soft gust of air against his face. His eyes drop, looking at Patrick’s mouth, and then—then Patrick can’t stop himself, can’t think about it, just leans forward to press their mouths together.
Jonny’s mouth—fuck, it’s the softest, most wonderful thing he’s ever felt. Patrick’s been kissed before—Lucy Raftery in ninth grade—but it was nothing like this. This makes him want to melt, or float, or die just because he knows nothing will ever feel this good again. Jonny’s lips move gently under his, opening a little, and then it’s warm and wet and oh, something surges in Patrick’s belly—he licks into Jonny’s mouth and his stomach goes molten and his fingers go numb and he makes a little noise and—
And Jonny goes still.
He doesn’t pull away exactly, just goes rigid and unmoving everywhere Patrick’s touching, and it’s like hitting a brick wall. Patrick goes cold. He stumbles back, looks at him.
Jonny’s fists are clenched. His face is screwed up, and he’s not looking at Patrick. “Patrick,” he says, and his voice sounds forced out of him, like he doesn’t want to be talking at all. “I’m…I’m so sorry, I didn’t want…”
“Oh fuck,” Patrick whispers, and turns and runs.
Both his phone and his wallet are in the pocket of his jacket. Patrick has time to be grateful for that when he gets to the lobby of Jonny’s building—for that, and for his shoes, because he has to get out of there as soon as possible. He could walk to the subway, but what if Jonny is worried and comes after him? What if he has to talk to Jonny again and he can’t, he can’t, not now that Jonny knows—not now that he knows Jonny doesn’t—
He realizes he’s standing just inside the doors, staring blankly ahead, and the doorman is giving him a look. “Can I help you with anything, Mr. Kane?” he says, and Patrick finds himself saying, “Actually, yeah.”
He’s never been so glad for his newly populated bank account as when he sinks into the backseat of the cab a minute later. “It’s going to be kind of a long trip,” he says to the cab driver, and the guy just nods and punches the address into the GPS.
For a second after he gets there, Patrick’s afraid none of his sisters are home.
His phone is dead, so he couldn’t call ahead. And it’s okay if they’re not here—he could go into the backyard, hang out on the swing set, wait for them to get back, but his head is killing him and he just spent a two-hour cab ride replaying that moment in the kitchen and he thinks if he doesn’t get to talk to somebody soon—
The door finally opens, and it’s Mrs. Rozier, in dirty jeans with a bandanna around her hair. “Patrick, are you all right?” she asks, and the next minute he’s sobbing, crying into her shirt as her arms come around him and she holds him like no mother has held him for four long years.
It takes a few minutes for him to calm down. Once he does, the Roziers give him breakfast and make him some tea and his sisters crowd around him, solemn and concerned. He doesn’t really want to tell them what happened—doesn’t want to recount his humiliation—but Jackie pulls him into the pillow fort she’s built in her room, Erica and Jess crawling in behind until they’re all piled together in the tiny darkness of sofa cushions and sheets, and Patrick finds the whole story spilling out of him.
“And I shouldn’t have, I was right the whole time,” he says. “I’ve ruined it, and now he knows, and I just couldn’t keep standing there, I couldn’t,” he ends on a whisper.
His sisters are all sort of petting him now, hands stroking his shoulders and arms and hair. “What a stinkface,” Jess says.
“I’m so sorry, Patty,” Erica says. “We’ll see if you can stay here.”
“I can’t stay,” Patrick says, even though it’s the only thing he can imagine doing. He just can’t face Jonny again.
“For tonight, then,” Erica says firmly.
“We can watch Finding Nemo,” Jackie says, and Patrick does love that movie.
It helps, being comforted by his sisters, not a lot, but the aching pit in his gut is only about three-quarters as wide as it was.
The feel of Jonny’s muscles, going stiff and unresponsive under his hands. The look on Jonny’s face after he’d pulled away.
The Roziers do let him stay, at least for the night, and they make Jackie give up the sofa cushions so he’ll have somewhere to sleep later. They even give him their spare iPhone charger, which Patrick has mixed feelings about.
He could just leave his phone off. It would be easier. But maybe he should plug it in and keep it on silent, just in case. Even if there's no one in the outside world he can imagine wanting to talk to right now.
He's going to plug it in and leave it alone, but as soon as it turns on, it starts ringing. Patrick’s heart does something desperate inside his throat until he looks at the screen.
It’s not Jonny. It’s Sharpy.
Patrick bites his lip and debates answering it long enough that the phone stops ringing. But then it starts up again, a second later, and he finally gives in and hits accept. “Hey, Sharpy.”
“Oh, so you are alive,” Sharpy says. Then, “He’s alive!” like he’s calling out to other people in the room. Patrick can hear voices.
“What the f—heck did you think had happened?” Patrick asks, shooting a glance at the Roziers, in the kitchen but not necessarily out of earshot.
“Hey, don’t ask me, it was Jonny with all the theories,” Sharpy says. “Oh, and he wants to talk to you.”
“No,” Patrick says quickly, then, “No. No,” at escalating volumes in case Sharpy’s pulled the phone away from his ear.
“Okay, okay, fine,” Sharpy says. “But for the record, I think you’re both being idiots.”
Patrick takes a second for the wave of humiliation to roll through him. That probably means—Jonny told them, then. What Patrick did. “Can you just…tell him I’m sorry?”
“If that’s what you want,” Sharpy says. His voice gets softer. “You need anything?”
“No.” Patrick closes his eyes and leans against the side of the couch. “I’m at my sisters’. They’re letting me stay for a while.”
“Okay, well, let me know if you need a ride back,” Sharpy says, like he doesn’t hate Patrick now, like maybe he’s his friend, not just his sort-of almost teammate. Then the call is over and Patrick does put the phone on silent and just sits there for long minutes, trying to let all the feelings inside him settle.
He doesn’t let himself check his phone for the rest of the day. He hangs out with his sisters instead, and plays Barbies with Jackie and ends up judging a new version of the hallway Olympics he remembers from when they were tiny.
He hasn’t lived with them, really lived, for four years. But they still look to him after they finish the pillow long jump to see if they won, and it makes him want to cry a little.
It would all be great if it weren’t for the pounding in his temples and the yawning ache in his gut. If he didn’t keep looking around to find Jonny, only to remember a split second later and have everything go hollow on him. If his sisters were still the only people in the world he loved, and not—
His headache gets worse as the day goes on. By the time he’s been at the Roziers’ for a few hours, he feels like he can practically see it: a red pulsing just beyond the corners of his eyes.
He’s kind of used to it by now. But it finally gets bad enough that he asks the Roziers for pain meds. Mr. Rozier takes one look at his face and pours four extra-strength Tylenol into his hand.
“I remember the first time Deborah and I had a fight,” he says to Patrick, voice pitched mercifully low. “We’d been dating for a couple of months, and—well, it seems silly now. But I woke up the next morning thinking I was going to vomit.”
That’s how I feel every morning, Patrick thinks, even though it’s not quite true: it’s only after he’s left the house for school that he feels like that. But he knows the feeling: the deep, unsteadying unwellness in your gut that comes from walking away from the one person you only want to be closer to.
Mr. Rozier puts a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll be back in his arms soon enough,” he says, and Patrick blinks in surprise.
“We’re not—it’s not like that,” he says. “It’s just a hockey bond.”
Mr. Rozier’s eyebrows go up. “Oh,” he says. “I’m sorry, I thought—but I guess all bonds operate more or less the same,” and Patrick swallows down how true that is, how much Jonny’s gotten under his skin and made him ache.
They have meatloaf for dinner, everyone talking and laughing around the table and Patrick trying not to look like his head hurts too much when anybody’s looking at him. After dinner they pile on the couch in the living room to watch Finding Nemo, and it’s good except for how Patrick keeps thinking—how every second they’re all cuddled up together it feels more and more wrong, that he’s cuddled up with them and not with—
“Are you okay?” Erica whispers.
“Fine,” he whispers back, and tries to stop squirming. He loves them; he loves cuddling with them. It should be enough.
Jackie runs up to get the door when the bell rings. Patrick doesn’t pay much attention, just rearranges himself on Jess’s legs instead and winces when it jostles his head. But then Jackie gives a loud yelp.
They’re all up, springing to their feet, Patrick the fastest. He rounds the corner into the hall and sees—
Patrick’s whole body lurches at the sight of him. Jonny’s eyes jump to him right away, wide and almost…desperate, is the only word Patrick can put to him. The look in them is flaying the skin from Patrick's body.
“Jonathan,” Mrs. Rozier says. “I suppose you’ve come to see Patrick?”
Jonny’s face looks so right, even pale and frightened and wild about the eyes. Patrick can’t believe he went almost a whole day without seeing it. He can barely breathe for it.
“Um,” Jonny says, and Patrick can’t do this here, can’t make a scene in front of the Roziers.
“I’ll just,” he says, and grabs his shoes and coat and stumbles to the door, heart racing as it brings him near Jonny and the look in his eyes.
He's expecting Jonny to back up and keep his distance. But as soon as the door is shut behind him, one of them moves, or maybe both, and the next think Patrick knows he’s breathing in the smell of Jonny’s skin and Jonny’s arms are around him tight enough to bruise.
“Oh, fuck, Patrick, fuck,” Jonny whispers into his hair. “I know I shouldn’t have come, I just…oh my God, it’s so good to see you. I thought…”
Patrick makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a sob. He feels like he’s finally breathing, after a whole day of holding his breath, and every breath is Jonny. Jonny’s hands on his back and face pressed to his hair and neck warm and clean-smelling by Patrick’s face. Patrick nudges his nose against it and breathes in and—
Jonny’s gone, out of his arms, moving ten feet across the porch. “God,” he says. “God, I’m sorry, I thought I wouldn’t do that.”
Patrick wavers, off-balance from the speed of the change. But his body gets it before his mind, and there’s a sharp drop in the pit of his stomach. “Oh,” he says.
Jonny’s staring at the floorboards of the porch. “I’m so sorry,” he says.
“Right. Okay.” Patrick leans back against the wall of the house. He feels so tired suddenly, headache roaring against his temples. He wants to sink to his knees on the porch and lay his head on the boards. “Is this why you came? Just to do this again?”
Jonny’s eyes dart to him, widening. “No! I just…came to see you.”
“Right,” Patrick says. He wraps his arms around his chest. Jonny’s so far away, like he’s afraid… “You don’t have to stand over there, you know. I’m not going to jump you again.”
Jonny’s brow furrows. “I didn’t think…”
“I mean, it was pretty obvious that you hated it.” It’s getting hard to talk, the way his throat is closing down. This is what he was afraid of: Jonny ten feet away, afraid to come closer. “I’m not dumb, okay? I wouldn’t do that to you again. You don’t have to treat me like I’ll…like…”
Jonny’s staring at him now, hard, and he does take a tiny step closer, but it’s not enough. “I’m—no. Patrick. That’s not how it is.”
“I didn’t mean to—shit.” Patrick doesn't want to start crying. It’s just that—Jonny is standing so far away, and Patrick’s cold, and he’s alone, and it will be like this always—
“Sh, sh, no,” Jonny says, and then—oh, then, finally, he’s there again, warm and close, one arm pulling Patrick close with a hand at the small of Patrick’s back. The other hand wipes the tears from under Patrick’s eyes.
Patrick sucks in a breath. He didn't think he'd get this again. Jonny’s barely six inches away, and the way his fingers are brushing his cheek makes Patrick go lax in his arms. The tired feeling of a second before is gone. It’s all Jonny now: Jonny’s hands, Jonny’s face, Jonny’s eyes on Patrick. It’s everything he wanted, and maybe it’s not the way he wanted it, but it’s good enough that all he can think is, Please, no, please don’t take it away this time, please don’t leave me like before…
“Do you think you’re the one who did something wrong?” Jonny says, sharp, like this is a new idea.
“I know I did,” Patrick says, whispers.
“Fuck, Patrick, no, I—I’m the one who messed up,” Jonny says. His hand is still on Patrick’s cheek, his eyes intent on him. “You’re—for God's sake, you're fucking seventeen years old.”
That cuts through the haze of Jonny’s skin on his, just a little. “What?”
“I took you out of a foster home,” Jonny says. He looks down. “I basically—Sharpy told me, when we first bonded, he warned me, he told me I’d better not mess with you, and I wasn’t going to, I couldn’t—”
He breaks off, breathing out sharply. Patrick feels his words like stones in his gut, and he stiffens. “Is that why you didn’t want to kiss me? Because you think I’m too young?”
“No!” Jonny’s eyes flare. “It’s not that, it’s—I never wanted to make you feel—I mean, I was giving you shelter, and—and money, and..." He huffs a breath. “Fuck, I gave you the NHL.”
“So what?” Patrick says faintly.
Jonny takes a shuddery breath. “I just never meant for you to think that you owed me anything.”
Patrick takes a second, breathes. He feels everything whirling around him. “You…think I kissed you because I owed you something.”
“I know I wasn’t good at hiding the way I—but I really don't need that from you. I can give you space.” Jonny takes his hand off Patrick’s face, takes a step away. “We can sleep in separate beds, anything you want. I’ll keep my distance. You don’t have to do anything to—to earn your keep, now or ever, just—" He breaks off, closes his eyes for a moment. "Just please, please say you’ll come back with me—”
Patrick takes a step closer and fists his hands in Jonny’s coat. Jonny’s eyes pop open.
“My head hurts any time you’re not touching me,” Patrick says.
Jonny stares at him.
“I want you so badly I can barely sleep some nights,” Patrick says. He’s breathing hard, now that he’s saying this. “I’ve been going crazy, Jonny, fuck. Every second of every day—every morning when I had to walk out the door without—it’s been killing me, don’t you get it?”
Jonny just keeps looking at him, eyes wide and startled, like he can’t look away.
“You think you’ve given me all this stuff, but it’s you—” Fuck, Patrick isn’t good enough at words for this. “You’re the best thing I’ve ever gotten, and—shit, Jonny, if it was a choice between you or the NHL, the NHL wouldn’t matter at all. You hear that? I would take you over hockey.” Patrick leans forward and presses their foreheads together and feels how true it is, and tries to put all of that into his words. “I would take you over hockey.”
Jonny’s voice is barely there, and his breath is warm and fast against Patrick’s face. “Really?”
Patrick breathes in the smell of him. “I mean,” he says, “I’m not saying I don’t want the hockey.”
Jonny lets out this sound that’s halfway between a sob and a laugh, and his hand clenches on Patrick’s back. “Fuck,” he breathes.
“Yeah,” Patrick whispers.
Jonny’s hand comes back up to brush the side of Patrick’s face. His thumb presses into the corner of Patrick’s mouth, and Patrick can feel his lips part and tingle and his mouth fill with saliva. His body is priming for it, heat running through his veins. Jonny’s thumb slides over, across his lower lip, presses into the center of the plush curve. Patrick sucks in a breath with a little whimper on the tail of it.
“So you really…want this,” Jonny says, breath washing over Patrick’s mouth.
“Oh my God, Jonny, I don’t know how many other ways I can say it,” Patrick says, and Jonny makes a little sound and tips his head forward and kisses him, hard and fierce.
He steals Patrick’s breath in a rush. Patrick moans and arches his back, and Jonny licks inside his mouth and presses closer, fisting his hands in Patrick’s coat and kissing urgent and deep and hungry. Patrick can hear himself making noises, but it’s so good that he can barely think. Can only keep kissing Jonny—keep chasing his taste, that smooth spot on the inside of his lip, the rasp when their tongues slide together. It vibrates up and down his body until he feels like he’s shaking apart.
“God, Patrick, want you so bad,” Jonny whispers into his mouth, and that's it, Patrick's gone. He whines and tries to scramble closer. He wants to climb Jonny, wants to fall apart in his arms, doesn’t even care if he’s on the Roziers’ porch when he does it.
He bites at Jonny’s lip, and Jonny shoves him back against the wall, pinning him there with his body, and that makes it so much better: Jonny’s heat against him, Jonny eating into Patrick’s mouth and gasping for air. His dick is a hard line of heat that's making Patrick crazy. He throws a leg up around Jonny’s waist and grinds their hips together with a delicious shiver that runs from his dick to his scalp and that’s when his elbow presses the doorbell.
“Shit,” Jonny says, stumbling back, and when the door opens a second later, they’re standing there, maybe six inches apart, hair rumpled and coats askew, under the wide eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Rozier.
Patrick’s breathing really hard, and he can feel the flush spread up his cheeks. “I think, uh, maybe I’m going to go back to the city now,” he says.
The Roziers stare back at him for a minute before nodding silently, and a suspicious burst of giggling comes from inside the house behind them.
The car ride is the best kind of torture.
Patrick can’t touch Jonny much while he’s driving, but he can hold his hand, and wow, how did he not know Jonny was this good at holding hands? His thumb is skating over Patrick’s skin, light strokes, then digging in harder, then brushing light again, just enough to keep Patrick’s nerves off balance and his skin tingling.
“You’ve been holding out on me,” Patrick says, and he can hear how breathless he sounds.
Jonny doesn’t take his eyes off the road, but Patrick can see them go hot. “That was kind of the point.”
“Wonder what else you’re good at,” Patrick says. He lifts Jonny’s hand to his mouth to tongue along his fingers. Just the tip of his tongue at first, rasping along the pad of Jonny’s index finger. Then he sucks the finger in.
“Fuck,” Jonny gasps, and yanks his hand away. The car lurches a little. “You can’t. I have to—driving. I have to drive.”
“Sorry,” Patrick says, but he’s grinning. He can see the corners of Jonny’s mouth curving up. “Shouldn’t you have better coordination than this? What is it you do for a living again?”
“Shut the fuck up,” Jonny says, but his hand slips back into Patrick’s.
Two hours is a really long time.
Long enough for Patrick to move beyond impatience and start to worry. He’s burning for it, dying for it, but—well, he’s only kissed two people in his life, and Jonny’s one of them, and he’s not really sure how this is going to go. What if he’s not good at things, and it gets awkward? What if Jonny doesn’t want to do it again?
The thought makes him cling to Jonny’s hand harder, and the buzz under his skin is half desire, half anxiety. He wants more of what they had on the porch, wants to be in Jonny’s arms again and lick into Jonny’s mouth and feel Jonny wanting him. But he’s afraid of what will happen next.
Two hours is a really long time.
Patrick tries to hide the anxiety bubbling in his stomach, but Jonny definitely notices that something’s up when they finally reach the city. They park in Jonny’s garage, and Patrick can barely stand still as they wait for the elevator. He can feel Jonny’s eyes on him, knows he needs to chill out, doesn’t want to do anything that might make Jonny change his mind, but—
They get into the elevator, and Jonny steps close. “Hey,” he says, sliding a hand up Patrick’s arm. It’s grounding, but not enough. “You know we don’t have to if—”
“No, I want to,” Patrick says, too quickly, and then feels himself flush at how obvious he’s being. But Jonny only steps closer.
“Okay then,” he says, smile in his voice, and his lips come down to brush at the back of Patrick’s neck. His hand reaches across to frame Patrick’s far hip, holding Patrick close, and Patrick feels his whole body skitter to life, nerves jumping like hockey players after the puck drop.
“Yeah,” he whispers nonsensically, and Jonny laughs softly against his neck.
They both jump when the elevator dings.
Patrick can barely see straight on the walk to Jonny’s door. He’s still reeling from Jonny’s laughter against his skin. But Jonny puts his hand on the small of his back, and Patrick leans into him, and together they stumble into the apartment.
They separate to pull off shoes and coats. Patrick feels the anxiety clamp back down on his stomach as soon as Jonny’s not touching him, as he hangs his coat on the hook. There’s nothing else between them now—no reason to delay, and he’s not going to know what to do, any Jonny will know—
He feels Jonny’s hands on his waist from behind, warm palms sliding across his shirt until they meet over his stomach. “Hi,” Jonny whispers in his ear, and Patrick shivers and leans back against him as Jonny’s mouth closes over the lobe. It’s—Patrick never knew he was so sensitive there, and Jonny’s lips and tongue send sparks all over his body. It’s like closing a circuit: the connection between them swamps the anxiety so that Patrick can’t even feel it anymore, not against the background of want. Jonny’s fingers flex on his stomach, and his teeth close on Patrick’s ear.
“Oh,” Patrick says, making it a moan without meaning it to. Jonny whispers a curse against his ear, and then he’s turning Patrick around and Patrick’s arching into his body and Jonny’s going for his mouth, hungry.
Kissing Jonny just keeps getting better. Patrick wants to be doing this all the time. Like, maybe they could figure out a way to skate like this, so that Patrick would never have to stop kissing him. Jonny’s tongue is moving against his, little kitten licks, and he’s breathing so hard from it. Just from Jonny’s body pressed against his and their mouths meeting eagerly.
They kiss until Patrick’s dizzy and panting and squirming against the hard bulge at the front of Jonny’s jeans. Until Patrick can’t keep his hands off the smooth planes of muscle on Jonny’s back, the dip of his spine, the firm muscle of his ass. Until Jonny starts making a high-pitched sound the runs like sweet hot butter all of Patrick’s skin.
Jonny pulls back an inch—too much—and breathes fast and light against Patrick’s lips. “Bedroom?” he asks.
“Uh-huh,” Patrick says, and it’s a good thing Jonny doesn’t move away, because he might fall down. They keep kissing, slow and thick like molasses, as they stumble down the hall to the bedroom.
They get there, and Jonny pulls him properly against him again, hands firm on Patrick’s ass and mouth open on his neck. Like—like he’s the one who can’t get enough of Patrick. Patrick can feel his cock, hot and hard against his own and making the world shimmer. He feels lost—breathes open-mouthed and heavy-eyed as Jonny shifts their hips together, pressing harder and lighter and harder again, so that Patrick’s blood fizzes and he has to hold on tight to Jonny’s arms. If this goes on, Patrick will—he’ll—
Jonny pulls back, and Patrick whines, but Jonny slides his hands up under Patrick’s shirt, and, oh. Skin on skin. Patrick wants this. He pushes into the touch, and Jonny’s hands slide further up his chest. Jonny’s staring at him, wild-eyed with color high on his cheeks and lips swollen from kissing Patrick, and he’s taking off Patrick’s shirt, and Patrick thinks he might choke on the air he’s gulping.
“Wow,” Jonny says, like he hasn’t seen Patrick’s bare chest a million times already. His fingers skate over Patrick’s skin, and all of a sudden they’re delicate: faint brushes, exploring, making Patrick’s chest jump and his skin tingle like crazy. Patrick tips his head back and tries to keep it together when Jonny touches his nipples, nails touching light light so light that Patrick thinks he might scream, might come from the arcs of sensation.
“Fuck, the way you look right now,” Jonny whispers, and he’s pulling his own shirt off, kissing Patrick again, holding tight, Patrick sucking greedily at his tongue. Jonny lowers them onto the bed, Patrick on his back and Jonny above him, pressing their hips together and kissing him so well Patrick can’t keep track of anything.
Patrick’s pictured this so many times, but he didn’t have any idea it would be like this. That Jonny would be so close, so real, so much of his skin right next to Patrick’s. That it would make him feel so crazy. Jonny’s hips nudge at his, and Patrick thrusts into the pressure, wants more of it, but then Jonny slides down and puts his mouth on one of his nipples and, oh, Jonny’s wet tongue is making his nipple peak, is making Patrick’s heart beat even harder. His cock is so hard in his pants, and it’s twitching, and if this doesn’t go somewhere else soon he’s going to die.
“Jonny,” he says, voice going high and desperate, “Jonny, Jonny,” and Jonny hums around Patrick’s nipple and Patrick arches hard into it.
Jonny pulls off, and Patrick strains after him helplessly, but he’s just taking his pants off, and—fuck, fuck, Jonny’s cock is a hard outline through the fabric of his boxers. Patrick can’t take his eyes off it. He wants to touch, wants to put his mouth on it, but then Jonny’s hands are at the fly of Patrick’s pants and he can’t possibly focus on anything else while that’s happening.
He must make some kind of sound, because Jonny stills. “Is this okay?” he asks.
“Don’t you fucking stop,” Patrick says, holding Jonny’s wrists so he doesn’t move away, and Jonny gives a strangled laugh and gets his fly open. Patrick feels flayed open, like Jonny is peeling back his skin, but it’s so good, the little hints of pressure on his cock and then Jonny’s eyes, fuck, Jonny’s staring at Patrick’s cock where it’s jutting out from his underwear, a damp patch at the head where his pre-come is soaking the cloth.
“I jerked off so many times, thinking of this,” Jonny says, voice low, and his finger touches the tip of Patrick’s cloth-covered erection and makes Patrick buck into it. “Literally thousands of times.”
Patrick sobs out a laugh. He can still feel where Jonny’s finger brushed his dick, like the nerves were seared by his touch. “Me too,” he gasps out. “Fuck, please.”
Jonny’s mouth drops open a little and his tongue licks at his bottom lip, and then his fingers hook under Patrick’s boxer-briefs and lift them over his dick so it springs free. Then—his hand, oh fuck, Jonny’s hand—
His fingers are strong and hot around Patrick’s dick, and he pumps it so that Patrick practically bucks off the bed. He feels out of control, wild, and it’s good, except that Jonny’s not here with him; Jonny’s too far away, sitting back like that, and Patrick feels like he’s spinning off into the void without him. “You, too,” he gasps, as Jonny strips his cock, makes his nerves go crazy. “Come here.”
Jonny’s eyes are wide on him. “Yeah, okay,” he says, and scrambles out of his boxers so fast his dick slaps his stomach. Patrick’s mouth instantly goes wet, just at the sight of that thick cock with its dark-red head. He wonders what it would be like, stretching his lips around it—but Jonny’s coming down into his arms again, and that makes his cock rub against Patrick’s, and Patrick’s eyes are crossing again.
“Oh, fuck, yes, Pat,” Jonny says, and sinks his mouth into Patrick’s, sucking and biting a little as their cocks rub together. He’s muffling Patrick’s moans, and Patrick just has time to think that it’s a good thing Jonny lives alone, to be grateful no one can hear them, before Jonny gets his hand around both their cocks and he can’t think anything anymore.
“Jonny, Jonny,” he says, and Jonny pulls back from his mouth to look at him, to look into his eyes, and that’s what does it for Patrick: that’s what tips him over the edge of that roaring abyss, makes him arch back and gasp for air and drown in the feeling of Jonny and yes and coming coming coming, oh—
“Oh,” Jonny says, voice pitched high, and Patrick’s eyes open again just in time to see Jonny’s mouth drop open and his eyelids flutter. Jonny’s losing it, Jonny’s coming to pieces above him and it makes him tremble. He can feel Jonny’s come shooting onto his cock, warm and wet and mixing with his own.
“Oh my God,” Patrick says, and Jonny’s above him, heaving for air. He opens his eyes again, and Patrick meets them, and this time the shock that goes through him is different. It’s mine, mine, yours and then Jonny’s wrapping around him again, nose pressing into Patrick’s hair. Patrick buries his face in Jonny’s neck and yes.
They hold on like that for long minutes until Jonny shifts a little, pressing his lips against Patrick’s neck. “Fuck,” he says, voice muffled. “I had no idea.”
“What?” Patrick asks.
Jonny’s hand clutches Patrick’s side. “That it could be like that,” he says, sounding almost shy, face still hidden.
Patrick huffs a laugh of surprise. “But you’ve…before. You’ve…”
“I mean, yeah.” Jonny shifts a little so that he can look down at Patrick. His cheeks are pink, and wow, he has such long eyelashes. His eyes are soft, the shy look that’s always been Patrick’s favorite. His thumb touches the side of Patrick’s mouth. “But it’s different when it’s you.”
Patrick sucks in a breath. “Is it? Is…”
Jonny lowers his face, presses a kiss against Patrick’s shoulder. “I mean,” he says. “You must know it’s not just a hockey bond anymore.”
Patrick startles. He hadn’t thought—“Are you sure?”
Jonny looks back up at him, and his eyes are crinkled at the corners. “You weren’t the only one getting headaches, you know.”
Patrick gapes at him, and Jonny leans down and kisses him, lips lush and soft. The kiss feels almost as overwhelming as the idea: a romantic bond. Patrick can’t even…Jonny never finding anyone else, never being able to look at anyone else, because all of his heart is Patrick’s. Because they’re joined by something even stronger than hockey.
Getting to kiss Jonny like this for the rest of his life.
“I thought…maybe you were going to find someone else,” he mumbles when they finally part.
Jonny’s eyes go dark. “Oh my God, no, I could never. I just didn’t—I didn’t know it was you, too, and—” He looks like he feels awful, like he’s hurt Patrick somehow. “I shouldn’t have made you wait so long,” he finishes, voice soft.
“Now you feel bad about it,” Patrick says, but he’s grinning. He feels light, giddy, like he might float away if Jonny’s body weren’t on top of him. Like maybe they’ll be so happy they’ll float away together. “But really. It’s—it’s okay now. Right?”
Jonny presses his lips to the side of Patrick’s face. “Right,” he says.
Patrick’s eyelids sink shut, skin shivering and something deeper, something that might be the bond, singing at him. Jonny breathes softly next to him, his body still pressed to Patrick as his fingers keep up a slow adoration of his skin.
“So,” Patrick says, eyes still shut, “how long are you going to make me wait before you fuck me?”
It’s gratifying to hear Jonny’s intake of breath, sharp and quick. “Probably not very long,” Jonny says, voice a little unsteady, and yeah, Patrick thinks as he drifts off to sleep. He’s good with that.
He wakes up the next morning and thinks, Jonny.
His whole body is humming it to him, so much more strongly than it ever did before: the way Jonny’s pressed in behind him, nothing but skin against skin, warm and sleeping and soft and everything Patrick’s ever wanted.
There have been so many mornings almost like this—mornings when Patrick’s woken up and wanted to slip back into the fantasies that lived in his sleep. Now he doesn’t have to be asleep, though. He can think about this when he’s awake: last night, the way Jonny’s mouth had been on his skin and his hand on his cock and, oh fuck, the way he looked when he came. Patrick remembers that look and feels a spike of arousal sharp enough that—
Jonny jolts behind him. “What the,” he mumbles, and Patrick feels a burst of surprise that…hm. That might not have come from him.
Jonny’s cock is growing harder where it’s shoved up against his ass, and Jonny’s hand is suddenly a lot more insistent on his stomach. “Good morning,” Patrick says, and moves Jonny’s hand down to his dick.
Jonny’s hand closes around it, and he shifts around to let Patrick settle onto his back, half under Jonny’s body. “Was that—was that you?” Jonny asks, and his voice is already thick with lust. “Just now, were you thinking about, with the—”
Patrick nods, though he can feel his eyelids getting heavy at the way Jonny’s hand is stripping his cock. “I think,” he says, trying to speak through his gasps, “that Q is going to be interested in this development.”
Jonny gives a startled laugh, but his hand doesn’t stop moving. He leans in to kiss Patrick, and it feels even better than last night: like the pleasure is doubled, like he’s getting the echo of Jonny’s sensations on top of his own. He imagines being on the ice with Jonny like this, feeling where Jonny is and what he’s doing and what he intends. The two of them, more unstoppable than ever.
There’s a huff of amusement from Jonny—a silent huff, one Patrick only feels inside his own head, and wow. This is happening. “Maybe we don’t tell them all the details,” Jonny says, voice low, and he shifts on top of Patrick and everything gets much, much better.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as subtlety with the team.
Maybe it has something to do with the way Jonny won’t get more than six inches away from him in the locker room that morning—the way his hand lingers in the small of Patrick’s back, or the way Jonny keeps looking at him and forgetting what he’s saying, or the silly grins they’re both wearing. Patrick’s trying not to be obvious, but it’s hard not to lean in towards Jonny when he’s talking to him. At one point, when they’re pulling on their pads, Jonny giggles at something Patrick says, and Sharpy says loudly across the room, “Okay, who let them fuck?”
Jonny jolts up straight like he’s been stung, and the team descends into whoops and laughs. Patrick can feel his face burning.
“I mean, not that the sexual tension was a lot of fun for the rest of us,” Sharpy says, coming over to slap them on the back and ruffle Patrick’s hair. “But Jesus, I thought the two of you were bad before.” There’s a smile tugging on his lips.
“Sorry, Sharpy,” Patrick says, not sorry at all, and he scoots closer to Jonny, just because he can. “You’ll just have to live with our combined awesomeness now.”
Jonny looks at him, eyes warm. “Taking the NHL by storm, eh?” he murmurs, leaning in.
Patrick just beams back at him. Fuck yeah, they are.
Almost a year later, Patrick is on the ice of the U.C. about to begin his first game as a Chicago Blackhawk.
He knows this ice. It’s the same ice he once skated on alone as a friendless foster kid, thinking this was the only hockey he'd ever get; the same ice he used to watch from high in the stands, wishing he could play in games that weren’t his own; the same ice where one night he happened to skate with Jonathan Toews, and his life was changed forever.
It’s different now, though. His teammates are antsy on either side of him, and his sisters are cheering in the stands. Ahead of him, on the blue line, Jonny is waiting, and Patrick doesn’t need to see his face to feel his excitement. It’s the same excitement that’s bubbling in his own gut.
The announcer calls out, “And on right wing, number eighty-eight, Patrick Kane!”
Patrick grins and skates towards Jonny.
<3 <3 <3
Thanks to all of you who cheered this on!!