Jonathan’s come up to college (or down, really, but here it’s always “oh, where’ve you come up from, then?”, irrespective of actual geographical location) on a scholarship, and is feeling very awkward as the hills go rolling past outside his mum’s car window. They’ve been driving for ages now and his mum’s strained teasing in the first hour has died out into silence, BBC 5 droning on in the background. The footie’s on, but Johnny can’t bring himself to care about it as they wend their way through small village after small village. They don’t look that different to the village up north, but -- whatever. It isn’t like he could’ve turned down the scholarship, not even if he could’ve gone on to sixth form for free back home. It wouldn’t have made sense.
“All right, Johnny?”
The road’s widened a bit, and there’s a church. They must be getting there; there’s a signpost signalling a roundabout, a motorway beyond the town.
“Hey, look at the playing fields.”
Jonathan blinks; the fields they’ve been driving past apparently belong to the college he’s going to. Jesus. And all those buildings on either side of the street, probably. Jesus. It’s not -- he’s middle class as they come, but this is just --
“Well posh, isn’t it,” his mum says, slightly amused, slightly worried.
“It’s all right,” Jonathan’s compelled to say.
She laughs, fond, and reaches over to ruffle his hair.
“Mum!” He ducks away.
“You’ll be all right,” she says, and then they’re pulling into the driveway. “Here, I’ll have to give the office a ring, you start getting your stuff out of the car.”
They’re greeted by an upright old man with a well-brushed moustache and a good-looking boy. The old man’s his House Master, and the coach of their ice hockey team, and the boy turns out to be the House Captain, Patrick Sharp. Sharpy’s really unfairly fit, and he’s a scholarship boy as well, so he’s to take Jonathan under his wing. He says this with a grin on his face, though, and seems kind enough. Coach Q’s talking to his mum when Sharpy slings an arm around Jonathan’s shoulders and says, “So I hear you play ice hockey.”
Jonathan blinks. “Yeah? You play?”
“One of the alternate captains, at your service.”
“Cool,” Jonathan concludes. “I look forward to it.”
“Coach Q says you’re good,” and there’s a lick of competitiveness in Sharpy’s voice.
After an exchange of goodbyes where she’d just folded Jonathan into her arms and he’d -- gone, without resistance, because it’d be too long till the next time she’d be hugging him, and half-term’s too short to take the train all the way back up north, Sharpy shows him to his room.
“Sixth Formers get bedsits, though don’t go about getting strange ideas. We’ve still got to sign guests in, so. You know.” Sharpy grimaces.
“You have a girlfriend?” Jonathan asks.
“Yeah,” Sharpy says, and his eyes soften a bit. And then he adds, “she goes to college nearby”, though Jonathan didn’t ask.
“Sorry,” Jonathan says awkwardly.
Sharpy shrugs philosophically. “‘s all right. I can get the bus down to Boxham quite regularly.”
Jonathan’s bags are still piled up against all available surfaces when Sharpy takes him back out to show him the lay of the land and the boys who’ve already come back from summer hols. He appreciates Sharpy’s priorities when Sharpy makes an especial point to introduce the hockey players. There’s a tall quiet boy with a cap on backwards named Duncan, and with him is Seabrook, who’s even taller, and has a quick grin. There’re others, and Jonathan does his best to remember them.
Then a slight boy with messy blond hair and a wide smile is introduced to Jonathan as "Paddy Kane". The smile twists into a grimace, he says "Kaner. Or Pat, I guess, if you want to." in a surprising American accent.
"You're American," Jonathan says.
Kaner snorts. "No shit, Sherlock."
Sharpy sighs and rolls his eyes. "He’s, what, about a quarter English? But you'll find, Jonathan, that it's a defect quickly forgotten in lieu of Pat's many other defects."
Jonathan decides to call Kaner-or-Pat Patrick in the privacy of his head, because no one else apparently does.
Patrick smiles up at him, guileless, and says, "Hello, Jonathan...?"
"Toews," Jonathan answers.
"Well," Patrick says cheerfully, "it was nice to meet you, Jonathan Toews."
Patrick only comes up with 'Tazer' two weeks later, after chapel, when he finds out how Jonathan's last name is spelt.
They’re hurrying out into the fine, misty rain to the dry warmth of the classrooms, shielding their books in their macs, hoods flung up over their heads and water dripping into their eyes when the fine stitching of his name on the inside of his mac’s collar catches Patrick’s eye.
“What is that, Czech or something?” he says incredulously.
“What?” Jonathan asks, confused.
“T-o-e-w-s, Johnny, what is that even?”
Jonathan sighs. “It’s Welsh, Pat. My dad’s family is from Wales.”
“Jesus,” Pat marvels, “That’s crazy.”
“It really isn’t. It’s called migration.”
“No, man,” Pat says, annoyed, and shoves him lightly in the shoulder. “I mean like, that’s just not Tayves, man, that’s Toe-ez or something.”
Sharpy swoops up from behind them and cuffs Pat lightly round the back of his head, eliciting a yelp. “That’s the Welsh for you, Kaner, though I’m surprised there’re as many vowels in his name as there are.” He turns his grin on Jonathan. “No offence meant, of course.”
Jonathan shrugs. He’s quite honestly used to having the piss taken out of his name.
They forge on through the rain, and it’s only when they’re all shaking their macs out to hang up that Pat says, “Hey, Tazer,” and pokes him in the side.
“What,” Jonathan says automatically.
Pat pouts. “Do you like it? Tazer, it’s awesome.”
“It’s all right,” Jonathan says grudgingly.
“Fuck you, it’s ‘all right’,” Pat laughs, “it’s fucking awesome!”
Patrick seems to have adopted Jonathan, but he doesn't really find himself minding very much. The other boys call him Tazer as well, or Johnny, sometimes. It's all very cloistered and something out of the books: a genuine old boys' club where more than half the boys have parents in parliament or on the House of Lords or are just very, stupidly rich. When the article in the Daily Mail comes out about that primary school kid who died in a motor accident whilst on a school skiing trip in Switzerland, Jonathan's second thought after 'oh, how terrible' is 'a school trip in Switzerland'. He doesn't bother voicing it aloud in the common room, because he's sure that most of the boys there have been on school trips to ski in the bloody Alps.
It's in Sharpy's study -- which, of course Sharpy has a study, he's House Captain and alternate captain of the college's ice hockey team -- that he mentions it, when they're commiserating over how unbearably posh their college mates are. Sharpy's taken an inexplicable liking to Patrick, though, so more often than not Patrick's already lounging around with his shirt all wrinkled and tie half-undone in front of Sharpy's fireplace when Jonathan gets there.
“What’s so funny,” Jonathan demands crossly. Patrick’s more loaded than the whole lot of them, and he’s got a grandfather who’s some sort of gentry, though you’d never be able to tell.
Patrick just widens his eyes, all innocent-like, and it’s such a dirty trick because Johnny’s been taken in by it more times than he cares to remember. “Nah, it’s just you guys are so down on rich people, it’s different, so.”
Jonathan rolls his eyes. “Don’t act like you haven’t been to the Alps.”
“Uh, actually, I haven’t.” Patrick’s grinning at him like he’s got a secret. “There’re mountains in Virginia, so. You know where that is, Tazer?”
“Yes, I know where Virginia is.” Jonathan says, annoyed. “Named for the Virgin Queen. Jamestown colony. Et cetera.” He has a sudden thought. “Are you from Virginia?”
Sharpy laughs at that, and they both turn to look at him, where he’s sprawled on his bed and watching them. “I can’t believe the two of you’ve known each other for weeks but Tazer still doesn’t know where you’re from, Pat.”
“It never came up.” Patrick shrugs. “But do I sound like I’m from Virginia to you?”
“You all sound alike to me,” Jonathan says loftily. “American.”
Patrick reaches his leg out and kicks Jonathan in the shin. “Stop being racist, fucker. I’m from New York State, man. Buffalo, not that you’d know where that is.”
“I don’t do Geography.” Jonathan kicks him back. “And it isn’t in the syllabus, anyway, American states and cities.”
“Total failure of the system,” Patrick sighs mockingly, shaking his head. “That’s why I do IB, man.”
“Speaking of which!” Sharpy breaks in, sounding amused. “How are your studies coming along, lads?”
Patrick groans. “What are you, Sharpy, my mother?”
“No, just your House Captain.”
“Fuck off, you know I’m doing okay.”
Jonathan shrugs. “Could do better, I s’pose.”
“You always think you can, Tazer.” Patrick rolls his eyes, but he looks fond.
“Might lose my scholarship if I don’t.” Jonathan points out.
“There’s no way you’re going to, you idiot.” Patrick kicks at him again. It’s annoying. Jonathan catches his foot and holds it to the floor, frowning at Patrick.
Sharpy sighs loudly. “Well, good to know. You’re going in for the first team aren’t you, Johnny?”
He gives Sharpy a look. “You were there, Sharpy.”
Sharpy laughs. “Yes, well, trying to give Pat a heads up on his competition.”
Pat looks up from where he’d been distracted by the fire. “What?”
“Tazer here’s playing centre, though he’s not meant to know that just yet.”
“What, with the ice hockey?” There’s the beginnings of a grin on Patrick’s face as he focusses on Jonathan; Jonathan can feel one tugging at his lips in his return.
“Yeah. You scared?” He challenges.
“Fuck no!” Patrick crows. “When do we start practice, Sharpy? I’m gonna show Tazer here my moves.”
“It’s in your bloody email, Kaner,” Sharpy says. “And I hear he’s excellent. You’re not going to be very impressed, are you, Johnny?”
Johnny smirks, and says nothing.
The talk turns to speculation on the Elite League’s hockey teams and their college’s age-old rivalry with Rugby, and Sharpy’s girlfriend up in Boxham, before the bell goes and Sharpy shoos them out of his study to get back to their rooms before lights out.
They walk together through the hushed corridors; the noise of the boys in the Lower School’s dorms drifts across the quad from where they’re all cloistered along the South side. Patrick’s room is nearer to Sharpy’s study than Jonathan’s, so Jonathan walks him there as a courtesy. It’s a bit of a circuitous route to his own room, but Patrick’s just chattering on about his family and Jonathan hasn’t the heart to shut him up or leave him alone.
“Night, Kaner,” he says when they reach Patrick’s door.
Patrick smiles at him as he twists his doorknob. “See you at chapel tomorrow.” He laughs when Jonathan makes a face. “Heathen northerner. Aren’t the Welsh supposed to be religious?”
Jonathan shrugs. “Dad’s a dean; doesn’t mean I have to be religious.”
“Good to know, I guess.” Patrick grins. “Go away, Tazer, I’m going to bed.” He opens his door meaningfully.
Jonathan rolls his eyes. “Good night,” he says, and goes on his way.
Their college’s ice hockey team practises at the local rink; even they’re not rich enough to maintain an ice rink. They have Games on Wednesday afternoons, and extra practice sessions on Saturdays. It’s not enough, and Jonathan wonders about having evening sessions. He consults the rink’s timetable and finds that it’s entirely workable. He tucks the idea away for later, when he’s got a bit more standing with the team.
On their first practice Patrick leans on his stick and grins insouciantly.
“Come on, hot stuff,” he says, “show us what you’re made of.”
Jonathan’s more or less learnt to tune Patrick out, but the thrum of challenge in Patrick’s voice and the sharp way he’s watching Jonathan move about on the ice thrills him to his bones. This is why he is here, after all; the chance to play some excellent hockey with the best players in their level. He wants to show off, he finds, whet that edge of competition that’ll make him better.
“I think I will,” Jonathan tells Patrick, and goes back to his stick-handling.
They’re pitted against each other in the scrimmages, and steal the puck away from each other equal times. Patrick’s smaller than Jonathan, but he plays viciously and has clever hands, so that Jonathan does not think twice about checking him aside, about making full use of his height and size advantage to win the puck for his side. He takes especial delight in scoring against Patrick’s side, in skating past him and around the defenders, in fooling their goalie; the rhythms of the game settle in his bones and he is the happiest he’s been since he came here.
Patrick skates up to him, after, helmet askew and flush high on his cheeks, and punches him in the shoulder.
“Ow,” Jonathan says, though he barely felt it through his padding.
Patrick rolls his eyes at him. “You play good, you wuss.”
“Thanks.” He’s not sure what else to say to that, really.
“It’d be great if we could play together,” Patrick adds, and Jonathan — Jonathan can’t help but agree.
They do end up playing on a line together with Sharpy, who says jokingly that he’s there to keep an eye out on Jonathan, who’s new. The welfare rep, all part of the alternate captain’s job. They’re very ridiculously good, and their actual captain Poynter and Coach Q is cautiously optimistic about their prospects for the season opener against Rugby.
Time flies by in a blur of lessons and practice and late-night conversations in front of Sharpy’s hearth, or huddled together against the approaching cold whilst sitting in the Quad.
“What are your plans for half-term?” Jonathan asks over dinner. It seems to be the question in vogue right now.
“Might go down to London,” Patrick shrugs.
“London? Have you got friends there?”
“Kind of. I’m just going to wander around, though. Do some shopping.”
“Get lashed?” Jonathan asks archly.
Patrick laughs. “Fuck no, alcohol’s too fucking expensive in London. And they’re a lot stricter about checking ID.”
“I’m sure you’d find your way.”
“Hey, so,” says Patrick, ignoring his jibe. “What are you doing next week?”
“Staying here,” Jonathan says. “Going to the rink.”
“Not going home?”
“No, it’s too far away for half-term.”
Jonathan watches a strange look pass over Patrick’s face as they fall back into eating their dinner. He waits.
“Hey, Tazer, you want to come with me?” Patrick asks in a rush, setting his pudding down. He isn’t looking at Jonathan, but to the side.
“Won’t your friends mind?” Jonathan asks.
“What?” Patrick looks up at him, confused.
“Won’t they mind you imposing me on them,” Jonathan elaborates. It’s a bit troubling that Patrick doesn’t think of these things.
“What — oh!” Patrick face clears. He laughs a bit, like he’s embarrassed. “No, we, uh, we have a house in London. Don’t worry about it.”
“You what.” Patrick’s going to have a country estate in West Sussex at this rate.
“It’s more like my granddad’s? But he said I was totally welcome to use it whenever, so. It’s in St John’s Wood,” he adds, like that means anything to Jonathan.
“Do you have the keys?”
“Yeah,” Patrick says easily. “Granddad made a set for me. It’s … somewhere in my room.”
They both pause to contemplate the organised chaos that is Patrick’s room.
Patrick smiles his disarming smile at Jonathan. He must know how it slides under Jonathan’s skin, how it makes him feel loose and at ease. “So you’ll come? I swear I’ll spend the next week looking for them.”
Jonathan smiles back, almost automatically. “Yeah, sure, I’ll come.”
“Awesome!” Patrick raises his arms. “It’s going to be so awesome!”
They get the train down to Paddington and Patrick presses an Oyster card into Jonathan’s hand, dragging them past the queues waiting in front of the ticket machines.
“You’re going to love it,” he assures Jonathan, who’s only been to London once when he was seven and they were visiting some family. He wonders, belatedly, if he should have telephoned to say he’d be in the area. They probably don’t remember him.
“Maida Vale!” Patrick announces to the pouring rain, the South Asian man at the kiosk, and Jonathan as they emerge from the tiny station tiled in cool green.
They take a cab against Jonathan’s initial protests.
“Do you want to get soaked? I can’t even see the bus stop from here,” Pat says, flagging down a black cab. They dash from the short awning into the cab, but Pat’s curls get flattened to his head by the rain anyway, and there’s water trickling unpleasantly down Jonathan’s back.
“I thought your grandfather would live in Mayfair or something. I’ve heard of that.” Jonathan says idly, once they’re on their way.
“Yeah well, this is near Lord’s. For the cricket or whatever.” Patrick makes a grimace.
“You don’t like cricket?” Jonathan asks. He never had much time for it, himself.
“Nah, it’s fucking ridiculous. What kind of game breaks for tea?”
The cabbie’s giving them the stink-eye in the rear-view mirror. It’s Patrick’s American accent, seriously.
“The Englishman’s game,” Jonathan says. He’s trying to placate the cabbie, that’s all.
“Gramps shouldn’t have married an American, then,” Patrick says triumphantly.
Patrick’s grandfather turns up on Tuesday afternoon. They’re in the garden playing badminton when he arrives, so they don’t hear him over their shouting at each other.
“What is this infernal racket!” He shouts just as Patrick goes diving for a drop shot.
He sounds ludicrously posh. Jonathan suppresses the urge to parrot him.
“Oh, hey gramps,” Patrick rolls over on the grass to wave his racket.
The scowl on Patrick’s grandfather’s face breaks open into an uncannily familiar smile.
“Hello, you scamp,” booms the old man. “I see you didn’t even bother telling me you were visiting, what.” Jonathan notices with suppressed amusement that he’s wearing Barbour boots.
“I want to surprise you!” Patrick says and sits up. “And look, I brought a friend too!”
Jonathan, having been taught his manners, and also to show Patrick up, holds his hand out. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
Patrick mimes gagging behind his grandfather’s back.
“And you,” he says, and shakes hands firmly. “Friends with my grandson, eh? Never thought the day would come.”
Jonathan smiles politely and says nothing. Luckily, Patrick has more than enough to say for the both of them. He starts chattering at his grandfather as Jonathan endures a scorching scrutiny from under bushy white eyebrows. They don’t look nearly as unfortunate as Patrick’s.
“Oh, do shut up, there’s a good lad,” the old man says as he drops the scrutiny and turns round to glare affectionately down at Patrick.
“Don’t you want to know how your favourite grandson’s been doing? In this strange country?” Patrick says, injured. He’s grinning. Jonathan is warmed and slightly envious of the easy fondness evident between the two of them.
“I heard barely a word of what you said,” Patrick’s grandfather tells him.
“That hurts, gramps. That hurts real deep.” Patrick lays a hand dramatically on his chest, where his heart is.
The old man rolls his eyes. “Have tea with me,” he orders. “Then you can talk all you want at me and young Jonathan here.”
Young Jonathan shifts uncomfortably where he’s standing. They bought a whole load of food on Saturday from the ridiculously tiny Tesco Metro and shared the cost of that. He’s never going to be able to make it up to Patrick if they go for tea with his grandfather.
“I don’t want to intrude,” he starts, and is interrupted.
“Nonsense,” Patrick’s grandfather says brusquely. “You can’t possibly leave me alone with him. Now come along.” Thus saying, he turns and strides back into the house.
Patrick smiles as he stands up and brushes the grass off himself. Jonathan looks away from the knowing look in his eyes and follows the old man into the house.
The rest of the week passes quickly, after that. Patrick makes Jonathan walk down Regent’s Canal to Little Venice with him, and Jonathan is duly unimpressed by the little lock that’s meant to resemble Venice. He’s never been to Venice, but he’s quite sure that calling the junction of two frankly rather dank canals Little Venice is an insult. They take a boat up to Camden Lock, where neither of them have been before. Patrick is so enraptured he makes them go back again, and again. Jonathan far prefers the press of bodies here, in the winding passages of the Stables and on the boarded walks that offer views of the dreary autumnal Lock, to the madness of Oxford Street. Patrick’s grandfather takes them to his club, once, and Patrick gets embarrassingly tipsy on the g-and-t’s they seem to hand out like water. Jonathan takes refuge in the glass of wine he’s been nursing the whole afternoon, both from Patrick’s antics and the gleam in his grandfather’s eye.
On Friday morning Jonathan ventures the prospect of returning to college. They don’t actually have to be back till the evening of Sunday, but they’d bought open return tickets, and Jonathan’s been dying to get on the ice for the last 36 hours or so. He’s convinced Patrick must feel the same way; anything else would be unthinkable. Patrick’s eyes go wide, then it is as though shutters are drawn down.
“Sure,” Patrick says, “We can take the train at one thirty.”
He disappears after that, Jonathan presumes to pack. Jonathan has essentially been half-packed since Wednesday night, and goes to finish it all off.
He’s waiting in the entrance hall, getting quite jittery, when Patrick finally emerges with his grandfather in tow.
“So soon?” Patrick’s grandfather asks.
“We’ve got practice,” Jonathan says quietly. It’s basically true, even if it’s Jonathan-sanctioned practice instead of the usual sort.
Patrick says nothing at all, only hefts his bag into the car that’s been called for them.
“Well then,” the old man says. “It had bloody well better pay off.”
He shakes Jonathan’s hand and gives Patrick an unexpected hug, thumping him on the back.
Jonathan’s starting to think Patrick’s gone mute until the train pulls away from Didcot Parkway and Patrick says, “We don’t have practice.” He’s looking out of the window, chin propped in the upturned palm of one hand. The trees lining the rails go rolling past.
“We should,” Jonathan says, “if we want to win our opening game.”
Patrick hums, and turns to look at him. “Did you enjoy yourself?” he asks.
Does Patrick, Jonathan wonders, ever actually listen to him?
“Yes,” he says. He returns Patrick’s gaze steadily.
Patrick’s eyebrows draw together. “And?”
“And nothing,” Jonathan says. “Oh. And thank you for having me. I suppose.”
“I suppose,” Patrick echoes sarcastically. He changes the subject before Jonathan can demand to know what he means by that. “So I guess we’re going to the rink tomorrow?”
“I am,” says Jonathan. “You can do whatever you want.”
The rest of the train ride passes in spiky silence. Jonathan doesn’t know what it is, or how it came to be, but he’s determined not to give in first. He thinks, maybe, a week of being so close together all the time has worn at them. Maybe they’re sick of each other, maybe that’s why there’s an unhappy knot curled under his ribcage, an itch beneath his skin.
He stands abruptly up. “I’m going to the buffet carriage,” he mutters, and Patrick barely nods.
Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be. Jonathan walks angrily off, and is even angrier when he hesitates over the snack selection, reflexively wondering what to get Patrick. This is, he decides, only a sign that they’ve become entirely too codependent. Patrick can get his own bloody chocolate.
Patrick’s nodded off when Jonathan gets back, leaving him to stew in the confused tangle of thoughts and feelings until they arrive at their little countryside station. The platform’s so short that they have to make their way into the next carriage to alight. Jonathan has to gently elbow the two confused tourists aside and wrestle the window down to open the door from the outside so that they can all get off the train in time. He turns to share a knowing smile with Patrick once they’re on the platform and heading for the exit, but Patrick’s looking over the fence, away.
“Hello, you little bastards,” Sharpy says cheerfully when they get out of the station. He’s leaning against a car, like some sort of advert. “Is London still in one piece?”
“Yes,” Jonathan says, rolling his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
Sharpy raises an eyebrow. “Kaner texted me to ask for a ride.”
Patrick smiles at Sharpy and says, “Yeah, thanks for actually turning up.” He walks over to the car, ignoring Jonathan. “Is this Coach Q’s car?”
Sharpy’s other eyebrow goes up. Jonathan feels as though his face has turned to stone.
“Yes,” says Sharpy. He gives Jonathan a questioning look, and all Jonathan can do is shrug.
“Sweet,” Patrick says and opens a door.
They all get into the car without any further conversation and soon enough Sharpy’s speeding smoothly down the A345, Planet Rock playing in the background.
You can’t get enough but enough ain’t the test sings David Bowie into the uncomfortable silence.
On any other day, Patrick would’ve started talking by now.
“So,” says Jonathan. “Did you come back early as well, Sharpy?”
Sharpy flicks a glance over his shoulder. Patrick shifts in his seat, next to Sharpy.
“No,” Sharpy replies. “I’ve been staying in college. Spending time with my girlfriend.”
“Oh. Have you been to the rink?”
Sharpy laughs, and Jonathan thinks he might hear Patrick snort softly. “We went once, during a public skate. Why, have you?”
“Nope,” interrupts Patrick. “Though Jonathan’s just dying to go to the rink.”
The malicious edge to his voice visibly takes Sharpy aback, and it kindles the banked embers of Jonathan’s anger.
He doesn’t say don’t you miss it too or what the fuck is wrong with you. He says, “Well, just because I actually care about winning.” He twists the strap of his rucksack in one hand, gripping hard.
Sharpy intercedes, then, before Patrick can spit whatever it is out, with his face screwed up unhappy and mad.
“We all care about winning,” Sharpy says sternly, and that’s the end of the conversation.
Jonathan doesn’t see Patrick until the next morning, when he’s signing out to go into the town centre. He spent the rest of yesterday alone in his room, and then the gym, lifting weights and reciting declensions in his head. Patrick wasn’t in the dining hall at dinner, and neither was Sharpy.
“Hey,” Patrick says tiredly, his skate bag slung over his shoulder. He nudges Jonathan aside so that he can sign out as well, like yesterday never happened. Jonathan stares. He cannot understand what Patrick is thinking.
“Morning,” Jonathan says politely in return when Patrick straightens up from the porter’s desk.
A wince passes across Patrick’s face and Jonathan is viciously satisfied.
“Hey, can we just -- look, I’m sorry about yesterday, okay?” Patrick says. He sounds ever so tired. Jonathan wonders what he was doing yesterday night.
“Are you sure you’re all right to skate?” Jonathan asks by way of acceptance. “You look tired.”
Patrick smiles weakly and hoists his bag back up his shoulder, where it’d been slipping down. “It’s nothing a good skate won’t put right. Come on, we’re going to miss the bus.”
They end up having to sprint for it. By the time Jonathan beats Patrick to the bus, can’t help but smirk triumphantly at him whilst they flash their college passes at the driver, and Patrick just laughs and punches him in the arm, everything’s gone back to normal and they spend the ten minute bus ride into the town centre talking about the upcoming game.
This early on a Saturday morning there isn’t anyone else but Jonathan and Patrick at the rink. The manager lets them set up a net on one side of the rink, and they pass the morning going through drills and plays. A few kids from the grammar school nearby have come in for the skate by the time the two of them have moved on to shootout practice. They sit in the seats and hoot at them whenever either Jonathan or Patrick miss a goal. At least it’s equal opportunity jeering.
The competition is cut short by the manager, who sends them packing.
Jonathan and Patrick go laughing into the dressing room, pleasantly sore from a morning’s good work.
“Lunch at Costa?” Patrick asks, pulling his shirt off.
Jonathan makes a face and Patrick just catches it as he frees his head from the shirt. His hair is a tangled mess of curls. “You just want their hot chocolate thing. Again.”
“So?” Patrick grins. “It’s so good, Tazer. Live a little. Try some of mine. And you know you love their chicken panini.”
“Fine, fine,” sighs Jonathan. “Let’s go eat at Costa.”
Patrick cheers and does a little jig.
“Showers first, though, we smell like a pigsty,” Jonathan says.
“Yeah, whatever, I guess you’d know what a pigsty smells like,” Patrick says, grinning.
Jonathan can’t be bothered anymore to tell him they don’t farm pigs where he lives; it’s not like veracity actually ever matters to Patrick’s chirping.
Another week passes before they pile into the bus that will take them to Rugby for the match. Everyone is in high spirits, including Patrick, whom Jonathan has been stuck with for a seat-partner.
“Stop bouncing,” Jonathan says, and presses a hand down on Patrick’s knee.
“We’re going to fucking destroy them!” Patrick says and continues bouncing with greater vigour. Jonathan watches his hand go up and down.
It’s as though Jonathan winds tighter in counterpoint to everyone else’s exuberance. Captain Poynter’s talking music loudly two rows in front of them with Fletcher, a defenseman. Duncs and Seabs are talking enthusiastically about their Geography coursework. Sharpy’s turned around in his seat and encouraging Patrick. Jonathan decides to close his eyes and tune everyone out.
He gets woken up when they’ve just crossed the border into Warwickshire. The lads are all singing the college’s traditional battle song. It’s rude and denigrates Rugby in many creative ways and the coaches are grinning to themselves, from what Jonathan can see. Patrick elbows him in the side, gesturing to Jonathan’s mouth. The second verse is starting up, so Jonathan opens his mouth and joins in the hollering.
“Enough!” Coach Q roars after about five minutes of this. Jonathan, getting hoarse, is glad. Patrick subsides back into his seat; he’d been kneeling on it, waving his arms around like he was conducting a choir. A really horrible choir. Jonathan takes a long swig from his water bottle and tells Patrick to do the same.
Patrick makes a face at him, but he does drink some water.
“That’s a good idea,” Sharpy says. He’s eyeing them with amusement. “Everyone drink some water!” He shouts to the rest of the bus.
Everyone ends up needing to go for a slash the moment they get to Rugby.
Captain Poynter is famous for two things: his dare-devil attitude and his need to make everything into a song. He’s a scholarship boy, too. From Essex. Jonathan asked Sharpy once why Poynter was the captain and not, say, the much more level-headed Fletcher. Sharpy said something about Poynter getting Judd to write his manifesto on his back in sharpie marker and then when it came to making a speech he’d got his guitar out and sang a song about hockey.
It’s not that Jonathan dislikes Captain Poynter -- not at all; he’s a very likeable person. He just doesn’t think one should be so flippant about hockey. Jonathan wouldn’t be here without hockey to add to his grades, and neither would Captain Poynter.
So now, in the locker room before they step out to what Poynter is proclaiming their ultimate destiny, Jonathan listens and steels himself for the battle to come. Patrick’s still, for once, next to him, his hands clasped around the tape on his stick and his chin resting atop it.
“...most of their team is pretty old,” Poynter is saying seriously now, “and they know the way my year plays. So -- Tazer, your line’s taking the first shift. Hit them hard before they know what’s going on, destabilise them. Let’s just hope they aren’t intending on doing the same.”
Playing away games is always hugely intimidating. The sea of blue, white, and green all around them with nary a spot of their college’s navy and gold to be seen. Jonathan skates out onto the ice with Patrick and Sharpy, Fletcher, Danny, and Juddsy a solid presence at their backs. It seems as though the walls of the rink might be pressing down on them, such is the volume and density of Rugby’s cheering.
Jonathan steels himself and narrows his eyes at the opposing centre, breathes slowly in and out. Around him the roar of the crowd recedes. To his right Patrick is tapping his stick against the ice. To his left Sharpy is bent, ready. Before him his opponent twitches. The whistle blows. The puck drops. Jonathan moves.
Nothing can compare to the exhilaration of scoring a goal, of a play well executed, of the hot rush of triumph down his spine when they win. They win rather overwhelmingly, four goals to one. It’s not quite a shut-out, but Jonathan and Patrick both had a goal and an assist apiece. Jonathan feels as though he can’t stop smiling; neither can the rest of the team.
“What the hell is that on your face?” Patrick says, swinging himself down from Hossa’s broad back. They were charging around the locker room, Patrick whooping like a deranged monkey.
Jonathan raises an eyebrow, and Patrick reaches out to pinch Jonathan’s cheeks.
“What the fuck, Patrick!” Jonathan laughs, and bats his hands away.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you smile this hard in all the time we’ve known each other,” Patrick says mock-solemnly. And then he grins. “Clearly this means we should win more often.”
“We should win always,” Jonathan says, and slings an arm companionably round Patrick’s shoulders. “You could’ve scored another goal, in the second period.”
Patrick makes a face and shrugs his arm off. “Could’ve, would’ve, didn’t. Seriously, Tazer, let’s save the analysis for at least until we get back to college, yeah?”
He didn’t mean it that way, but it’s too late. “Yeah,” Jonathan says. “Okay.”
The second half of the term passes quickly by after that in a blur of lessons, tests, and hockey. Autumn turns into Winter, the trees on the grounds all turned to bare skeletons whilst the leaves underfoot grow damp and soggy with the chilly rains. On the weekend before the end of Michaelmas term the team’s made plans to go down to the outdoor rink at Somerset House in London.
“It’s really amazing, Tazer,” Patrick tells him. They’re in Jonathan’s room, sitting up against his radiator and under a fleece blanket. “There’s this big Christmas tree in the middle and it’s, like, on the river. I went last year and there was this stall selling mulled cider, and then there’s the whole Winter Wonderland thing in Hyde Park. There’s a rink there too, but, eh, I like the Somerset House one more.”
“Hmmm,” Jonathan sips at his tea. “It sounds good.”
Patrick sighs. Jonathan has no idea why. “You’ll see this weekend,” Patrick says.
Jonathan puts his mug carefully down, away from them. “Actually.”
“What.” Patrick says. He’s looking sideways up at Jonathan through his fringe. “Don’t tell me --”
“Well, I was just thinking, I’m probably going to stay here and study. I’ve got an essay for Classics due a week today. And then there’s that History coursework. I really haven’t got the time.” Jonathan thinks he might be rambling.
Patrick’s scrutinising him in a very discomfiting manner. And then he leans forward and says in the most crushingly earnest tone, “Don’t be an idiot, Tazer, I’ll totally pay for you to go with us.”
Jonathan closes his eyes and counts to ten. When he opens them Patrick’s still looking at him, all scared and -- and privileged. His gorge rises and he cannot help saying snippily, “That’s not how it works, Patrick.”
Patrick jerks back and frowns. “You’re my friend, okay? I want you to be there with us, it won’t be as much fun without you around.”
“Sharpy will be there; he’s loads of fun.” Jonathan points out.
“That isn’t the fucking point!” Patrick says.
Jonathan can’t say that he doesn’t want to owe Patrick -- or anyone -- more than he absolutely has to, but he doesn’t know what to say instead. “I don’t know what your fucking point is. I don’t want to go, can you please just understand that.”
Patrick’s lips thin, but he lets it go.
It’s lonely, over the weekend. Jonathan gets all his homework done in record time, and he goes into town to skate lonely circles around the rink.
He’s lying in bed going over his Maths notes on Sunday afternoon when Patrick knocks at his door. Jonathan knows it’s Patrick because of the way he knocks -- two quick raps, a pause, three quick raps -- and tenses up. He doesn’t really want to hear about the team’s jaunt down to London or all the fun that they had.
“Come in!” he calls, and sits up.
“Hey,” Patrick says as he backs his way into the room. “So I brought you some stuff.”
Jonathan stares. Patrick has, from the Christmas market, brought him: a wooden carving of a bird of prey, two wire basket things filled with pot pourri, and a didgeridoo.
“You found a didgeridoo,” Jonathan says.
“Yeah! I got my dad one too! And like a whole bunch of other shit for my sisters, but I just thought of you when I saw the guy selling didgeridoos.”
“What,” says Jonathan drily, “did you see him and think, my god, if there’s anything Tazer needs it’s a didgeridoo?”
“Pretty much,” Patrick says cheerfully, and drops his armful on the bed. “I also thought maybe you needed your room to smell nicer.”
“Ha bloody ha.”
“Yeah, so.” Patrick shuffles his feet on the spot, hands now stuffed into the pocket of his hoodie. “It was fun, man.”
“I did say you’d have fun,” Jonathan points out.
Patrick groans and collapses onto Jonathan’s bed, wincing when his hip hits the bird carving. He rolls it out from under him and Jonathan catches it in a hand. “It would have been way better with you there, Johnny.”
“Patrick,” Jonathan sighs. It’s getting all weird and tense again. It’s precisely what Jonathan was afraid of.
“Yeah, yeah,” Patrick says and gets abruptly to his feet. “You had your work to do, or whatever.”
“That’s not what --”
“I offered!” Patrick shouts. “I know you’re, you’re trying to save money but Sharpy came! He’s a scholarship boy too.”
Jonathan knows this, just like he knows he was able to afford going down to London like that. He knows his mum would’ve wanted him to go. But he’s got a little brother who’s going to have to pay higher university fees when his time comes and his dad’s retiring soon. He’s got to think about these things. He hasn’t any idea how to make Patrick understand.
“You don’t understand,” Jonathan says quietly.
“No,” Patrick says, just as quiet. “I don’t.”
When the door clicks shut behind Patrick, Jonathan becomes aware of something cutting into his palm. It’s the carving, and Jonathan has to make his fingers relax before he throws it at the door.
It’s the first proper fight they’ve had off-ice, and it makes the rest of the week absolutely miserable. Jonathan is absurdly grateful for the fact that they don’t share any classes at all, since Patrick does the IB. He manages to make it through the week without seeing Patrick outside of Games, but then Michaelmas ends and they're standing at the train station waiting for their respective trains.
Somehow, amidst the sea of boys millling around the platform, they’ve managed to end up standing next to each other in awkward silence.
Patrick breaks it when he says, "Are we okay?" plaintively. He's shivering, because it's cold -- it might even have started snowing -- and the platform doesn't even have the least pretence to shelter. So of course Jonathan has to reach out and awkwardly hook an arm around Patrick's shoulders to tug him in for some kind of weird half-hug.
"Yeah, of course," Jonathan says. It’s hardly Patrick’s fault he doesn’t understand these things, Jonathan has reasoned. Maybe Jonathan will tell him more about his family after Christmas.
And then the Bristol to London train arrives and Patrick has to go.
“Email me,” Patrick says, hanging out of the doorway. “I’m gonna be home in America, so don’t text me, email me.”
“Right,” Jonathan says. “I’ll do that. Happy Christmas!”
Patrick emails him first: a picture of a townhouse in what Jonathan assumes must be Buffalo.
Jonathan emails back with a picture of his own house in the snow.
And then heavier snowfall comes and the internet goes out.
“Tazer!” Patrick yells and runs down the rest of the steps to where Jonathan is standing with his bags. “You’re alive, holy shit!”
Jonathan wonders if he’s been stalking the entrance to the college. Jonathan also cannot tell for once if Patrick’s being sarcastic or not.
“What the fuck was up with the radio silence, man?” Patrick asks as he jumps down the last three steps.
“Sorry, the snow cut our internet out.”
Patrick stares. “Whoa, were you guys okay? That sounds really …”
“Primitive?” Jonathan asks, smiling wryly.
Patrick picks one of his bags up and they start walking back to Jonathan’s room. “No! I mean, you guys still had electricity, right?”
Jonathan rolls his eyes. “Yes, Patrick, we did.”
“How am I supposed to know?” Patrick says, sounding injured.
It’s an old topic, this, and Jonathan well knows the pattern of this debate.
“I don’t actually live right out in the countryside, you know,” he says.
“But you almost got chased by a cow that one time,” Patrick points out. He’s grinning.
“For the last bloody time, Patrick, I was on a walk. Not actually where I live. Also it’s bulls that get aggressive.”
“Bull, schmull,” Patrick sing-songs.
Jonathan smacks him with the bag that he’s carrying.
“I hope you get properly run down by one, one day,” Jonathan says seriously.
“Not gonna happen unless I go to cow country,” Patrick says lightly. Too lightly.
Jonathan shifts his bag to his other hand, trying to think of what to say. “Stay in the city,” he advises.
“It’s probably for the best,” Patrick agrees.
When they pass by Patrick’s room, he pops in to grab something he insists on hiding from Jonathan.
“Patience, young padawan,” he intones when Jonathan tries to sneak a peek.
“No,” Jonathan says, and they jostle with each other all the way back to Jonathan’s room.
An orange package hits Jonathan in the face when he finally finishes unpacking, no thanks to Patrick. Jonathan looks down at where it’s fallen into his lap.
“Reese’s,” he reads. “You do realise they sell these in supermarkets?”
“Only some of them, and how often do we get out of here anyway?” Patrick retorts. He looks kind of hurt.
Jonathan sighs inwardly. “No, Patrick, I — thank you for bringing these for me.”
Patrick smiles at him brightly, then. “You’re welcome!” he says.
“Oh, um, I’ve got a present for you too. It’s not a didgeridoo, but.”
It’s a bit of a joke present, really -- a scale replica of a mediaeval broadsword from an English Heritage shop. Patrick’s strangely into mediaeval English history. Jonathan got him a wimple as well. It’s pink.
Patrick is delighted.
“This is so cool,” he enthuses, swinging the sword around with the wimple askew on his head. “Did you get one as well? We should totally have swordfights. Swordfights, dude! Way better than that pussy fencing crap.”
“I left mine at home,”Jonathan says, smiling. “I looked dodgy enough carrying that on the megabus trip all the way here.”
Patrick rolls his eyes and sits on the bed next to Jonathan. “You could’ve slung them across your back, mate. That would’ve looked really cool.”
Jonathan laughs and tips back onto the bed. “Look at you, going all native. Mate.”
“Shut it,” Patrick says and taps Jonathan gently with his sword. “I have a sword and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Jonathan yawns in reply.
Patrick rolls to his feet then, and he stands there, smiling down at Jonathan.
Jonathan smiles back up at him, puzzled.
“I’ll just let you get some sleep,” Patrick says eventually. “You look like you need it.”
“Very generous of you,” Jonathan says, and reaches out to kick Patrick’s leg.
“Yeah, it’s my middle name,” says Patrick. “See you tomorrow, Tazer.
Lent Term starts out absolutely mad. Jonathan has French and Maths and History AS exams beginning a week from the start of term and it seems as though the tutors were, frighteningly enough, handling them with kid gloves in Michaelmas. Hockey practices are increased to three times a week, and Jonathan almost -- almost -- regrets sending that email to Coach Q and Poynter, except that hockey is the only time his head is empty of all other worries. Jonathan, a few other scholars from his House, and Patrick spend nearly all their spare time in the library studying. Patrick’s fairly drowning in his workload from IB. Jonathan doesn’t even try to understand IB. He’s got too many other things to understand.
“Fuck my fucking life,” Patrick groans one evening, drawing out the iiiiiiiiiife as he buries his head in his arms.
“Man up, Kane,” Campbell says unsympathetically.
Patrick lifts his head to glare. “You don’t understand my pain, you take like, what, four subjects?”
“It’s your fault for doing IB,” Jonathan points out. Patrick’s made him lose track of his French vocabulary list and it makes him crabby. “You could be doing the A Levels like the rest of us. Not that it’s any easier. ”
“Yeah, well, it’s going to make applying to college back home way easier.” Patrick says, dropping his head back onto his books.
“You’re not staying in England?” Jonathan asks. It makes him feel antsy to know that Patrick might be leaving.
Patrick shrugs and turns his head to look at Jonathan with one eye. “Thinking about it. It’d be cheaper to study in state. I could apply to Columbia or NYU or a lib arts college in New York.”
“I didn’t think you’d be bothered about that,” Jonathan says before he thinks about it.
To his surprise, Patrick doesn’t take offence. He smiles sleepily up at Jonathan, his single visible eye crinkling at the corner. “I’ve got three younger sisters to think about. At least I got to come here for high school. They should get the chance to go overseas for college if they wanted.”
His words unexpectedly warm Jonathan and he smiles back. “Yeah, I know, my younger brother’s the same.”
They turn back to their books after that, but there’s a strange feeling in the pit of Jonathan’s stomach when he thinks about Patrick being across the pond for uni.
January finally comes to a close, ending the most painful three weeks of Jonathan’s academic life thus far. It doesn’t comfort him to think that the worst is, by all accounts, yet to come. He puts the dread firmly aside to concentrate on the rhythms of college life. He’s finally found his place here, he thinks.
He has his friends amongst the hockey team, and the special connection with the team as a whole that comes with playing with shared purity of purpose and love of the game. He has his study friends, with whom he can retreat to the library and spend hours buried in the stacks. He has that strange relationship with the football team’s captain, in which Cooper attempts to persuade him every now and then to take up football as his summer sport. He’s got the moot team, a disparate variety of individuals who all really like being right.
And the constant presence tying it all together is Patrick, who’s his linemate, who sometimes crashes his study sessions, who makes faces at Cooper behind Cooper’s back, who mercilessly mocks the entire moot team, including Jonathan, when they’re hanging out together in either of their rooms, or Sharpy’s study. Jonathan hadn’t really anticipated someone like Patrick at all; he’s always been rather aloof, set apart from his schoolmates by what he likes to think is his drive and tendency to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. Or at least that’s what his mother says.
Whilst tipsy on scotch they stole from Sharpy one cold March night, Jonathan tries to articulate this to Patrick. They’re sprawled out on Patrick’s floor, which is mostly clear of books and clothes. For once. He’s embarrassingly stultiloquent and Patrick laughs at him. His laugh bubbles high and clear; Jonathan thinks suddenly of his Latin lessons, of qui sedens adversus identidem te/ spectat et audit/ dulce ridentem, misero quod omnes/ eripit sensus mihi, and feels something might be scratching its way out of his chest.
March half-term is spent in college. Almost all the hockey team have elected to stay behind for more training, and when they aren’t training then they’re either studying (these being the Upper Sixths and Jonathan) or exploring the county (the Lower Sixths and Jonathan, when Patrick enlists everyone else in his liberation from his books).
The bonding is great, and on the Friday before the term starts up again they all sneak out to Boxham for a party that Sharpy’s girlfriend’s friend is throwing. It is, Jonathan thinks resignedly as he sits on a bus with a team that’s already pre-lashed, a horrifically bad idea. His mates are attempting to sing Ellie Goulding’s Lights -- attempting being the key word here, and Jonathan’s pretty sure if this carries on any longer the bus driver is going to throw them off the bus right along an A road, right into a field.
It must be blindingly obvious that he’s thinking too hard, because Patrick thrusts an opened can of Strongbow in his face. Jonathan leans back.
“I’m not drinking that,” he says.
“Why the fuck not?” Patrick asks. “Come on, Tazer, you need to relax.”
“I’m not going to drink a can of Strongbow on the bus.” Jonathan says. “I’m not going to look like a chav.”
Patrick frowns at him and sways into Jonathan with the motion of the bus. Jonathan catches him by the elbow to steady him. “Don’t say that, Tazer, that’s classist. God, I’m not drunk enough if I’m saying words like classist.” He chugs the entire can right in front of Jonathan and crushes it. Jonathan takes it from him before Patrick can do something incredibly crass like throw it on the floor.
The party is held in a warehouse on the outskirts of Boxham, like something out of an E4 show. It is absolutely packed with people and the music is loud and bass-heavy. Sharpy’s girlfriend appears out of the crowd and throws her arms around Sharpy. They look unfairly good together.
“Damn,” someone mutters.
Sharpy disentangles and yells something at them, but no one can hear. Judging from the way he disappears with his girlfriend, Jonathan assumes it was something along the lines of “everyone for himself”. Everyone’s dissipating, drawn into the grinding mass of dancers like it’s some kind of macrophage. Jonathan has no idea why GCSE Biology has chosen this time to surface in his brain. He looks around and sees that Patrick’s disappeared as well. Shrugging, he cuts his way through the crowd to the makeshift bar, on the far side of the room. He’s got quite a bit to catch up on.
Jonathan’s drunk. Or maybe not, because he’s thinking that he’s drunk. He’s acknowledging his drunken state. That disqualifies one from being properly drunk. He’s drunk and dancing with an absolutely lovely girl whose hands are flirting with the hem of his shirt. Jonathan wants to tell her she can -- if she wants. He hasn’t gotten off with anyone since summer, when he’d fooled around with Tim. One last hurrah, that sort of thing. He didn’t think very much about and hasn’t thought about it until now, in this dark, hot place.
The track switches, or maybe it doesn’t; it’s hard to tell when it’s all the same loop of throbbing bass, synthetic sounds snapping tight and delirious over beats that thrum through his body. Jonathan tilts his head back; he stands at least a head over most people in the crowd but still the air is almost stifling. As he and the girl, and everyone else in the room move, Jonathan watches the play of shoddily set up lights over the high rafters of the ceiling.
She finally makes her move, slides her hands up his shirt, and Jonathan feels abruptly cold. He disengages, grasps her gently by the wrists and steps back as much as he can.
“Sorry, loo,” he mutters, and slips away through the crowd. Now that he’s said that he does actually need to go, but there is no actual toilet, so he circles round back to the door. As he’s edging along the wall back to where they’d come in he sees flashes of his teammates, absolutely off their heads, and feels a twinge of concern. Perhaps he should round them up, call taxis for them. Out of the corner of his eyes, Jonathan is pretty sure he sees people popping some pills. This is not his scene at all.
The blast of chilly air when he finally gets out is a relief, and Jonathan scrubs his hands over his face. He heads over to a copse of trees to piss, and walks reluctantly back to the warehouse after. He’s thirsty, but there isn’t anything but bad alcohol in there. Thinking vaguely of saving his teammates from himself, he walks back in.
Almost immediately, his eyes are caught by the glint of red LED lighting off blond curls, and Patrick’s laughing face as he dances with at least two other people. He’s a horrific dancer, all awkward limbs and unskilled enthusiasm, like all his grace is saved for the ice. Jonathan grins to himself, struck by the thought of Patrick in something like Disney On Ice. It feels like his face freezes into a rictus, though, when one of the guys Patrick’s dancing with moves in close, putting his hands on Patrick’s hips and Patrick just leans into it, pulling the girl in front of him into that strange many-person’d embrace.
Jonathan -- Jonathan turns and leaves. The party’s clearly moved on whilst he’s been sobering up in the chill Spring wind.
Everyone is absolutely destroyed come Saturday, and Jonathan allows himself to feel faintly smug. He resolves to forget about the party altogether; it doesn’t figure very importantly in the larger scheme of things. No one is punished -- possibly because it was half term and everyone had apparently left before the police arrived so the college wasn’t splashed across the red tops in some awful scandal -- and life carries on.
Jonathan works hard at school and their team continues playing like they might actually win the league championship, this year. They win all three games that they have to play in Lent term before the last. Jonathan’s personal tutor is happy with his academic progress and so Jonathan lets go a tiny bit, before the very last game of the season to throw himself into training for the game.
He’s running around the grounds one day when he sees a navy figure meandering across one of the cricket greens towards him. It resolves into Patrick, his blazer folded up to his elbows and tie nowhere in sight. Jonathan slows down and jogs on the spot, waiting for Patrick.
“What’s this,” Patrick says when he gets to Jonathan, sounding entirely too amused. “Jonathan Toews not in the library on a Tuesday evening?”
“Fuck off,” Jonathan says amiably enough. “You know I’m preparing for Westminster.”
“Yes,” Patrick says, “but the library guys tell me you have a French test tomorrow.”
Jonathan narrows his eyes at Patrick. “You were in the library?”
“Yes,” Patrick sighs heavily. “I’ve got that Geography coursework to do. But you, French test, tomorrow.”
“I couldn’t concentrate,” Jonathan says, shrugging. He bounces slightly on his feet. “I was drawing plays instead of writing translations.”
Patrick’s lips tilt into a lopsided smile. “Of course you were. But aren’t you -- you know, your scholarship.” He stuffs his hands into his pockets.
“My mum’s half-French,” Jonathan says abruptly. “I’ll be fine.”
“Your mom is what?” Patrick’s jaw drops. “You cheater! Why aren’t you taking something else?”
Jonathan sighs and starts heading back to the main buildings. It’s getting unpleasantly chilly now that his body is cooling down. “She speaks to us in French but it’s all really colloquial stuff, I wanted to know more about the literature and culture. And it. It makes her happy, you know? That I’m learning French.”
Patrick’s staring at him; Jonathan can feel the heat of his gaze on the side of his face. “That’s...really noble of you, Tazer.”
Jonathan shrugs. “It isn’t as though I don’t enjoy it. Come on, I’m going to shower and then do some revision. Happy?”
“Hey, it was the library guys who were worrying about you,” Patrick says defensively. When Jonathan looks at him he looks sheepish.
“Sure,” says Jonathan. “Do you want to work together?”
So Patrick brings his laptop and print-outs over, but they end up scrawling plays on bits of scrap paper and fighting over strategy until it’s quarter past ten and the Lower School’s curfew bell goes.
“Oh, shit, your test,” Patrick says, his eyes wide. And then he starts giggling when he sees that Jonathan’s writing exercise has been covered in a systematic list of the Westminster team’s weaknesses. “Maybe you can write about hockey in French. It’ll probably come really naturally to you.”
“I … don’t think I know what ‘dekeing’ is in French,” Jonathan says.
“Failure of the system,” Patrick says, grinning and shaking his head.
Jonathan rolls his eyes and throws a scrunched up ball of paper at Patrick’s head. “Get out of here,” he says, half-jokingly, and Patrick goes merrily.
They lose the title, in the end, to fucking Westminster. They lose the title, in London, in the end, to fucking Westminster. Jonathan doesn’t like to be melodramatic but this might ruin London for him forever.
“I think this has ruined London for me forever,” Patrick says glumly. They all have a day off to explore London -- it was meant either as a congratulatory or comfort treat for the team -- before returning home in absolute shame, and Patrick’s grandfather has taken them out for tea. Jonathan didn’t even have the spirit to protest when he’d swept into the lobby of their hostel and declared them his for the afternoon.
“Don’t be ridiculous, my boy,” Patrick’s grandfather scoffs. “When you tire of London you tire of life, or whatever that poet fellow said.”
“Johnson,” Jonathan says quietly. “Samuel Johnson.”
“I see at least young Jonathan here’s been paying attention to his lessons. Do promise me you’ll work on your lessons now, Patrick.”
“I always do my homework,” Patrick says indignantly.
“Ah, but how do you do them, is the question,” the old man says teasingly. Patrick willingly goes along with it, and Jonathan doesn’t say very much at all.
That night, they get ready for bed and turn in without the usual banter. Patrick’s very quiet. He puts his headphones on and listens politely to music whilst Jonathan talks over the phone to his mum. She’s a comforting voice on the line, and Jonathan feels very suddenly homesick. When he hangs up, he looks over at the dark lump on the other bed that is Patrick. He cannot imagine how homesick Patrick must get.
“Next year,” Jonathan says. He flicks on the reading light and turns over to look at Patrick. “Next year, we’ll win it.”
Patrick’s looking right back at him; he looks pale and ever so sad in the dim yellow light. He shouldn’t ever have to look like that.
“Yeah,” Patrick whispers, and blinks. There are tears clinging to his lashes, but Jonathan pretends not to notice. It would only make him embarrassed.
“Good,” Jonathan says firmly, and switches the light off. “Goodnight, Patrick.”
Patrick is silent for a while, then he shuffles in his bed and says, “Goodnight, Tazer.”
The ache of losing is buried under work, though Jonathan cannot help but worry at it, like pressing one’s fingers in morbid fascination to a bruise. A week or so passes before it gets to be too much. Sharpy’s buried in his preparations for the A2 exams; it makes it ridiculously easy to slip into his study and steal his scotch. It’s very good scotch.
“Patrick,” he says, walking into Patrick’s room after a perfunctory knock. “Look what I got.”
Patrick looks up from his book and his eyes widen comically. “Did you --? Oh my god, Tazer, I’m such a bad influence on you.”
Jonathan shrugs and shoves the clothes strewn across the foot of Patrick’s bed to sit down. “It was called for.”
He’s given that piercing look that Patrick only seems to unleash around him. Then Patrick shrugs as well and puts his book on the bedside table. “Okay. Let’s get drunk.”
Jonathan’s never actually done this before, just sitting and slamming back shot after shot, feeling the burn of scotch down his throat, the way the heat spreads tingling through his limbs. He says as much, and Patrick says, “Well, there’s always a first time.”
A while later, it seems as though Patrick’s turned the central heating up too high. Spring’s arrived properly, sometime between their loss and now, two days before the Easter holidays start. Everything’s green and there are snowdrops in the grass, daffodils blooming. Daffodils will be everywhere, back home on the Welsh border. Or perhaps Spring will be coming later, further up North.
“It’s awfully warm in here,” Jonathan says, because it is. It’s too hot.
Patrick blinks slowly at him, like his lashes have been stuck together with honey. He shuffles closer, so that their arms are flush against each other. It doesn’t help with the heat. Jonathan says nothing, though; the silence is taut, thrums with something Jonathan cannot parse.
Then Patrick smiles at him, sweet and charming, and snatches of Catallus come back into his head. He’s been studying far too hard.
"Tazer”, says Patrick, and it’s like Jonathan’s been paralysed. “You should just --"
Jonathan watches as Patrick reaches an unsteady hand out to him. It might be the scotch running sluggish through his veins that holds him silent and still, but he is loathe to move; Patrick's eyes gleaming beneath his long thick lashes, the backs of his fingers brushing against Jonathan's sternum as he tugs inexpertly at the knot of Jonathan's tie. Jonathan swallows reflexively. Patrick’s eyes are wide and blue; the pupils dilated with drink and an emotion Jonathan imagines must be plain on his own face as well.
The tie loosens, but the tightness banded round Jonathan’s throat does not lessen. He swallows again; Patrick’s fingers are still caught in the loop of silk hanging round Jonathan’s neck.
“I do hope I’m right,” Jonathan rasps out, and he leans in to fit their lips together. His hands are lax at his side, and he can feel Patrick’s eyelashes fluttering against his cheek. Patrick’s tongue darts out; he’s licking his own lips, a nervous tic, but now that Jonathan’s kissing him it’s -- Jonathan parts his own lips and Patrick makes this noise in the back of his own throat. He’s then surging forwards into Jonathan’s lap, and his grip tightens on the knot of Jonathan’s tie. Jonathan feels the silk press into the back of his neck and it feels erotic, like this, with his own hands now bracketing Patrick’s hips and Patrick licking hot and wet into his mouth.
When they part for breath, Patrick swaying slightly, Jonathan pulls them down so that Patrick’s lying atop him, his head on Jonathan’s chest.
“I take it I’m right, then,” Jonathan says, just to be sure.
Patrick lets out a whuff of laughter, then he’s crawling upwards. “Shut up, Tazer,” he says, and bend his head to kiss Jonathan.
It’s rather embarrassing, but the combination of exhaustion and copious amounts of hard liquor made them fall asleep before they got very much farther than kissing. No one even got their kit off. When Jonathan wakes up to find Patrick tracing patterns onto the soft skin of his abdomen it is awkward for all of five seconds before Patrick smiles that sweet smile again. Combined with the touch that low down below, it is hardly any wonder that Jonathan draws Patrick up and closer to him, so that they can kiss and grind against each other.
Patrick, with his clever hands, manage to get their pants out of the way, and they both gasp when their dicks slide together.
“Lick,” Patrick murmurs, holding his hand up to Jonathan’s mouth, and so Jonathan does. He licks a stripe up and down the centre of Patrick’s palm, and Patrick giggles, ticklish. The shaking of his body makes it feel so good, and Jonathan hooks a leg around Patrick’s thigh, arches up, presses down on the small of Patrick’s back with his hand.
Patrick spits into his own hand and reaches between them. Jonathan bites his shoulder when he slicks them up with his spit and their pre-come, sucks hard as Patrick makes these high, pained little noises as they fuck his hand. He’s got a hand tangled in Jonathan’s hair, and his face is turned into Jonathan’s temple, his breath coming hot and short against Jonathan’s skin.
“Come on, Tazer,” he moans, as Jonathan feels the arousal crest, skirt the line between pleasure and pain.
Patrick makes a startled noise when Jonathan does come, shuddering and gripping Patrick hard. Jonathan reaches down to jerk him off, angling his head up to catch Patrick’s mouth with his own when Patrick moans hard and his entire body tenses, shaking apart literally in Jonathan’s arms.
They lie sticky and lax against each other, before Jonathan pushes Patrick off himself. Patrick was getting too heavy. “I’ve got Latin in half an hour,” Jonathan groans. “We have to go.”
The Easter holidays are an entire month too long, Jonathan thinks. Patrick’s travelling Eastern Europe with his grandfather whilst Jonathan is visiting with his grandparents in Wales. Between the unreliability of Patrick’s internet access in Eastern Europe and the way only Vodafone gets signal where his grandparents live in Wales, they basically have no communication at all and Jonathan desperately tries not to think of the many ways in which Patrick may be kidnapped and sold into human trafficking rings in Russia.
It does mean that they have fantastic reunion sex when they return to college, and Patrick gets on his knees for Jonathan. It’s a good thing Jonathan’s sitting down or his knees would’ve went, just looking at Patrick kneeling between his legs.
When he’s lying back on his bed, trying to catch his breath, he says, “You’re too good at this.”
Patrick climbs up next to him and says, “Thanks?”
“You’ve done this before,” Jonathan says.
“Um,” Patrick says, “Yes? Have you?”
Jonathan thinks of last summer. “Yes. But I still don’t like it.”
Patrick laughs, and leans in to kiss Jonathan quickly. Jonathan holds his head in place and deepens the kiss. He does so love kissing Patrick.
“Well,” Patrick pants when they part wetly, “You’re just gonna have to deal with it. Now suck me off too.”
In between coursework, preparing for the June exams, and mooting, Jonathan has more than enough time to laze about various nooks and crannies in the grounds with Patrick, lazily exchanging kisses as the weather warms. He’s managed to stave off Cooper the football captain’s advances, but still plays for fun, much to Cooper’s frustration. No one seems to notice or care that Jonathan and Patrick have started -- whatever it is that they have started. He’s all right with not putting a name to it, and Patrick hasn’t said anything. The library guys, whom Jonathan still studies with, barely bat an eyelid when one day Patrick drops down into the chair next to Jonathan and presses a quick kiss to his cheek. Jonathan definitely jumps, but there’s only a smirk on Campbell’s face when Patrick laughs quietly, hand cupped over his mouth.
Sharpy gives him a keen look, on one rare free evening that Jonathan’s chatting with him in his study.
“Sorted yourselves out, then?” He asks, like Jonathan doesn’t know that Patrick talks to Sharpy all the time.
“Yes,” Jonathan says. There really isn’t much else to say about it. Well: there’s either too much or too little to be said, and Jonathan would rather err on the side of caution.
Sharpy smiles. “Good. Now, are you running for hockey captain? Or am I going to have stage a coup d’etat on your behalf?”
It is a fine June day, a few days before the end of term. Jonathan and Patrick are lying under a tree on top of the slope that runs down to the edge of the cricket greens. The cricket team are small white figures dotting the field, a whistle shrills at intervals in the distance. Jonathan feels utterly relaxed, his limbs sinking into the springy turf and the deeper chalk below. Two bottles of Magners lie half-drunk in the hollow of the tree behind their heads. Jonathan's hands are folded atop his chest as he squints up through the gaps in the leaves, at the crying curlews circling in the sky. Next to him, Patrick's dozing, one arm behind his head and the other flung out; his fingers rest against Jonathan's ribs. They twitch as Patrick dreams strange daydreams (all of Patrick's dreams are strange, Jonathan knows from experience) and Jonathan rolls onto his side to watch Patrick instead of the birds.
There's a fine spattering of freckles coming up, across the bridge of Patrick's nose. Jonathan reaches out, because he's allowed to do so now, to stroke across them. Patrick sneezes. His eyes open, and they are so blue.
"Hello," Jonathan says first.
"Yo," smiles Patrick. He reaches up to curl his hand around the nape of Jonathan's neck, and Jonathan allows it. No one can see them up here. "I was dreaming about you."
Jonathan raises an eyebrow.
"Yeah," Patrick continues, "We were playing hockey against some kickass lemurs."
"Lemurs," Jonathan echoes incredulously. Patrick does have strange dreams. "Did we win?"
Patrick laughs, and he pulls Jonathan in so that their foreheads bump together. "Yeah, you freak, we won."