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Patrick Kane goes first in the draft.

It’s not shocking, not really. Jonny saw him play at Worlds, played against him, even. He’s a top scorer; knows how to manage a puck like it’s just him on the ice, like there’s no obstacles in front of the net. Jonny’s even kept up with the London Knights stats, out of pure curiosity. And it’s not like Patrick’s the first deaf hockey player—Jim Kyte was drafted in the eighties. Jonny doesn’t remember exactly when, but it was definitely in the first round.

Still, Patrick Kane goes first in the entire draft, grinning ear-to-ear as he pulls the Chicago jersey over his head and tugs on the hat, taking pictures for the media. Jonny was drafted by Chicago last year, so he’s going to be a rookie with this kid, if they both make it out of training camp alive. Jonny doesn’t see how Patrick wouldn’t be good enough to make the team right off, and he knows that’s his own goal—to make it to the show.

A couple of his teammates ask how somebody who can’t hear can play the game, and honestly, Jonny’s not sure how that works. He just knows that it has to for Patrick to have even made it this far, let alone for the Blackhawks to want him so bad that they’d use their first pick on him. Patrick’s so good with a puck, it’s like him being deaf doesn’t even matter. Jonny’s almost jealous. He wants that kind of confidence, that kind of raw talent.

He’s never talked to Patrick, but he’s heard the kid in interviews and over the media, has played against him, and it’s not like he’s going to have an issue communicating with the team. As far as Jonny can tell, Patrick doesn’t seem deaf at all—he has a lisp, kind of, but he’s easy to understand when he talks, even if he has an interpreter there during every interview. It’ll probably be easier to talk to him than the guys from Sweden or Russia who don’t know any English at all.

When he gets to the arena for training camp, he’s trying to shake off the nerves all the way onto the ice. There are plenty of guys he recognizes from past tournaments, games and camps, or just plain watching them play games all through the last year while he was sitting in his dorm room doing homework instead of being on the ice. Going to college for a year had been his parents’ plan, and he’d tried it, but it had been a waste of his time in the end. He’d refused to stay for another year even though T.J., in the same boat as him, had decided to stick it out.

He’d expected to feel a beat behind, skipping a year he could have been on this ice—on Blackhawks ice—but he doesn’t, not really. He gets on the ice and plays like he has something to prove, because he does—he’s worth it for them to put him on the roster, to give him a shot to play at NHL level. It’s ice hockey—you don’t just get to settle.

He almost forgets about Patrick Kane altogether until Savard puts them on the same line for a scrimmage, too fast for either of them to actually say anything to each other. No time to hesitate, Jonny just plays like he would with anybody else—assumes the kid will fucking be there, ready for it, and passes the puck. He is, and they score. Patrick spins with his fist in the air, and gets a friendly punch in the shoulder by the other guy on their line for the scrimmage. He says, “Nice pass,” when Jonny skates over, and the words are barely muffled, sounding just like anybody else who’s breathing hard from skating for an hour.

The only weird thing is the way Patrick stares at him, and Jonny has to say, “Uh, yeah, good goal, man,” before he looks away, feeling a little embarrassed, and hot under his collar. It takes him another hour of practice, and a long, exhausted ride back to the hotel to realize Patrick wasn’t staring because he’s weird, or because Jonny had something on his face or whatever. He was watching to see if Jonny was going to say anything back.

It makes him feel kind of stupid for not realizing that when it was actually happening, and the next day he waits for Patrick to arrive before heading to the ice together, just so he can look directly at him and ask if he wants to pass the puck for warm-ups. They’ll have to partner up with somebody for it anyway—it might as well be him and Patrick. They’re the most likely to be called up, to play in Chicago instead of the farm team in Rockford.

Jonny doesn’t think to talk slowly until after he’s already asked, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Patrick just shrugs and says, “Yeah, sure,” before reaching down to tie the laces on his skates. Jonny heads out with him after waiting for Patrick to get all his gear on, not sure if he’s doing this right. It doesn’t matter though: hockey is the only language he needs to know, and everybody on the ice is fluent.

 

It’s a good thing, probably, that he and Patrick seem to get along pretty well, because when they get the roster, they’re both on it, on the same line, and have been assigned as roommates for the road so long as neither of them get sent down to Rockford. The first thing Patrick does when they get to the hotel on their first away trip is toss his stuff on the bed farthest from the door. Jonny drops his bag and says, “Hey, who said you get that one?”

It takes a minute, flat, for Patrick to figure out how to turn captioning on the television, and Jonny blinks, impressed. He didn’t even know cable had the option for subtitles, Jesus. They end up watching the tail end of an episode of Friends before Jonny’s ready to get to sleep, the game against the Wild at noon the next day. They’ll have to wake up pretty early.

“Hey, we should get to bed,” he says, but Patrick isn’t paying attention to him, focused on the television. Probably trying to read the words as they go by, not that they look helpful—it took about fifteen minutes for Jonny to realize whoever subtitles this show sucks at it. The words aren’t always right, the sounds are written weird, and they go by so fast you can’t actually read them and watch what’s happening on the screen at the same time.

He grabs one of the pillows and throws it so that it smacks into Patrick’s head. Patrick startles and then grabs it and looks over while saying, “I’m keeping it now,” before stuffing it behind his back. Jonny’s been around him enough to pick out the nuances in the way he talks—he forgets to finish the sounds, sometimes, or stretches them out too long. In comparison with some of the guys from overseas, you can’t even tell. If Jonny didn’t know Patrick was deaf, he’d just think the guy had a weird accent.

“Fuck you, give me back my pillow. And I said we should get to sleep,” Jonny grumbles, moving to reach for the pillow half-heartedly across the space between their beds.

Patrick lets out a sigh, kind of heavy, and says, “You have to look at me when you’re talking, man.”

Jonny fumbles at that, pushing his feet over the edge and looks up. He thought he had been, but Patrick is watching him, waiting for him to talk again, paying attention like he knows he’ll miss it if he’s not. All Jonny can think is how much that has to suck. He doesn’t apologize—just steels himself to do better from now on. It doesn’t stop him from lurching over to grab for his pillow though, trying to use surprise to his advantage. Patrick has good reflexes and jerks backward, pulling the pillow with him like he’s guarding it, and lets out a loud laugh.

Jonny could grab one of the other five on Patrick’s bed—and he doesn’t even need one, has four more on his own—but it’s the principle of the thing, and he curses as he reaches for it, even though he knows Patrick can’t hear. Patrick is stretching away, trying to stuff the pillow back underneath him while fending Jonny off, but Jonny’s got his size on his side and isn’t afraid to use it.

Five minutes later, he sits back on his bed, pillow clutched triumphantly in his hands. Patrick is splayed out across his own bed, breathing hard with his hair curling out in five different directions. Jonny smugly clicks the television off with the remote, and then tosses the pillow next to him so he can climb under the sheets. Patrick sits up after a minute, tucks his hand under his chin and abruptly swipes his hand out into a point, straight at Jonny, with a glare.

Jonny blinks, and then Patrick translates. It figures the first thing Jonny’d learn in sign language is fuck you.

 

Jonny’s alarm goes off bright and early, but if pressed, Jonny will admit he’s not much of a morning person. The first night at Seabs’ place, he’d been so, fuck, just—excited and nervous and anticipating his first game, his first season, and hell, the rest of his life, and it’d taken him a while to get to sleep. In the morning he’d slept right through his alarm clock, and Seabs had come in and pushed him out of the bed with a, “Wake up, Toews, Jesus!”

He’s not proud of it, but Jonny rolls over and slaps at the alarm haphazardly until it stops ringing, and falls back to sleep.

Five minutes later, Patrick’s alarm goes off.

It’s like a fucking siren and Jonny’s stumbling up and out of bed looking for the goddamn fire before he realizes that Patrick is sluggishly moving, and the noise is coming from the edge of his bed where the alarm is honest-to-God bouncing on the mattress. It’s blaring loudly enough that everybody in the hotel has to be hearing it. It moves across the edge of Patrick’s mattress until it hits the end table between their beds, vibrating so hard that it starts shaking the entire table, making the lamp wobble ominously.

Patrick isn’t doing anything to stop it, so Jonny lurches over and grabs at it, violently hitting the snooze button.

Patrick looks up at him slowly from where he’s still sort of clutching his pillow.

“What the fuck?” Jonny says, unimpressed.

Patrick blinks and rubs at his eyes, and says through a yawn, “Sorry, I—you kind of talk weird. Like, you’re mumbling or something. Say it again.”

Jonny glares at him—and what the hell, he doesn’t mumble—until Patrick must connect the dots, because he glances at the alarm and then says, “Oh! Sorry, yeah, I know it’s loud. My sisters complain all the time, but it’s the only thing that can actually wake me up on the road.”

Jonny almost wants to say and you think I talk weird?, because Patrick’s pronunciation is a little worse for wear, probably because he just woke up, but instead he just tries to enunciate when he explains, “That was way more than loud, man.”

But Patrick just makes a face and says, “Okay, that was even worse. I didn’t understand a word you said. Talk normal. Actually, can I just—bathroom? You can glare at me more later.” He scratches the back of his head and gets up, making Jonny step back so that he can get through the small space between their beds and walk over to the bathroom door.

Duncs laughs his ass off when Jonny complains about it later on, when they’re all piling onto the bus to head to the arena, but Seabs leans over and pats Patrick on the shoulder and says, “Don’t change a thing. That fucker could sleep through a bomb—he needs that alarm way more than you.”

“Fuck off,” Jonny yells, but Patrick is laughing, and it’s not like it isn’t true anyway.

Patrick gets an assist on Sharpy’s goal in the game, but halfway through the third period, play stops when the puck goes off-side, and Patrick doesn’t notice for a good few seconds that the whistle blew. It’s not that big of a deal, Jonny thinks, except the way Patrick turns red after, and sits down on the bench, ducking his head like he wants to retreat somewhere nobody can talk to him. The interpreter that’s always there steps in and says something, her hands moving so quickly that Jonny can’t even try to guess what the different motions mean. Patrick just shakes his head anyway, and responds so shortly that even Jonny can tell he just said I’m fine.

They win the game in overtime, but Patrick still seems quiet and Jonny’s not sure what he’s supposed to say about it. Sharpy gets there before he can figure it out, swinging an arm around Patrick’s shoulders and drawing him up and out of his shell. Back on the bus, Jonny ends up sitting a few seats ahead of both of them, thinking about the Sharks’ offense since they’re playing them in two days, and ignoring the painful bruise blooming somewhere down on his calf.

Halfway back to the hotel, he hears Seabs say, “Uh, Kaner? What are those for?” over the loud chatter of his other teammates.

It’s none of his business, but Jonny can’t help twisting around in his seat to look when Sharpy’s repeating the question, curious anyway. Patrick has a pair of thick black headphones settled over his ears, and Sharpy looks kind of awkward, his voice raised a little—even though it’s not going to help at all—as he asks about them. It probably just feels weird to talk to a guy with headphones on, even if he were to have great hearing, but Patrick doesn’t.

Patrick says, “I like music? I can’t hear it, but if it’s loud enough I can feel the vibrations.” He slurs the word ‘vibrations’, like the ‘b’ doesn’t exist. Nobody bothers to chirp him for it.

“How loud?” Duncs asks, and Patrick pulls off his headphones and hands them over for Duncs to put on. Then he pushes a button on his iPod, and Jonny can barely hear it where he is upfront, but Duncs curses and rips the earphones off. The music gets a lot louder when it isn’t being blocked by Duncs’ head, and Patrick smiles at the reaction, his eyes darting up to meet Jonny’s. Jonny startles and turns around in his seat, but when he looks back a minute later, the guys have settled back into their own seats and Patrick has the headphones on, his head pressed against the window with his eyes closed.

Jonny wonders how it feels, being able to close your eyes and not hear their teammates bumping around, snoring in their seats or yelling at each other, to just block everything out and relax like that. Jonny reclines in his seat and closes his eyes, but he can still hear Bolly snoring and Bicks’ hushed tone as he talks to his girl on his phone, Sharpy’s never ending blur of chatter from behind him and the constant sound of the bus tires against the road. They're all noises he’s never paid attention to before.

He’s never really thought about it, but there are noises coming from everywhere, constant, and the idea of them all being completely blocked out—it’s hard to imagine.

 

It takes another week of rooming together on the road, of Patrick squinting and Jonny gritting his teeth together, for Patrick to stop accusing Jonny of mumbling and for Jonny to get used to the horrifying alarm that Patrick uses. If Jonny can force himself to get up on time, he’ll set his alarm to go off a few minutes before Patrick’s, and just wake Patrick up himself, even though Patrick will swat his hands at him and say, “I didn’t miss the alarm, fuck you!” and stomp off into the bathroom for half-an-hour.

That’s another thing—Patrick tends to either have hair greasy as fuck, or use way too much gel, or have stupidly soft curls that he can’t control and go all over the place. Whichever way it ends up, Patrick always spends forever in the shower, and pounding on the door doesn’t do shit to make him hurry up because he honestly can’t hear it.

Jonny’s learned some other things about Patrick too, as they keep rooming together, or hanging out when the team gets together outside of practice, or at practice even though they’re supposed to be focused on actually practicing. It’s things like the fact that he prefers strawberries to any other menu option, and he honest-to-God likes to read stupid teenage romance novels. He’s obsessed enough with shoes that he never goes somewhere without at least three pairs taking up all the space in his bag. Jonny’s not sure if he has something against flip flops or what.

But he also learns that Patrick texts more than anybody Jonny has ever met. He’s always jabbing away at his phone, smirking at something on the screen. Jonny sneaks up on him a few times, trying to look at the screen, but in general, Patrick’s not easy to surprise. Usually Jonny only manages it when he’s not actively trying and Patrick will just say, “Deaf, not stupid,” and keep texting whoever he’s talking to. From what Jonny’s seen, it’s mostly his sisters anyway.

He doesn’t walk in on Patrick on an actual phone call until a couple months in, when they’ve been on a road trip for five days and everyone is exhausted and tired of losing games by one stupid goal. It’s quiet in the room, Patrick only looking up for a minute when Jonny opens the door and steps into view. He looks back down at his computer screen, and it’d be normal except that he’s actually signing at it, like he expects it to talk back.

“What are you doing?” Jonny asks, eyebrow up, even though Patrick isn’t looking at him. He looks up and twists around when Jonny gets close enough to peek at the screen though. Then Jonny gets it; Patrick’s using Skype to video chat with somebody. Jonny thinks this must be how he has to use the phone, beyond just texting all the time.

Patrick explains, “It’s Erica, my sister.”

Erica waves on the computer screen, and Jonny fumbles through signing hello, because he honestly can’t remember—is Erica deaf? Could he actually say hello, or should he just sign? Not that he knows more than hello, hockey, good job, and fuck you.

Erica just signs hello back, so maybe she’s deaf after all. Jonny doesn’t want to be a dick and assume anything.

Patrick is grinning at Jonny’s terrible attempt at signing though, so Jonny walks back around the computer, where Erica won’t be able to see him, and signs the familiar fuck you at him as he grabs for his bag to dig out a bottle of water. That one, at least, Jonny has down. Well, the entire Blackhawks team has it down, pretty much, along with a few other colorful phrases Sharpy and Burish have dug up from internet or convinced Patrick to teach them.

Over the past couple months, Jonny’s learned that Sharpy, Burish and Patrick in any combination is just a bad fucking idea.

It just makes Patrick grin even harder though and he’s signing at Erica without saying anything back to Jonny, only glancing up at him a few more times. Jonny gets the uncomfortable realization that they’re talking about him. Great. It’s just a feeling though—Jonny can’t even pick out his name amongst all the hand waving Patrick’s doing. He gets his whole body into it, even though he’s sitting on the bed, legs crossed underneath him.

Talking like that all the time has to be exhausting. Suddenly curious, but not wanting to interrupt Patrick’s chat with his sister again, he pulls out his smartphone and uses google to look up ‘how to say Jonathan in ASL’. Maybe he can figure it out and watch without Patrick noticing. Except, it looks like you have to spell names out? How the fuck do people manage to talk so fast if they’re spelling everything out, Jonny thinks dubiously, and looks at Patrick, where he’s going a mile-a-minute.

Maybe just J-O-N then.

He tries out the letters using his right hand, but fuck, his little finger doesn’t want to stand up straight for the ‘J’, and he’s pretty sure his ‘N’ looks more like an ‘M’. He shakes his hand out, tries it again, narrowing his eyes at the picture example on his phone. He doesn’t realize Patrick’s stopped moving his hands until he hears Patrick’s, “Jonny?” and looks up, instantly flattening his hand out against the bed, irrationally embarrassed.

It’s not that he cares Patrick knows he’s trying to figure it out, it’s just—he doesn’t think he was doing it right.

He huffs though, stands up and walks over, closer to Patrick. Erica, he sees, is still on the computer. “How the fuck do you do the ‘J’?”

“Uh,” Patrick says, blinking, and then pushes his laptop over to make room on the bed and grabs Jonny’s hand. Jonny lets him mold his fingers into the right position and then listens when Patrick says, “It’s like ‘I’, only you swoop your hand down—it’s the movement that makes it the ‘J’.” And then Patrick uses his hands to spell it out, J-O-N, and watches Jonny try to repeat it after. “Yeah,” Patrick says, smiling again. “That’s Jon. That’s not what I use for you though,” Patrick adds, cocking his head.

“What do you use?” Jonny asks blankly.

Patrick pushes his pointer finger into his chin and scrunches his nose up, frowning in a sort of overly dramatic way that Jonny doesn’t really get. He drops his hand after a second though. “It’s—like a nickname? Spelling out your name would take too long, every time,” he says. “So we just use signs that make sense, like something you associate each other with.”

“What’s it mean?” Jonny asks, repeating the sign by putting his index finger to his chin, twisting his wrist sort of the way Patrick did in an attempt to make it look the same, even though it turns out to be hard to repeat.

Patrick rolls his eyes and says, “Serious.”

Jonny frowns, and then lets out a huff; he’s not that serious, Jesus. But then Patrick says, “And you have to make the face or it doesn’t count,” and demonstrates by frowning again.

“That’s stupid,” Jonny says, but Patrick just shrugs his shoulders. “Whatever,” Jonny says. He’s not making a stupid face to go with the stupid nickname. But then he looks up and asks, “What’s, uh, what’s yours?”

Patrick raises his hand and holds two fingers out, sort of gently pressing them to his palm and bringing them back out again afterward, and says, “It means hyper; I was kind of all over the place as a kid, I guess.”

Jonny nods and copies the sign, lifting his hands the way Patrick had done, just to make sure he knows it. Patrick smiles at him like he’s done something surprisingly good before glancing back at the computer screen. Jonny had almost forgotten Patrick had been talking to his sister; luckily she’s still there on the screen, patiently waiting for them to remember her. She’s smiling too, indulgent maybe, or amused by the whole exchange. There’s another girl behind her now, squinting like she’s trying to see them better, and Jonny feels embarrassed at their audience, even if they are Patrick’s sisters.

“That’s Jackie,” Patrick says, and then goes back to moving his hands around like crazy, silently talking through the screen in a language Jonny has no hope of understanding, no matter how long he stares at Patrick’s hands as they form the different signs. It’s probably not good, anyway, that he knows he’d be willing to just sit and watch Patrick’s hands move, that he likes the way Patrick—

He turns around and grabs his wallet and phone before slipping out of the room, leaving Patrick to talk to his sisters. It’s probably stupid, but he spends the next three hours in the lobby, hunched over his phone and fucking with his hands to make them go into dumb shapes that don’t make any sense to him, because if nothing else, he can manage to learn the goddamn alphabet.

 

The Winter Olympics aren’t for another two years, but Savard calls everyone over at the end of practice on Wednesday, and he grins and says, “Kaner, son, you probably already know this—but congratulations anyway. You’re officially on the U.S. team for the Deaf Olympics.”

Patrick gets this ridiculously huge smile on his face as the entire team slaps his back and congratulates him for it. Patrick had mentioned going to the camp for it during the summer, but that the NHL hadn’t actually given their blessing due to scheduling concerns or something like that. But with the Blackhawks schedule like it is, Patrick’s only going to end up missing three games—something of a miracle since he’ll be in Salt Lake City for an entire week.

The team takes Patrick out to celebrate. It’s mostly an excuse for everybody to get drunk except the rookies, because for once they don’t have a game and practice in the morning is optional. Savard heavily implied that even he wouldn’t be there, probably because he knew his entire team was going to go out and get trashed.

Jonny doesn’t think it’s surprising Patrick made the team. He’s probably going to be the best by far, and unless his teammates turn out to have terrible chemistry or something, just having Patrick on the team is almost a guarantee that the U.S. will win. He says so to Patrick, halfway through the night, but Patrick gets this funny look on his face, pinched almost, and says, “Just because I’m in the NHL doesn’t mean the other guys on the team won’t be good.”

Which isn’t what Jonny meant at all, just that Patrick would be better, but Patrick stares him down and Jonny swallows the rest of it back, dropping the subject instead. They eat too much pizza and each sneak a beer. Jonny suspects Patrick might get one from both Sharpy and Duncs, and maybe even a third from some unsuspecting bystander who didn’t realize he was getting played, because Patrick’s tipsy as hell by the time they’re all getting shoved into taxis. Sharpy volunteers to babysit him overnight so that the Bowman’s don’t have to see him in such a sad state.

It’s fun, even when Sharpy shows up at Seabs’ place the next morning with a hungover Patrick in tow, claiming to have been kicked out by his girl’s study club or whatever. Jonny ends up having to make Patrick breakfast to soak up the leftover alcohol, because Seabs can’t cook worth a damn and Patrick’s demanding food, mostly by looking miserable and sad.

He’s hunched over the kitchen table, mouth muffled by his arms where he’s hiding his face from the light as Jonny cooks. He mumbles that he’s actually never had the chance to get drunk before, unless you count that one time with Sam (and he adds that nobody should count that time with Sam) so maybe he did, in fact, overdo it. Jonny smiles, amused, and puts a plate of eggs and toast in front of him.

Patrick eyes it distrustfully before he gives in and eats, and then Jonny ends up having to make more for Sharpy and Seabs when they complain about Patrick getting special treatment.

After that, they settle in the living room and play video games for a few hours, all of them managing to complain that the loud noises do nothing to make Patrick’s hangover worse, which just isn’t fair. Patrick signs something none of them understand, but it looks crude enough, and then goes and falls headfirst into Jonny’s bed, making sure the lights are turned off.

“Let him be,” Sharpy says, picking up the game controller, “poor kid’s never had a hangover.”

Jonny has to give him that, but he still wishes it wasn’t his room Patrick had taken over. It makes him feel weird, thinking about Patrick in his space like that, and he ends up distracted through the game until Patrick comes back out an hour later, yawning and mussing his hair up in the back as he rubs at his head.

Patrick sits next to him, still half-asleep, and the funny feeling of warmth in Jonny’s stomach never really goes away.

 

Patrick and Jonny have an interview after practice. It’s interesting because it isn’t for a hockey magazine, and the interviewer himself is deaf, doing a piece mostly on Patrick—Jonny’s still confused about why he has to go. They leave their conditioning trainer hanging because they’re running late, but when they walk in the room set aside for the interview, the man jumps up and signs something quickly, and Patrick laughs, signing back.

Jonny feels decidedly awkward, standing off to the side.

The interviewer seems to realize at the same time as Patrick, and he hastily signs out something that’s quickly translated by an interpreter Jonny’s never met before as being, “Mr. Toews, hello, I’m Aaron Reynolds, your interviewer today.”

Patrick seems more at ease during the interview than Jonny’s ever really seen him during media interviews, and he forgets to talk out loud for Jonny’s sake more than once. The interpreter, Harry, is friendly and helpful enough, but Jonny still feels a little unsure, like he’s a third wheel in the conversation.

Jonny finally gets why he was requested for the interview in addition to Patrick when he’s asked what it’s like to room with Patrick from an outside point of view. Patrick laughs at him while he fumbles through a response—he wants to say something about Patrick’s ridiculous fucking alarm, but figures this isn’t really the outlet for that, so he complains that Patrick is a neat freak instead. Patrick squawks at that, and protests by saying Jonny’s just a mess.

It’s probably a little of both, but neither of them are willing to give in.

There’s a moment when Aaron must ask what Patrick uses for Jonathan in sign, and Patrick demonstrates it, grumpy frown and all. Jonny lets out an overly dramatic groan when he realizes what they’re laughing about before Harry can interpret, and it just makes them all laugh harder. It’s a terrible sign for his name, in his opinion. The Mr. Serious quip is annoying as fuck, worse that the entire city as far as he can tell is running with it. He’s honestly not that bad.

Aaron signs a question out, finishing the interview, and Harry translates: “You’d say it’s working out well then, having a deaf player on a primarily hearing team, in a hearing sport?”

Jonny shrugs and says, “Honestly, I forget most of the time. It’s just Kaner, you know?”

Patrick is looking at him oddly, and Jonny looks away, back at Aaron and Harry instead, and then rubs the back of his neck guiltily when he realizes he’d turned away during his last answer. He knows better than that; Patrick has told him off about it often enough.

It wasn’t even entirely true, is the thing. Jonny doesn’t forget Patrick’s deaf, not really. It’s more like… at least as far as the game is concerned, and the team, it just doesn’t matter. Patrick is Patrick, and all that comes with him is just part of the game. In that sense, Jonny does forget—he forgets that Patrick is technically a special case because he’s deaf, a special case because he has a disability, because it doesn’t feel like that at all. It doesn’t feel like Patrick’s less able than any other player out there on the ice, or that he’s at a disadvantage.

And honestly, if anything, to Jonny it feels like everyone else is a step behind Patrick. They’re all struggling to keep up with the way he can move the puck, the way he can skate right through four guys and shoot the puck and make the entire arena erupt so loudly—a noise, Jonny thinks abruptly, that Patrick never gets to hear.

He must be able to feel it anyway; the way the audience jumps in their seats, pounds the glass and throws their sanity out the window when the Hawks win a game. And he can see it, Patrick can see them, and he can see and feel his teammates when they jump on him after a goal or a win, when they scream in his face and Patrick wouldn’t be able to read a thing anyone is saying.

The fact that he can’t hear; it doesn’t mean a goddamned thing.

 

Apparently the failure the other night—Patrick getting a hangover off of a couple of beers he’d conned out of unsuspecting guys—has inspired Sharpy to give it a second try. That’s how Jonny ends up getting dragged out to a bar with half the team after they win a game in Anaheim, squished in-between Soupy and Seabs with Duncs, Burish, Sharpy and Patrick shoved in on the other side. There’s a group of shot glasses sitting in the middle of the table, each filled with a different kind of liquor.

“Alright, Tazer,” Burish says, pointing at him, “we’re getting you drunk.”

Jonny huffs and says, “I know how to drink, it’s Kaner that gets drunk off one beer.”

Patrick’s not watching him, too busy needling Soupy for a shot that he’s being denied, so he doesn’t know to defend his honor. Sharpy buts in to do it for him and says, “Do you will yourself into not getting hangovers? Are you that intense?”

“Shut up,” Jonny groans, because seriously, he’s not—fuck. “Give me the goddamn shot.”

Sharpy pushes one of the small glasses towards Jonny and he grabs it, tipping his head back to drink the sour stuff down in one go. It burns going down, but he just swallows and shakes his head, clapping the glass back down on the table, upside down. At least they’re upstairs, where randoms aren’t going to see the two rookie Blackhawks taking shots.

Patrick instantly complains, “Why does he get one but I don’t?”

Soupy finally relents and pushes one towards Patrick. He drinks it in one go, pulling a face and coughing, but just determinedly says, “Give me another,” when everyone laughs at him.

“Easy now,” Sharpy grins.

Jonny leans over to wave a hand in front of Patrick’s face and get his attention, saying, “Drink some water for every shot, or you’ll be crying in the morning, eh?”

“Don’t be a spoilsport,” Duncs says, grinning and nursing a beer, like letting Patrick work himself into a hangover is half the fun. Which it probably is, for these assholes, but Jonny’s the one who’ll have to deal with him in the morning.

It doesn’t take long for Jonny to loosen up, a beer and a couple shots in. Patrick’s even worse, and when they’re both dared to go hit on a pair of girls a couple tables over, it seems like a great idea—until they crash and burn so badly that they have to slink back to the table and hide with their tails between their legs. None of the guys can stop laughing, and Sharpy’s so bad that he actually stops making noise—he’s just silently laughing, so uncontrollably that he starts tearing up and has to leave the table for a minute.

Jonny wants to dump his beer all over him, but drinks it instead because he’s far gone enough now that that seems like the better plan.

Patrick puts his head on the table, face warm and red from the liquor, and starts singing—badly—to a song that isn’t the same as the one playing over the bar’s speaker, and might actually just be made up altogether. Something about farm animals, Jonny thinks, but he can’t concentrate well enough to tell.

“Better luck next time,” Seabs says, raising his beer to knock against Jonny’s.

Patrick lifts his head and says, “Accents are terrible,” which as far as Jonny can tell, has nothing to do with having better luck picking up a chick the next time they try their hands at it. Belatedly, he remembers that Patrick wouldn’t have heard that anyway.

“Yeah?” Soupy says, and Patrick nods enthusiastically. “Sometimes,” he says, serious and awkwardly loudly, like he can’t control his volume, “I don’t understand any of you. It’s all dark in here, and spee—speech—lip reading is hard. You should just… stop talking.”

Soupy is nodding along, and Jonny’s wondering if he’s going to have to be the one to get Patrick back to the hotel tonight, because he’s not sure he’s sober enough for this shit.

Patrick keeps going, “Like, people could just carry whiteboards everywhere, and write everything, and then we could just read, like, words, not—words. Like from your mouth words.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says slowly, “it’s time to leave.”

They all crowd into two cabs, although Jonny’s not entirely sure how they manage to fit, and he’s pretty sure Patrick spends the entire car ride back cracking up about Sharpy’s face. Sharpy deserves to get laughed at, obviously, but instead of being put off, he seems oddly proud of the entire conversation, like he knows something Jonny doesn’t. When he explains, he just says, “My most important feature, Toes.”

Jonny kicks him, and then makes him pay the cabbie while he starts dragging Patrick into the hotel.

 

A couple days later, back in Chicago, Jonny gets hit. They’re in the second period of the game against Nashville when it happens, and when Jonny goes down, he’s not sure he can get back up for a long minute. All the wind has been knocked out of him, leaving him gasping on the ice. There’s a sharp spike of pain twisting through his lower back, down through his leg and wrapping around his ankle, and all he can focus on is that, and how he can’t breathe, and how cold the ice is.

It’s only a few seconds before the noise filters back in, before he’s brought back to his senses and can start getting up with the help of some of the guys. Sharpy and Todd are both helping him back to the bench when the fight breaks out. Duncs, Mayers and Kaner are all in the middle of it, but Jonny can’t bother concentrating enough to hear who started what, even though he’s going to be pissed later on if they get a penalty off it. He thinks Mathers is the one who hit him, but he also thinks it was a clean hit at the same time. Starting a fight over it is pointless.

He doesn’t play through the rest of the period, and nobody will clear him to play in the third either, despite his nagging probably pissing all the trainers off.

He’s already dressed by the time the game is over. Four to two, Blackhawks. The guys come in covered in sweat and grinning like maniacs. Seabs is the first to ask, “What’s the diagnosis, Mr. Serious?” but Burish repeats the question a minute later, and then like five of the other guys ask the same as they all trail into the room and start pulling off their gear.

He really is proud of them for coming back and winning the game after that mess of a second period, even if he wishes he’d been on the ice with them and feels guilty that he wasn’t.

It’s not until the media scrum starts that Jonny finds out the fight hadn’t even started because of the hit that knocked him out of the game, but something Leighton had done right afterward. Jonny’s talking to a couple of reporters who’ve crowded around his place in the locker room, pushing microphones and cameras in his face, but it’s easy to overhear and see Patrick’s interview. Jonny trails off with his answer to a question about how long he thinks he’ll be out—not even a single practice, he hopes—when he hears the reporter ask Patrick, “What did Leighton say to you on the ice before that fight in the second period?”

Patrick pauses long enough for Shawna interpret the question, and then drops and shakes his head, but when he looks back up at the media crew, he’s grinning. Maybe it’s because he’s still a bit out of breath, sweat dripping down his face, but he looks like he’s about to start laughing. “I probably shouldn’t repeat it, but it was sweet of him to go through all the trouble of learning how to sign for me, yeah?”

It makes the reporters all laugh, but Jonny frowns through the rest of his interview. He grabs Patrick’s arm when he’s done with his too. “Hey,” he asks, “what happened?”

Patrick shrugs, and then casually lifts his hand into an ‘F’ and holds it against his chest, wagging his eyebrows at the same time. Jonny hesitates before he remembers which particular insult that sign is for, and then just to make sure, he confirms with a questioning, “Asshole?”

Seabs walks by right then and bumps into Jonny, yelling through the locker room, “Duncs, your rookies are swearing in ASL over here!”

Duncs yells back, “Why are they my rookies?” while Sharpy intervenes with a, “Yeah, at least one of them is mine. I claim Peekaboo.”

Jonny watches Patrick flip off the locker room at large without even turning around to see what they’re all saying. It must be easy enough to guess, Jonny supposes—a locker room is a locker room, especially one full of sweaty hockey players. Jonny does know Patrick doesn’t like the Peekaboo nickname, if just because he refuses to show anyone the sign for it. That’s probably why Sharpy insists on using it.

Patrick’s eyes are focused on Jonny the whole time though, and it makes him rub at the back of his neck self-consciously. He’s still not used to the way Patrick can just… focus on someone, like that. It makes him feel warm even with all the fans going in the locker room, even though he’s been off the ice for ages now.

Patrick smiles with his teeth and says, “Yeah,” still sounding a bit out of breath.

It takes Jonny a minute to remember what they’d been talking about.

Patrick nods at Jonny’s ankle, where he’s been keeping it propped and elevated for the past forty minutes or so and asks, “What about you though?” He signs the question as he says it, and Jonny’s distracted, watching the way his hands move.

“Fine,” Jonny says after a minute, and it’s throbbing a bit, still swelling. It isn’t as bad as it could’ve been, and he’ll see the trainers for it again tomorrow. He kind of wants to sign it out, because he thinks he knows how to sign fine, but he doesn’t do it. Knowing his luck, he’d get it wrong and the whole team would laugh at him.

“Do you need a ride?”

Jonny hesitates. Seabs had already said he’d give him a ride since they live at the same place, but fuck it, maybe they can get something to eat on the way. “Yeah, you don’t mind?”

Patrick shakes his head and says, “It’s cool.”

The first time Jonny’d seen Patrick getting into the driver’s side of his car, he’d been kind of an idiot and asked if it was safe for Patrick to be driving alone. Patrick’s shoulders had slumped, and then he’d shrugged and said, “Seems to be,” before taking off without looking to see if Jonny was saying anything else. Instead of apologizing, Jonny’d asked for a ride after practice two days later.

Ten minutes on the road and he’d realized Patrick might actually be a better driver than him.

“Cool,” Jonny says, and then waits while everybody goes through their post-game rituals.

They end up going through the drive-thru at Taco Bell, and Jonny grins when Patrick says, “My mom even has issues hearing them through these stupid speakers,” and bypasses the little speaker box you’re supposed to order through, driving straight up to the window instead and hands over a notepad that already has his order written on it, like he was ready for it.

“Do you need a ride tomorrow, or are you just heading in with Seabs?” Patrick asks when they pull up in front of Seabs’ apartment building and Jonny starts to get out, wobbling on one foot until Patrick comes around and helps him out. It’s not that it hurts, exactly; more like just throwing off his balance.

He pushes back and says, “I’m good. I’ll get a ride from Seabs, but thanks, Pat.”

“Alright,” Patrick says, shrugging, “see you later.”

Jonny watches him pull out before he starts heading up to the apartment.

 

Jonny admits he’s never really watched the Special Olympics, or the Deaflympics. He’s never much cared for it, the same way he’s never been interested in watching the Tour de France. But he’s honestly excited to watch it this year, to pay attention and watch Patrick kick ass on an international level. It’s not the regular Winter Olympics, but it’s still the fucking Olympics, and he’s happy for him.

Although, considering Patrick’s in the NHL, Jonny doesn’t really see how they could’ve possibly kept him off the roster. There’s little question that Patrick’s the best player in the entire tournament, and that’s not even Jonny being biased, it’s just the truth.

Patrick leaves for the week, and that’s when there’s a long stretch of off days for the team. Jonny’s parents had made the strategic decision to visit Chicago for the first time during this stretch so Jonny’s got some stuff lined up; he’s going to take David to a Cubs game, and do the whole tourist downtown shopping with his parents. Despite having been in Chicago for almost half a year now, Jonny hasn’t had too much time to get familiar with the city itself.

Hockey’s kind of exhausting, especially now.

He and David manage to eat six hot dogs between them, and more cheesy garlic fries than Jonny wants to think about. David insists on souvenirs since, “Your bank account’s not going to break if you buy me a jersey, bro,” and Jonny winces when the total comes up even though David’s right and he can afford it now.

David just grins and puts his new Cubs hat on his head, saying, “Being your little brother is finally starting to pay off.”

Jonny pushes him and they end up sort of chasing each other around the store until a teenager recognizes him and asks for a picture and an autograph, and Jonny remembers shit like this will find its way online if he’s not careful. He doesn’t think he’s that popular, really, but they are at a professional baseball game.

The broadcast for Patrick’s games is kind of terrible—it’s not on any local channels, and it’d taken half the team to figure out how to hook the laptop into the television the right way to get the HDMI working so that they could all pile onto Seabs couch and watch the games without breaking anything. Judging by the amount of beer that disappears from Seabs’ fridge by the end of the first game, Jonny bets Patrick’s going to get off the ice to find he has about forty “HAT TRIIIIIIICK!!!” texts on his phone.

Jonny’s just says four more games to go because he doesn’t want Patrick getting a big head after just one game.

It’s a few hours after the guys have all gone home, and Jonny’s shuffled into his room, giving up on helping Seabs with the mess in the front room—David sacked out on the couch, also having given up—when his phone lights up with a text message.

shut up that was awesome ur just jealous

Jonny laughs and texts back beat russia tomorrow or we’re trading you. He waits for the fuck off, im a blkhwk 4 life and then, before Jonny can respond, will destroy canada!!!!

Jonny shakes his head and sends his last text, a keep dreaming buddy, before climbing into bed.

Even though he’s supposed to be showing his parents around Chicago, it feels more like his mom is showing him around when they go shopping the next day, walking around downtown with no particular goal in mind. His mom stops in at dozens of different stores just based on their windows, and Jonny, David, and their dad just follow her, carrying the bags when she won’t stop buying things. Jonny’s pretty sure he buys her a purse that costs more than a pair of skates at some point, but he just hands his debit card over and lets her go to town.

His dad claps him on the back and says, “Never get in the way of a woman and her purse, son,” but after a minute, he smiles and says, “It’s good of you, having us out here in Chicago. You’re a good boy, Jonathan. You’re doing well here. I’m proud of you.”

It makes Jonny flush with pride, like he’s doing something innately good, even though all he’s doing is throwing money around. It’s not like he doesn’t owe them this and more. He can’t imagine how much it took to raise him and David, how much time and effort and money to keep them happy and in hockey when he went to Sheffield and then UND. He could do more, he thinks, maybe pay off the house or something.

His mom drags them into this huge, three-story bookstore next and somehow they all get split up. Jonny’s reading the back of a mystery novel, thinking about how long it’s been since he picked up a book to actually read for fun, when a corner of the store catches his eye. It’s all vibrant and bright colors, stuffed animals squished in with the books obviously meant for kids—books like Harry Potter taking up the shelves, but there’s one hanging out there, obviously in the wrong section.

He grabs it, raising his eyebrows. BASIC ASL: Learn in just six weeks! It’s not too thick and has a DVD attached, with hundreds of pictures of cartoon-drawn hands forming the different shapes as Jonny flips through it, just to see.

David snorts when Jonny puts it up on the counter to buy it, but Jonny shrugs. He’s never not been able to take anything seriously, or do something by halves. If he’s going to be studying this shit on his phone, he might as well buy an actual book and start learning it for real.

His family heads back home after the game on Tuesday, where the Hawks manage to pull a three to one win. He can’t stop grinning afterward, even though they’re heading back to the hotel and won’t see him again before they’re on the airplane in the early hours of the next morning, while Jonny’s still sleeping. He’s just glad he didn’t lose the first game they saw him play in Chicago’s colors.

They lose the next one though, and drop another right after, making all the good feelings from his family’s visit taper off and disappear. They’re such a good team, is the thing; Jonny can’t see a reason for them to lose a single game. They have it in them, the skill and determination, to win every game they play. He knows they do.

Patrick gets back from Salt Lake after their third loss in a row with a gold medal and a cheeky grin pasted on his face. Jonny’s still aching a little from overdoing his reps that morning, but he heads over to the Bowman house with the rest of the guys to grab Patrick and start celebrating, and has to see that grin up close.

“Good,” Jonny says, throwing an arm around Patrick’s shoulder, but pulling back so that Patrick can see his face without twisting his neck around, “we can use you on the ice.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, still grinning, “you started losing without me. What’s up with that?”

A bunch of the guys jump in to defend themselves and Jonny scoots back in the shuffle, letting everybody get their face time in with Patrick. He’s really made a place for himself in the locker room; the guys missed him while he was gone, even though a good number of them came to watch the games with him and Seabs. Well, the ones that didn’t interfere with Blackhawks games, anyway.

They all end up heading back to Seabs’ place after an hour, partially because most of the other guys are married or have live-in girlfriends who refuse to entertain bulking, hockey players, and mostly because he’d stocked up on beer in preparation for it. Plus, as nice as the Bowman’s are, they probably don’t want a bunch of underage professional hockey players drinking in their basement.

When they pile in, Jonny gets distracted by the video game tournament that picks up, and then by the ten pizzas that show up that everybody’s arguing about who should have to pay for. He forgets to close his bedroom door, and it’s barely the fifth round in Mario Kart before Patrick finds the BASIC ASL: LEARN IN JUST SIX WEEKS! book Jonny had bought with David just a few days earlier.

“You’re learning?” Patrick asks, holding the book up when he comes out of Jonny’s room. He looks surprised, and Jonny stumbles away from the couch so that none of the guys can see the book or hear them talking. He’s not sure they’d start chirping, but Jonny feels a rush of embarrassment at being found out, anyway. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with just wanting to be able to communicate with his teammate better, and it’s a good skill to have. There’s no reason to be nervous about Patrick seeing the stupid book, or embarrassed.

“A little,” Jonny throws out, after Patrick reiterates, “Jonny?”

Patrick breaks out into a smile, and Jonny ends up having to fight back one of his own. He huffs instead and reaches over to grab at the book. “Why’re you going through my shit, Kaner?” he asks.

“Whatever, your door was open and I saw it,” Patrick says, but—he holds up his hands and signs the words at the same time.

Jonny says, blankly, “I have no idea what you’re signing. I can barely keep the alphabet straight.”

“Practice makes perfect, dude,” Patrick says, grinning, and then they stand there as Patrick shows Jonny which sign was for which word until the guys in the living room let out loud cheers (or complaints, in Soupy’s case) that says the game is over, and they have to go back in for their turn.

 

A couple weeks later, he and Patrick have to go in for a bunch of interviews all done at the same time—some sort of media buzz about the ‘Kane and Toews’ show. Jonny’s still kind of annoyed Patrick’s name always ends up going first, but there’s not much he can do about it.

From behind where Jonny’s sitting, he can mostly hear Patrick’s interview.

“Could you just—talk normally?” Patrick asks, wiping his palms on the knees of his pants, and Jonny can see the cringe he’s barely holding back. It’s not the first time some reporter has raised their voice while asking Patrick questions, like he could hear them if only people were louder. The reporters they see after games are usually the same ones though, and they get familiar as the season keeps on going—they don’t usually make those kinds of mistakes anymore, and when they do, if they do, either Shawna or Jeremy is always there to interpret.

Shawna’s actually supposed to be here right now, but they’d gotten the call this morning that she couldn’t get through traffic and would end up being late. It just fucking figures the first interview of the morning is the one with the asshole.

This particular guy isn’t a regular reporter, and this isn’t a post-game interview. He’s worse than the usual dumbass though, even the unfamiliar ones: he’s purposely stretching out the words, talking so slowly even Jonny feels like punching him in the mouth. He has an annoyed tone now too, because it’s the third time he’s asked the question, even though that’s not Patrick’s fucking fault, and Patrick might not be able to tell from his voice, but the annoyance is obvious enough that his hands are flexing tightly, and the back of his neck is flushing red from embarrassment.

Jonny really wants to punch this guy.

The reporter’s halfway through repeating the question for the third time. The camera crew are looking unsure and fidgeting as they listen, and Patrick’s getting more and more frustrated. Jonny doesn’t bother letting the guy finish the question; he pushes back his chair and leans over to nudge Patrick in the arm.

Patrick looks at him and the reporter makes a frustrated noise at the loss of attention. Jonny says, “What are your goals for the rest of the season and do you think you have a chance at the Calder?” It feels weird to ask—he’s definitely not a reporter, and he knows all of Patrick’s goals and thoughts on this stuff anyway, but Patrick’s relief is obvious. When he turns back to the camera, he starts giving out an answer that makes the crew finally relax a little.

Jonny gets a glare from the reporter, but he doesn’t even fucking care—if you’re interviewing someone who can’t hear you, you should figure out how to interview them beforehand, right? Jesus. It’s not goddamn rocket science to just talk like a normal goddamn human being.

It’s probably not the smartest thing, but as soon as they’re done, Jonny turns to Patrick and makes the familiar sign for fuck him. Obviously the guy can’t sign and Patrick raises his eyebrows, but signs back an affirmative anyway, mouth twitching into a small smile.

When Shawna gets there a few minutes later, rushing in and signing out an apology to Patrick with her hands, the reporter sighs, overly relieved, and says, “Finally.”

Jonny isn’t particularly surprised when he proceeds to talk more to Shawna than to Patrick—not even looking at him when asking the questions. It’s fucking dumb at best, and rude as hell. He thinks he recognizes when Shawna says something about it to Patrick, still signing, because Patrick shakes his head and shrugs.

But then Jonny turns around and gets asked if he can answer a question in French for his own interview, and there’s nothing else they can really do about it.

 

It’s hard when Jonny goes down in another game, when something in his knee just gives and he doesn’t even have to hear the trainers tell him he’s out for a month at the least. He’s pissed off enough at himself, at the game, at the timing, that he throws an old puck at the wall in his bedroom, and the plaster breaks and cracks.

He has to stay at home on away trips and watch the games on the television, watch the guys crash and burn without him. It’s even worse when they’re home games and he can’t make himself get up and hobble on his crutches into the stadium just to watch from some top box in a suit, and try to look like he wouldn’t rather be down on the bench, giving the guys hell for messing around out there.

Focusing on learning ASL is a good distraction, especially after physical therapy when his knee is aching and he needs one.

The book he’d bought is kind of helpful, but the DVD it came with is terrible, slow and clearly meant for kids around the age of five, and Jonny throws it in a drawer instead of using it. But just repeating the signs drawn on paper is apparently not good enough, because when Patrick comes over to watch a movie, he straight out laughs in Jonny’s face when Jonny tries to spell out beer.

“No, like this,” he says and puts his hands on Jonny’s, forcing them into the right shape for the actual word, not just the letters.

Jonny flushes a little, embarrassed and annoyed, but Patrick gets up to grab the drinks from the fridge before the movie starts anyway. He even brings back popcorn, all buttery, and Jonny gives into the urge to eat it even though he should be watching it better, since he can’t work off the extra fat right now, his knee still raised and throbbing a little.

At least they make it a little bit of a habit, and even though Jonny forgets a lot of it as soon as Patrick leaves, Patrick doesn’t seem to mind teaching him new words every time he comes over to play video games or watch a movie. He comes over more often than usual—probably out of pity, since Jonny can’t really go anywhere without crutches and extra pain pills, but Jonny doesn’t want to dwell on the reasoning, since it just makes him mad.

He learned the hard way; overdoing it at physical therapy leads to bad shit. He eventually gets bored enough that he just sits around in the living room, reading an old book in French and browsing the internet for what people think about their chances at making the playoffs.

The third time Seabs catches Jonny hunkered down on the couch, researching new ASL signs on his laptop instead of hockey plays—there’s only so much he can do before he feels like throwing shit—Seabs actively starts making fun of him for it. Jonny rolls his eyes most of the time, or tries to find embarrassing things to come back at Seabs for, but the guy doesn’t get embarrassed as easily as Jonny. Seabs tells Duncs though, and before Jonny knows it, the whole team knows.

At least Seabs never caught him watching the ASL DVD, since Jonny had finally given in and let it lead him through the alphabet, all the way from A is for apple!, which is just holding out your fist, thumb up, to Z is for zoo!, which is another one like J, where you have to move your finger in a sort of zigzag pattern.

Anyway, he never would have heard the end of it.

Surprisingly, he only gets a few texts from Sharpy and Burish about having a crush on their ‘little Peekaboo’. Mostly, the team seems kind of into it, and some of the guys even ask how hard it is when they come over; if they should give it a try. Patrick grins and answers the questions better than Jonny ever could. He hits Jonny easily on the way out to the ice for his first practice back—non-contact, but it’s practice— and says, “Hey.” Jonny watches as he tilts his fingers to his chin, and then pulls them away and forward, the sign for thank you.

He doesn’t translate, and Jonny is too stunned to ask—but it doesn’t matter, because he’d memorized that one ages ago, anyway. He just isn’t sure what Patrick’s thanking him for.

 

Jonny’s not sure how it escalated from a movie at one of the guys’ houses to a full-on excursion to the local cinema, but there’s at least four of his teammates arguing over what movie they should go to, and three more whining about all the attention they’re going to get. Sharpy just says, “Suck it up, boys, that’s part of being in the NHL,” which Jonny’s not entirely sure he agrees with (going to the cinema seems like unnecessary hassle when they could just watch a movie at home).

It takes Jonny a minute to find Patrick, leaning against the kitchen dividing wall, texting furiously. He puts a hand on Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick jumps a foot in the air, whirling around with wide eyes. When he says, “Jesus,” it comes out kind of funny sounding. Jonny has to blink up and away, because he realizes he’s staring at Patrick’s mouth and Patrick is cocking his head to the right, questioning.

It hadn’t occurred to him before right then, but—“Can you go to the movies with us?”

Patrick hesitates, and then shrugs, before his shoulders droop a little. “Yeah,” he sighs. “If there’s a subtitles option? Or captioning?”

“Do they do that?” Jonny asks, before thinking about it.

Patrick makes a face, but says, “Sometimes. It depends on the theater. If there’s, like, an ear icon? By the movie title? On Fandango or wherever.”

Jonny nods and walks back over to the guys to make sure whatever movie they’re getting tickets to has subtitles as an option. He’s never actually seen a movie theatre add captions at the bottom of the screen before, but then, Jonny’s never been all that big into going to the cinema anyway, and he guesses deaf people wouldn’t go much either—what’s the point if you can’t hear what’s going on?

They end up having to go to a cinema on the other side of town, because it’s the only one with the Rear Window Captioning option, whatever that is. None of them really mind, but it gives them more time in the cars to argue about who’s buying popcorn.

When they all crowd into the cinema, they do end up signing things for a few minutes before they use the movie as an excuse to leave. It’s kind of ridiculous; there’s eight of them, professional hockey players with huge sodas and way too many buckets of popcorn shoving each other into the last row of the theater. Jonny hadn’t been paying attention when Patrick was handed this weird… black sort of screen, thing, because he’d been in line with Bolly for the popcorn, but he notices when they sit down. Patrick, having claimed the seat in middle of the row, is holding the screen out in front of him dubiously.

Bolly pipes up, “Man, what is that thing?”

Patrick wasn’t looking over, so he didn’t hear the question, but Sharpy leans in and must repeat it, because Patrick rolls his eyes and leans forward to look at Bolly and say, “It reflects backwards—nevermind. It just adds captions for me.”

There’s a scuffle for everybody to look at it, but then the lights start to dim and Patrick steals it back so that he can adjust it to where he can see the captions and the movie well enough at the same time. It just looks complicated, is the thing. Jonny’s not sure why they can’t just add captioning directly to the film. It might be irritating at first, but Jonny knows from experience that after a while you forget the words are even there.

Up on the screen, a preview starts. The sound is loud in his ears, a car barrelling down some highway somewhere, crashing and exploding while the driver barely gets out in time. It’s hard to imagine it being quite the same without sound.

 

They don’t manage to finish in the top eight, and they don’t make the playoffs. He’s not torn up about it, exactly, because it’s not like he was expecting to win the Stanley Cup his first year in the NHL, let alone with a team that’s in a rebuilding phase. He’s still upset though, and he packs his shit after the last game in silence with the same grimace on his face that everyone else on the team seems to have, even the usually pretty positive guys, like Sharp or Campbell... or Patrick.

Jonny’s not sure how the transition went from him occasionally learning ASL in his spare time to slowly—with makeshift hand shapes and spelling out more words than he cares to think about—signing when he talks to Patrick. It’s not like he does it all the time; it’d be exhausting and he has to focus on the game too often to worry about what sign means what word. But when Patrick comes over to fall back on Jonny’s bed and mess with his shit for kicks, it’s just… it’s just something that starts happening.

Patrick talks with his hands; he does it effortlessly, with his eyes closed and his arms in the air; when he’s concentrating on winning a game of HALO or watching a movie in the hotel room. Most of it flies right by him but Jonny watches anyway, tries to connect each motion with each word—or meaning, really. ASL isn’t just English with hand shapes, it’s an entirely new language, with words and vocabulary and subtleties and a structure that’s completely different from English or French altogether.

The sentence structure is simple except that it’s all backwards, and he doesn’t realize it until Patrick explains after Jonny calls him out on saying one word and signing another one altogether. Patrick doubles over in laughter at the betrayed look Jonny can’t help but send his way. Patrick had been making things simpler for him, like he couldn’t handle the signs without dumbing down the order you use them in.

It’s not like Jonny doesn’t know how to learn a new language, what with French being more-or-less his first language. He didn’t even go to a primarily English-speaking school until he was in double-digits.

He resolves to work harder at it over the summer. He’s mostly capable of recognizing any letter from the alphabet that Patrick throws at him, and even throws them back, if not as fast as he’d like to be able to. It’s remembering signs for whole words that throws Jonny off, and Patrick will occasionally crack up in the middle of an attempted conversation—simple ones even, like asking for a stupid water bottle—when Jonny gets something too horribly wrong, because he’s an asshole.

Jonny still signs fuck you more than anything else, even though he thinks Patrick probably lets him get away with a lot, but really, that just pisses him off more and he’ll end up staying awake too long, studying furiously and needing three cups of coffee in the morning just to wake up properly.

Two days after their last game, Sharpy casually invites some of the guys over—the ones who haven't ditched Chicago already, anyway. Jonny's mom had called the night before, asking when he was headed home, and he hadn't been able to give her a definite date. “Soon,” he'd said, and it will be soon, he just... he feels like he's disappointed them, even if he knows that's not true. He's not sure he's ready to face everyone, heading home with his tail between his legs before playoffs even start.

Patrick, he knows, has a flight already scheduled for the morning after Sharpy's get-together.

Abby is at the door when Jonny gets there, and she's friendly enough but there's a vibe that says she wouldn't mind killing someone if they attempt to destroy her house. Jonny's still pretty sure Soupy has a plan, so he steers clear and wanders over to the patio doors instead. He gets sidetracked when he sees Patrick through the door to the family room, sitting on the edge of the couch without company.

“Hey,” he says, when he walks in and can wave a hand where Patrick will be able to see it.

Patrick blinks up at him, and Jonny gets it. He understands the utter disappointment, and the way it feels like they should still be playing, like they’re just giving up; could have done so much more. They should have somehow managed to do more.

“It was a good run,” is what Jonny says, and then sits down next to Patrick. He just feels heavy, even though the season is over and the pressure should be off, at least for a couple months.

"Yeah," Patrick says, after a minute, and glances back up at the ceiling, away from Jonny. "I guess."

Jonny thinks of the way Patrick will focus on him, sometimes, will look at his lips and watch them move, not willing to miss a single word. It always sends a burst of heat through Jonny's belly, up his spine and down until he feels himself getting hard just from knowing Patrick is looking at him like that, enraptured and intent and so, so focused, like Jonny is the most important thing in the world to him, at least in that moment. Just thinking of it makes the back of his neck flush with warmth.

He swallows, and reaches out to take the wet bottle of corona out of Patrick's hands, putting it on the floor carefully so that it doesn't spill. He looks back and Patrick is watching him. Waiting, more than likely, for him to say something. The thing is, Jonny's not good at speeches, at inspiring people, or making them feel better. He can hand out advice on how to improve conditioning, or stickhandling, or how to win a faceoff, but those are just the mechanics of hockey. Comforting someone after the game is over, and they've come out on the wrong end of it—Jonny doesn't know how to do that. When he tries, he fumbles on his words, or sounds bland, like he doesn't care, and it's the opposite of making somebody feel better.

It's just—how do you say "we played our best" when you lost? If you'd played your best, you wouldn't have lost. You can always be better. Jonny can always be better; and Patrick and Sharpy and Seabs, the whole team. There's no limit to how good they can be together, to how hard they can work and if they'd just— But that's not going to help. Even if he knows, logically, that hardly anyone gets to the Stanley Cup finals in their rookie year, he feels like he should have, like he could have if he'd worked harder, hadn't missed so many games because of a couple stupid injuries.

Patrick is still waiting for him to say something, is watching him through the silence. Jonny wonders if Patrick knows what awkward silence means, if he's ever felt it, or some version of it.

Jonny looks back at Patrick, ignores the complicated feelings twisting in his chest at how fucking vulnerable it makes him feel to just—to just do what Patrick does every day, and give his complete focus to another human being. It's different with hockey—he can focus on hockey for hours, and feel good about it, like he's accomplishing something. Looking into Patrick's eyes like this, with Patrick looking back at him, it feels like all his secrets are being ripped wide open for Patrick to see.

He trusts Patrick on the ice.

He trusts him off it too.

“We’ll do it next year,” he says, finally. “We’ll fucking win, you and me, Patrick. We’re bringing it back.”

We’re bringing hockey back to Chicago, you and me, is what they said, back at the beginning of the year, when the arena had players on the ice and empty seats in the stands. We’ve got to fill this place up. He meant it then, and he means it even more now, now that he knows this is his team—this is his team, their team, their city and their sport and their time.

“We’ll get the Cup next year?” Patrick asks, and then he grins and adds, “I mean, fuck yeah, Jonny, we’ll get the cup.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, and finally looks away. He takes a deep breath and throws an arm around Patrick, settling heavily into the couch, his muscles giving into the end-of-the-season exhaustion.

Sharpy races in a few minutes later, yelling about something Soupy did to the bathroom and how Abby's going to kill him, and Jonny just has to laugh.

Yeah, these are the guys that are going to bring the cup back to Chicago.

He can feel it.

 

Jonny’s not stupid; he knows the way he feels about Patrick isn’t the same way he feels about anybody else on the team. He guesses it started with the way Patrick’s so good with his hands. Jonny finds himself distracted and staring too often for him to not know the goddamn reason. How Patrick handles the stick on the ice is fucking magic, swift and full of the sort of skill that can’t be taught, that some people are just born with.

And then there’s the signing.

Jonny’s been practicing more over the summer. He has flashcards spread out across the kitchen table, but he still hesitates and stumbles and can’t for the life of him get his hands to do what he’s telling them to sometimes. It’s nothing like the way Patrick can sign; dexterous and quick, casual in that way that makes Jonny want to—to—fuck.

And that has nothing on the way Patrick can smile sometimes, this—this huge, just, grin that drives words straight out of Jonny’s head, and all he can do is stare until Patrick raises his eyebrows and asks, “What?”

So, he knows he has a thing for Patrick.

He’s known for a while, really. It’s just that he doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s had good friends in hockey before, but Patrick is something else altogether. He can’t explain what’s different. They just click, there’s something there, something special he’s never felt with another guy on the ice, or hell, anybody off the ice either.

Patrick is more than one of the guys, more than a teammate, or a friend he likes hanging out with. Patrick’s—it’s Patrick; it’s Kane and Toews, Chicago’s Golden Boys, bringing hockey back to Chicago. He really, really can’t afford to screw it up.

He doesn’t tell Patrick when they text that he signs himself up for this two-hour class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the community center that teaches ASL for beginners. He feels shady when he considers it at first. It’s not like he’s bothered to put this much effort into learning Russian or Swedish or anything else, and he’s had plenty of teammates whose first languages weren’t English. What's he doing, putting so much effort into learning ASL when nobody's asked him to?

It’s not that he plans on keeping it a secret. He really wants to learn, to put himself on even footing with Patrick on this, or at least closer to even footing, and he’s not ashamed of that reasoning. It’s just that he’s not good at it, and he hates that he’s not good at it. Actually, he’s pretty terrible, and the other people in the class seem to be far better than him, beginners or not. Just when Jonny thinks he’s memorized a word, he gets up to sign it and can’t remember it at all. He’s finally got the alphabet down, but he’s still slow at spelling things out, and it’s somehow more tiring than his workouts at the gym are.

Signs for whole words are even harder. There’s not a limit of twenty-four, and Jonny’s honestly not sure how he ever managed to learn English and French both as a kid, because it’s fucking hard as hell to memorize a new language. He’s been at it for months, and he feels like he’s not any better than he was when he started.

He wants Patrick to be impressed when their second season starts—Jonny wants to be able to talk to him. Instead, he thinks Patrick probably thinks he’s an idiot every time he tries to sign anything, taking five minutes to choppily sign something he could’ve taken ten seconds to just say.

It’s frustrating and difficult, and he doesn’t want Patrick to know how hard he’s working to actually get better until he already is, until there’s nothing for Patrick to laugh at. He wants Patrick too look at him and—

Fuck, he doesn’t know what he wants.

He wants to keep playing hockey, the way he always has. On an NHL rink, or the one in his parents’ backyard. He wants to win the Stanley Cup, with his team in Chicago, and a gold medal at the Olympics, soon as he has the chance to go.

And Patrick. He wants Patrick.

 

Jonny’s been in Chicago for about twelve hours, admiring his new apartment for the second time even though it’s still pretty empty, when Sharpy texts him. Jonny frowns at the text, asking if he’s in town, up for pizza and video game tourney at Patrick’s new place, to break it in. He hadn’t even known that Patrick was in town already. He almost feels—not nervous, but he hasn’t seen Patrick for a while, and he wants to... well, surprise him with how much he’s learned in the last couple months.

The teacher at the community center had been impressed; Jonny had even talked about Patrick, some, when she’d asked why he was so adamant about learning. He just wishes he could have learned more, but he’d had to carve out time for the gym, Dan and David and the rest of his family and friends. But he’s pretty sure he knows enough that he’ll be able to talk to Patrick with, at the least, no lip reading required. He wants to see Patrick’s face when he walks in there, signing. He kind of can’t wait.

He texts back for Patrick’s address, and then laughs when he realizes it’s close enough that he can just walk right over.

There’s no familiar sound of a doorbell ringing when Jonny presses the button outside Patrick’s unit—and he’d had to call again in order to get past the doorman. You’d think Patrick would’ve added his teammates to the list. Instead, Soupy pulls the door open and exclaims, “Do it again, man! Check it out!”

The doorbell doesn’t make noise, Jonny realizes, when he obediently pushes the button for a second time; rather, it makes every light in the house flash three times. Patrick rolls his eyes from where he’s sitting on the couch, apparently arguing with Burish on how to hook a Playstation up correctly.

He gets up when he sees Jonny though, and Jonny swallows as he pulls Patrick in for a hug. Fuck, he’s missed him. It hasn’t even been that long, but he’s missed him. Patrick feels good under his hands, warm and firm in all the right places. Jonny can tell he’s strong too, like he’s been working hard on getting into shape during the break. Patrick hugs back just as tight, and grins when he pulls away.

Jonny lets him, but holds his hands up to say hey, I missed you quick enough that he doesn’t lose the chance. He’s practiced enough that he’s sure it’s right, the way he’s signed it, but Patrick blinks and stares at his hands before looking up at Jonny’s face, almost seeming startled. After another second in which Jonny’s starting to feel a little awkward—did he do it wrong after all?—Patrick lifts his hand, and signs me too.

Jonny smiles, shoulders slumping a little in relief. Patrick didn’t even say it out loud and he understood what he said—signed.

“Woah, did you take a course over the summer?” Sharpy asks, from where he’s messing with a few wires in front of Patrick’s fairly massive television, and Jonny has to fight back the way his face starts to turn red.

“Shut up, I just practiced. What did you do all summer? Sit on your ass and play Mario Kart?”

“Hey,” Sharpy says, frowning, “I played GTA too.”

Jonny’s about to respond, but Patrick moves and Jonny looks back at him instead. Patrick is grinning now, and asks out loud, “Did you really take a class? Dude, you didn’t say anything!” He signs at the same time, and Jonny sort of has to do the process of elimination to figure out which sign means what, but the point is that he manages.

He’s hot under the collar, a little embarrassed but in a good way. Patrick looks so fucking happy, his smile crinkling up at the corners like he’s about to laugh. “Yeah,” he says, and then remembers to sign it too. “I’ve got the alphabet down. The word order still throws me off though.”

Patrick nods and asks, “You took a class for ASL then? Did they start on stuff like grammar too?”

“Uh,” Jonny starts, “sort of? Mostly concentrating on memorizing the signs. And like, basic sentence structure.”

“Awesome,” Patrick says, still looking so pleased. “That’s—that’s awesome, Jonny.”

“Come on, stop flirting and come play the game!” Burish yells. Jonny nudges Patrick over, since he wasn’t looking. They settle in and play until the pizza shows up and Jonny remembers he walked over and can have a beer if he wants, especially since Burish had paid for them. Kaner’s excuse was that he couldn’t yet, technically. They have to take advantage of the older guys’ wallets for as long as they can.

The other guys end up leaving before Jonny. He was actually stretching at the same time as Soupy, getting up and ready to check out and go home, but Patrick distracts him by starting to sign at him. Jonny’s just—he’s got this, and sure, there’s still some pantomiming and Patrick smirks for no reason that Jonny can tell at times, but they’re talking and signing and it’s fucking working, after two months of non-stop practicing.

 

“That’s three… suns?” Jonny asks, as Patrick opens his hand a little above his head, which is kind of like the sign for sun? At least, he thinks so. There’s a good chance he’s wrong. Patrick huffs a laugh and does it again, slower, but Jonny’s still lost.

“Twilight,” Patrick says, finally grinning, and Jonny groans before plopping back down on the couch. Patrick’s already made him watch that stupid fucking movie twice, including some weird, short version on YouTube that was made by what Jonny would bet were college kids, all the dialogue in ASL. Jonny had only made it through because the plot wasn’t exactly hard to follow, sound or no sound, and Patrick had kicked him every time he was about to fall asleep.

Still… it feels pretty nice to have Patrick smiling, excited and happy to quiz Jonny on what he knows and what’s he’s learned. They can have conversations that aren’t so one-sided now, and sure, he’s exhausted already, but he’ll get used to it as they do it more. Patrick won’t have to lip read all the time, and—fuck, maybe they’ll even, maybe they could be something.

Jonny rubs the back of his neck, thinking about it.

He doesn’t bother protesting when Patrick puts the Twilight DVD in, Bella and Edward showing up in ridiculous hi-definition on Patrick’s dumbass huge television. A few minutes in, Patrick’s doing that thing where he signs every word out of Bella’s mouth—usually he does it when he’s bored or something in a hotel room, but now he’s looking at Jonny, and like a challenge, says, “You’re Edward, come on.”

Jonny tries without even arguing too much—it’s not like the guy talks very much—but he gives up after the first constipated look of pain—Edward’s, Patrick’s or his own, he doesn’t even know. It’s a fun night though, and he ends up camping out on Patrick’s couch when it gets too late to bother walking back to his place. He practically sinks into the soft cushions.

He heads to the furniture store first thing the next morning, Patrick in tow, to find an exact replica of that couch. It was comfortable enough he’d wanted to stay asleep even when Patrick put a plate of eggs and bacon in front of him, rolling his eyes like Jonny was the ridiculous one for not being awake so stupidly early.

He definitely needs one for his own apartment.

 

A couple weeks into the season, Jonny finds himself neglecting the lesson plan to keep up with learning signs that he’d gotten from the teacher over the summer. It’s just that with games every few days and practices in-between, with extra workouts at the gym and team bonding every other available night, there’s no real time to sit down and memorize a new language. Besides, he’s still using it pretty often with Patrick. It’s like a habit, now, to sign when he knows the words, or to ask Patrick when he doesn’t. Patrick even signs for him, encouraging.

He really thinks he’s doing pretty well with it, whether he’s following the lesson plan or not. He’s even thinking about maybe tackling LSQ when he’s got the ASL down a bit more. He knows French; might as well learn how to sign it, right?

And hockey’s going great—they have five wins and two losses, and yeah, they could have seven wins and no losses, but he’ll take five. Their sixth away game of the season is set against the Sabres, and Patrick practically vibrates on the plane, chatting with Sharpy about Jackie and how he’s going to actually have the time to go see her play in a school basketball game for the first time since she made the team. Jonny knows Patrick’s regretted not being able to make stuff like that, but it’s just part of growing up, becoming an adult, and really, it’s not like they aren’t all used to it. Not many hockey players stay at home until the draft catches up with them. Although, come to think of it, he knows Patrick didn’t leave home until the Knights drafted him when he was sixteen. That’s a lot later than when Jonny left for Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

The plane lands at six, so the team grabs dinner in the hotel lobby together before splitting up and heading to their rooms to catch some sleep before the game the next morning. Morning games always throw everybody off—they’re used to having game day preparations first, but there’s no real time for it when the game starts at noon.

“Don’t mess with my alarm, Jonny,” Patrick mutters, getting into bed, pointing his finger at Jonny, like a warning.

Jonny puts his hands up, says, “Yeah, I won’t touch your alarm, Kaner.”

Patrick keeps watching him for a minute, shifty, before he climbs all the way into bed, pulling the covers up. Jonny won’t mess with his alarm, probably, if just because it turns out there’s been a vibrate only option the entire fucking time.

The game ends up going pretty well. Patrick manages a goal in the first period, and Seabs taps one in third, giving them a two-one victory for Patrick to brag about when he saunters over to meet his family after showering. Jonny’s not going with them to do whatever family stuff they’re planning, but he heads over to say hello anyway, figuring it’s only polite.

“Hi!” Jackie says, and Jessica follows, quickly. Erica is locked in conversation with Patrick, their hands basically a blur.

Jonny tries to sign hello, but he can’t keep up when the girls sign back.

“Uh,” he says, blankly, and Jessica says, “I thought you were learning? Patty said—”

“Go slowly,” Donna says, touching her daughter’s shoulder. Then she looks to Jonny and signs out How are you, Jon? at a pace that’s incredibly slower than the girls were, but disturbingly similar to the way Patrick signs with him on a regular basis. She says it out loud at the same time, as if to make sure he’s getting it.

He feels like an idiot.

“I’m good, Mrs. Kane, thanks,” he says, somehow managing to smile through the words. He signs it too, because he knows she’s expecting it. He doesn’t know how to sign Mrs. Kane, so he skips that bit, and then realizes he's signing the same thing twice—good and thanks are both signed by putting your fingers to your chin, and then bringing your hand down and forward. It's an awkward moment, but he forces himself to finish the sentence, even though Jessica looks like she's about to burst out laughing.

Donna just smiles, nodding at him, and says, “You know, it’s nice of you to try and learn how to sign; I don’t think any of Patrick’s hearing friends have ever made it past asking him how to curse—or his cousins, for that matter.” She laughs, but Jonny just feels like sinking into the ground, hearing that.

“Oh,” he says, awkwardly, “well, I’m, uh, the captain, now, so it’s—communication is important.” He fumbles through the signs, and Jackie smiles like she’s trying not to laugh when he fumbles through spelling out communication—he doesn’t know the sign for it. He’s ready to leave, fuck.

“And you’re his friend. It’s good of you, anyway,” Donna keeps on. Jonny nods, but doesn’t make an effort to say anything else.

Patrick’s dad is signing at Patrick and Erica now too, going just as quick as them and laughing, and Jonny’s never felt so embarrassed and out of the loop before. He thought he was—he thought he was really helping; talking to Patrick with sign and having conversations, and learning quick, like it was fucking easy.

Yeah, he thinks, so easy that Patrick’s been talking to him like a goddamn child for the past three weeks, and—God, he must annoy the shit out of him, trying to talk to him like he has any idea about what he’s doing.

“I’ve got to get back,” he says, finally, and hits Patrick’s shoulder to get his attention and let him know he’s taking off.

Patrick grins and signs see you later, slow and obvious, like he wants to make sure Jonny has time to decipher it, completely at odds with how fast he was going with his sister and his dad, clearly comfortable and happy and relieved to have people he can actually communicate with in his own way.

He really feels like an idiot, and he can’t even bring himself to hang out with the other guys or go out with their free time. He just heads back to the hotel and gets into bed, ready for the pre-game nap he’d had to skip earlier. He thinks about his plans to learn LSQ after ASL, snorts into his pillow, and covers his face.

 

Patrick doesn’t sit next to him on the plane back to Chicago right away, but halfway through the flight Buff gets up to go to the bathroom and before he can come back, Patrick drops down into his empty seat, claiming it. He stretches and grins up at Jonny, and Jonny can’t help but smile back, rolling his eyes. He’s still pretty embarrassed, but there’s nothing he can do about it except work harder, get better. It’s not like he was actually expecting to become fluent after just a couple months.

“Man, I wish we were staying in Buffalo longer,” Patrick says, sighing as he leans back as far as the airplane seat will let him.

“Yeah,” Jonny says, when Patrick looks at him, obviously waiting for a response. “It must suck, not having anybody to sign with back in Chicago.”

Patrick’s forehead wrinkles, and he says, “It’s not like there isn’t a Deaf community in Chicago, man.”

Jonny knows that. Everybody should know that; Patrick has a pretty big fan base from the Deaf community that’ll show up at games and events. They’ve got special t-shirts and wave their hands in the air instead of yelling whenever somebody scores or they win the game, so it’s pretty obvious, even if Patrick doesn’t always go out of his way to acknowledge them at every game, concentrating on playing his best. BHTV’s even done one of those short feature videos on the whole thing, though Jonny’s never gotten around to watching it.

Still, Jonny didn’t know Patrick actually knew any of them.

“You’ve got deaf friends in Chicago?” he asks, and then winces. It sounds kind of insulting, somehow, to ask it like that.

Patrick just laughs, and says, “Not really. I don’t have time to do anything but play hockey. But I’ve gone out a few times, yeah. And there’s you.”

Jonny groans before he can help it, knocking his head back. “Yeah, because I know how to sign.”

Patrick reaches over to touch Jonny’s elbow, and when Patrick looks at him, he’s got a weird look on his face, anticipatory. Oh, right, Jonny thinks, and he explains so that Patrick can see his mouth as he talks this time, “I’m not that good. Your sisters—man, I couldn’t keep up.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says, slowly, “my parents realized I couldn’t hear them when I was two. That’s… almost seventeen years of practice. Or seventeen for Erica and my parents, sixteen for Jess, fourteen for Jacks. You’ve had, like, what, four months?”

Well, when he puts it like that. Jonny feels the back of his neck heat up, and he shakes his head. “Yeah, okay,” he says, and then to change the subject—“Wait, your parents didn’t figure out you were deaf until you were two?”

Patrick twists in his seat, like he’s resigning himself to talking a lot, and says, “They just thought I was a rotten kid, ignoring them all the time, refusing to listen. They got worried eventually, took me to the doctor, and whoops, your kid is deaf!”

“That’s crazy,” Jonny says, surprised. Two years—you’d think you’d notice shit like that before your kid was a walking, talking toddler. “You couldn’t hear them at all?”

Patrick shakes his head, “Nope. I’d like, make noises, but nothing that made sense? I mean, I guess I could see them talking, I just couldn’t hear anything coming out. You know, my grandpa’s actually the one who suspected what was up first. He’s hard of hearing, so it reminded him of him, I guess.”

“Your grandpa’s deaf? Is it genetic?”

“Hard of hearing, dumbass. They’re two different things. And no, it’s not genetic. They don’t really know why I was born deaf. I just—was,” Patrick shrugs.

Jonny nods. “Yeah, well, hearing’s overrated anyway.”

“Obviously.”

A little while later, after they’ve fallen into a comfortable silence—Patrick reading and Jonny was mostly attempting to get some sleep before they land—Jonny remembers what the instructor at his summer class had suggested, and he knocks his knee into Patrick’s, getting his attention.

Patrick looks up, eyebrows drawn while he thumbs the corner of a page to hold his place. Jonny clears his throat and asks, “So, uh, do you know any, like—Deaf bars? Is that what they’re called?”

Patrick closes his book and reaches a hand up to scratch at his nose, before he says, “Usually they’re regular bars with special nights for deaf people, I think. I’ve never been to any that are Deaf-community only. Why?”

“Uh, assignment, I guess? Remember how I took a course over the summer? The teacher suggested going out and, whatever, mingling, and you mentioned Chicago’s Deaf community, so…” He doesn’t know why he’s nervous; they’ve gone to bars before, and it was never really a big deal except for that one time with TJ back in college.

“Huh. Okay, yeah, we’ll have to go some time,” Patrick agrees, moving back to his book.

“Cool,” Jonny says, after a minute, and turns to look out the window.

 

The bar is brightly lit, and there’s music playing that’s almost too loud, though that’s true for basically all bars Jonny’s gone to over the last couple years, both in Chicago and when he was still in college. The weirdest thing is that not many people are talking; it’s quiet, other than the music, and the place isn’t exactly empty. It’s just that everyone is signing. Jonny feels out of his comfort zone, like he’s intruding.

Patrick throws an arm around his shoulders and says, “Let’s order a drink, yeah?”

They’re still not old enough to drink legally so even though Patrick gives the bartender his best smile, she does something quick and practiced with her hands, and hands them both cokes instead. Patrick sighs but Jonny just shakes his head, okay with it. He’s had more than enough trouble with underage drinking already. He fumblingly signs thanks to the bartender, though he doesn’t think she sees him, and then lets Patrick push him down onto a stool.

It’s the same as any other bar, other than the lack of loud conversation going on around them, and in-between drinks of his coke, Patrick starts signing—just signing, grinning like he’s doing it on purpose—about the game against the Coyotes they’ve got on Tuesday. Jonny does his best to sign back, refusing to give in and say anything out loud, or ask Patrick to explain what a sign means. He wants to figure this out.

Plus, even though he doubts anybody nearby would be able to actually hear him, the idea of asking for a translation here is just embarrassing.

It doesn’t take much time at all for someone to recognize them—or recognize Patrick, at least—because a guy stops by the table and starts gesturing with his hands, face lighting up. Patrick responds in kind, quick movements of his hands that Jonny watches, even without a single hope of understanding what he’s saying.

“He’s a fan,” Patrick says after a minute, like he’s belatedly remembering Jonny is there and doesn’t know what they’re saying.

The guy looks at Jonny, and then it seems like he does a double-take, almost, and he raises his hands to ask you sign?

Jonny nods and brings his hands up to sign back a little, rubbing his fingers together the way most people do when talking about money—which isn't how you say money in ASL, surprisingly. Patrick had laughed at him when he'd tried it the first time, correcting him pretty quick. It's easy enough, but Jonny feels pretty good, halfway to carrying a conversation on his own, only he gets lost pretty quick a minute after that when the guy bursts out a bunch of movements Jonny just can't follow. Patrick saves him after a second, shaking his head and signing, he’s learning still. He smiles at Jonny in that way he does when he thinks Jonny’s done something good, like when he’s surprised Patrick by figuring out a sign without asking, or when he scores a goal or makes a pass that lands the puck right on Patrick’s tape.

The back of Jonny's neck heats up, and he rubs at it with his hand, a little proud and embarrassed at the same time.

The guy signs something, eyebrows up, and Patrick coughs, says no quickly, and then speeds up so that Jonny can’t keep up with his hands, let alone decipher them. It ends with them both handing over autographs. After, when Jonny asks, “What was that all about?” forgetting to sign it, Patrick shrugs and says, “Just a fan. Thought it was cool you were learning sign though.”

The rest of the night goes pretty well—nobody else recognizes them, or they just don’t care enough to bother coming up and asking for an autograph, though Jonny does have to stumble through getting hit on, once, while Patrick laughs ridiculously off to the side, refusing to help translate anything.

He’s pretty sure the girl was talking about his ass, anyway.

 

They have a charity event they all have to attend, and Patrick shows up in an ugly Hawaiian flower shirt thing, but manages to catch the eye of one of the journalists anyway. She’s deaf, Jonny thinks, or at least hard of hearing. She’s writing for a website specifically geared toward the Deaf community, wanting an exclusive with Patrick. Except Patrick is definitely flirting, tilting his chin up and grinning, looking for all the world like he knows exactly how good he looks, confident and charming and it all just comes fucking naturally

Jonny bites his tongue and turns to sign some of jerseys, pucks, and photographs lying on the table, what they’re all supposed to be doing, instead of messing around. Sharpy bumps him with an elbow, asks, “You okay, Tazer?” and it just makes Jonny glare at the shit he’s signing even harder. It’s fine, whatever.

“Yeah, I’m good. Sit down and sign some of this shit, would you?”

Sharpy slides into the chair next to him, says, “You’re right, it’s not fair to the children if they only get Toews jerseys. The horror.”

Jonny kicks him under the table.

He finds himself looking back at Patrick and the reporter a few times. She’s pretty, he’ll admit: shorter than Patrick, even with her high heels, and thin, and with small, deft wrists that form signs easily as she talks to Patrick, her whole face lit up with emotion, the way Patrick does, sometimes—the way he’s doing right now.

Jonny’s staring at them talk long enough that Seabs comes over and hits him, says, “What’s going on, Captain?”

“Nothing,” Jonny bites out. Spitefully, he thinks she doesn’t even have a nice rack, and keeps glaring, watching them just have the greatest fucking time.

“Sure,” Seabs says, playing along, and claps Jonny on the shoulder. “Let’s stop trying to cockblock Kaner from ten feet away then, eh? There’s a couple people who want to talk to you, come on.”

Jonny’s pretty sure they’re not that invested with talking to him, personally, but he gets up from the table where he’s been sitting and dutifully follows Seabs over to meet the charity founders, shaking their hands and playing nice. He’s got the C; it’s his job, whether Patrick’s done anything but flirt with the media all night or not.

Patrick doesn’t text him later to gloat about getting her number, surprisingly respectful about it, but he does hear about it when somebody mentions it at breakfast the next morning, just a random, “Congrats, Kaner, heard you scored a number last night!” slipped into the conversation between, “We’re out of paper plates!” and “Don’t take all the eggs, you fucker.”

He sits at a table across from Nemo and eats his omelet without comment.

 

Three weeks later, in Dallas, Patrick goes down seven minutes into the third period, getting hit hard out on center ice and sliding right into the boards with an alarming thwap. Jonny’s skating towards him as soon as the whistle blows, but Patrick’s already shaking his head, shaking off the hit. He lets Jonny help pull him up after anyway, and lifts his gloved hand up to his chin, pushing out with it.

“Yeah, no problem,” Jonny says, and then turns to find whichever guy had hit Patrick, ready to glare him into an apology or something. He doesn’t know who hit him though, and Patrick is already rolling his eyes.

“I’m fine,” he says. “It’s just a bruise, come on.”

He finishes out the period without any complaints, but Jonny still grins smugly when he slams the puck past the goalie.

 

Patrick doesn’t usually work out in their hotel room; doesn’t usually do anything but play on his computer or watch television or wrap himself up under the covers of his bed with a book until Jonny insists on turning off the light. But the hit from the game yesterday must have been worse than he’d made it out to be at the time, because Jonny wakes up to see Patrick’s bed empty, and Patrick stretched out on the floor instead.

He’s on his back, skin sticky with sweat, and holding his leg up at an angle, holding it and then letting it go, stretching it out slowly and rubbing at his thigh where the skin is dark and purpling, yellow at the edges of the thick bruise. He repeats with the other leg, for balance, maybe, and Jonny remembers to lean over and turn his alarm off.

Patrick must see him moving out of the corner of his eye, because he looks up, finally, and smiles at Jonny as he settles his legs back on the floor and leans back on his elbows to see him better. Jonny swallows and looks off to the side, can’t bring himself to say anything. He signs instead, just good morning.

He thinks the angle is off, but Patrick signs it back without saying anything, and then goes back to silently stretching.

Jonny goes to get in the shower, and he’s nothing but thankful when he remembers that Patrick can’t hear him, can’t hear the groan he can’t quite hold back as he pulls on his dick, thinking of Patrick’s strong legs and contoured back, slick with sweat, and he’s just—grateful, Patrick can’t hear him knock his fist into the shower wall when he comes.

It doesn’t necessarily make him feel less guilty, but it helps.

 

Jonny went home for Christmas last year; he hadn’t seen his family in a while and they had four days off, but this year they only have two—Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—and boarding a flight just isn’t worth it. They’d been considering coming down to see him instead but ultimately headed up to Quebec, since David had decided to spend the holiday with his girlfriend’s family.

Jonny wasn’t sure about that; he hadn’t met her yet. David had only started going with her something like four months ago and it seems a little premature to be staying with her for Christmas. Fortunately, he knows enough to keep his mouth shut about it.

He knows Kaner is sticking around Chicago too—belatedly he thinks he should have called, but he’d run to the store for something (anything) a while ago, and ended up with a box full of frosted cookies in the shape of snowmen, and hell, Patrick’s apartment is pretty close to his. He figured he could just swing by, share the wealth a little and wish Patrick a Merry Christmas. He’s been practicing it in ASL and kind of wants to do it at least once. It’s not like anybody else would know what the hand motions mean.

He’s stepping out of the elevator before he realizes Patrick is blinking at him, standing in the hall with his winter coat on and keys in his hand. “Hey, Jonny,” he says, blankly, and Jonny almost drops the box of cookies because his hands instinctively go up to try and say hey back, even as the word falls out of his mouth at the same time.

Patrick catches the box, and grins, looking at them. “Is this my present? Nice.”

Jonny lets Patrick take them, because while that’s not what Jonny had meant, he’s realizing—well, yeah, maybe it kind of was. Mostly, they were an excuse to get out of his house and come see what Patrick was bothering to do on Christmas Eve, alone in Chicago. “Yeah, uh,” he says, after a minute, and then jerkily forces his arms up and he doesn’t mess up at all, he’s pretty sure, as he signs Merry Christmas.

Patrick’s face does this—this thing, where it goes all soft and he smiles, this big happy one that takes over everything around him. He says, “You too, Jonny,” and then squishes past him into the elevator. Apparently, he’s going out. That’s alright. Jonny—did what he came to do.

“Where you headed?” he asks anyway, as the doors shut on them.

Patrick says, “There’s a gift-exchange for deaf kids and they asked me to drop by. It sounded fun, and I don’t have anywhere else to be, so…”

“Oh,” Jonny says, nodding. “That’s cool.”

“You can come if you want. I bet the kids would like you too. You can even sign, sort of.”

“Sort of?”

Patrick laughs at him, and says, “Yeah, sort of,” with a lilt to his voice that he usually saves for Sharpy and Burish. Jonny rubs at the back of his neck, but says, “Yeah, okay, I’ll come. You driving?”

“Obviously,” Patrick says. “I drive better than you.”

Jonny, for his part, just answers, “No, you don’t,” but it’s an old argument that they both know Jonny is hanging onto by a thread. He just—people who don’t know how to drive need to get the hell off the road, and he doesn’t mind saying so. And they deserve to get cut off if they’re going forty in a forty-five anyway.

Patrick just laughs at him when he tries to defend himself.

It’s a little weird, when they first walk in. It’s just—it’s really quiet. Patrick sort of rushes in and puts his hands up, but he’s not talking to Jonny and so he’s not bothering to talk out loud, and his hands are moving too fast for Jonny to even bother trying to keep up with. He looks around instead. It’s a bowling alley, and Jonny wonders if they rented it out for the night or what, because everywhere he looks, people are signing instead of talking out loud. The only sounds are the balls getting thrown down the lanes.

Patrick is talking to an older woman Jonny’s never met before, and then shaking hands with someone else, and then leaning down to get eye-level with a little girl in a pink, clearly bedazzled, KANE jersey.

Patrick’s girlfriend, Jennifer, the girl he’d met a couple weeks earlier at the Blackhawks charity dinner is there too, and Patrick kisses her on the cheek when she comes over. She says hello to Jonny, and he signs it back, nodding. It’s the first time he’s met her since the charity, but Patrick’s mentioned her a couple of times, and Jonny’s managed to resign himself not to care. It’s not like Patrick can’t date just because Jonny—

Just because of Jonny.

There’s a giant tree set up in the middle of the room, blocking off five lanes, and a big guy in a big, over-stuffed red suit. Jonny squints, looking at him, but yeah, no beard. The guy is smiling though, and has the whole rosy cheeks thing going for him. And he’s signing to the kid on his lap, so Jonny guesses that fluency in sign makes up for the fact that he doesn’t have the fluffy white beard Santa tends to come with.

Patrick looks around, searching for a minute before his eyes land on Jonny and he waves at him, gesturing for him to come over. There’s six or seven kids at his feet now, and Jonny sees that at least three of them are signing hi in Jonny’s direction—they look like they're saluting him, and he grins. When he gets close enough, one of them, a kid who must be something like eight, says it out loud.

Jonny smiles and signs Merry Christmas, and then does his best to keep up with them as they go crazy – he signs all their shirts, a couple of which are KANE jerseys, which Patrick laughs at him for, and he ends up spending a few minutes learning how to sign all of their names—both fingerspelling and their name signs.

Jonny’s shoved down at some point, a little girl signing quickly at him—all he really gets is wait and that they’re going to do something, a show maybe. Patrick is grinning when he sits down next to him, Jennifer on the other side of him, and then the show starts. The kids all stand in rows, and start signing together, waving their heads and grinning these huge, ridiculous smiles for all of the adults watching.

It takes him a minute, but he recognizes it as a song when they all start spelling out S-A-N-T-A at the same time, and he grins, and puts his hands in the air to wave like everybody else is doing when they finish.

It’s not a bad way to end up spending Christmas Eve, really.

 

The first Jonny hears about Patrick and Jennifer breaking up is on the bus heading to the Staples Center in LA in early February. He just overhears Sharpy giving Patrick a hard time over dumping her right before Valentine’s Day, but then they’re arriving and everyone gets distracted piling off the bus and getting through to the visitors’ locker room. Jonny doesn’t hear any more about it, even though he can’t help but pay attention to what the guys are talking about.

He roughly pulls on his under armour and starts his stretches, working out a kink in his neck. It doesn’t even matter, is the thing. Not that they’ve broken up, or that Patrick didn’t mention it to Jonny but apparently told Sharpy and the rest of the guys. It’s just that Jonny thinks he and Patrick are pretty good friends, and he’s met Jennifer a couple times now. He’d even sporadically tried out his ASL on her. She was nice.

Patrick never really talked about her anyway, and Jonny’s stomach twists when he thinks about the reasons Patrick would have to keep quiet about it. Despite the fact that they’re teammates, roommates, friends – Patrick didn’t want to mention breaking up with the girl he’s been dating for months.

The game is hard won, but they manage to pull it off with just one goal slipping through the crease and making it to the back of the net. Jonny’s dragged out to a bar with the rest of the guys, even though he’s tired and not really in the mood, partially because of the tough game and partially because of whatever’s going on with Patrick. He just isn’t sure if it’s something to be worried about, or if he’s reading too much into it.

A couple drinks in, he’s pretty sure he was just reading too much into it after all. Patrick’s leaning heavily against the back of the booth, three empty shot glasses on the table in front of him, and he’s glaring at the mostly empty Bud Light in his hand even as Sharpy pats his back.

“I only got like half of that,” Patrick says, words a little hard to make out because he’s obviously drunk, “but—fuck you, Sharpy. You and your… face. Ugh.” Patrick pushes at him, but Sharpy hardly budges.

“Peeks, come on, this can’t be your first break up.”

“Obviously not,” Patrick groans, lifting his head. “But that’s what makes it worse, isn’t it?

“I bet we can find a girl for you,” Seabs starts, looking around obviously, and Jonny grimaces.

Patrick just huffs out a laugh and says, “No,” stretching out the ‘o’, “I don’t date hearing girls. Nope. Recipe for disaster, God.”

“Hey,” Duncs says, looking a little offended, maybe. Jonny has to grab his beer tighter when Patrick lifts a finger, shaking it, and says, “Reason number one: commun—communication is awful.”

It doesn’t get much better from there.

 

By the time they get back to the hotel, cramming into the elevator and laughing at anything and everything—Seabs keeps trying to get everyone to smell his armpits, including Jonny, even though he punched him fairly hard after he did it the first time. He reeks, like sweat and bad cologne.

Patrick fumbles into their hotel room, collapsing onto his bed without even taking off his shoes, shoving his face into one of the many pillows. Jonny manages to strip off before climbing into his own bed, getting the lights while he’s at it. He’ll regret not drinking water in the morning, and curse more than his fair share when he tries to find the aspirin in his bag, but he’ll deal with it then. Except that Patrick rolls over in his sleep, the sheets rustling, and then pulls at the lamp on the little end table between their beds. Jonny winces and covers his eyes with an arm, groaning out, “What, Kaner?”

Patrick waits a minute, but then Jonny hears a long sigh, and the sound of a belt hitting the floor, followed by what must be Patrick’s slacks. He doesn’t look to check if he’s right.

“Jonny,” Patrick says, slowly, “you okay?”

He probably means – water, aspirin, if he should be sleeping on his side, not his back. But Jonny isn’t that drunk, and more to the point, it’s not what he responds to.

“You didn’t tell me you broke up.”

He still has his eyes covered, doesn’t know if Patrick can even see his mouth, let alone read what he’s saying, but Patrick must, because he says, “Yeah, I’m sorry. It seemed—just.”

“We’re friends,” Jonny says, swallowing, and finally lifting his arm away from his face to sit up a little and look at Patrick, who’d moved closer, probably to be able to see his lips move. He’s standing up, already in a t-shirt and sweats, even though Jonny hadn’t heard him putting them on. “You can tell me things. Anything. Shit.”

“I know,” Patrick says, quickly. “I will. It just—it sucks, you know?”

Jonny doesn’t know if Patrick means breaking up with Jennifer, or how hard dating is in general, or maybe even—even Jonny’s stupid fucking tragically doomed crush on Patrick Kane, who doesn’t like talking about girls around him because it sucks, you know?

He says, “Yeah,” and rolls over so that he doesn’t have to look at Patrick anymore. He feels too hot, from the alcohol and shame burning in his gut, because Patrick has to know, by now. The looks he gets, sometimes, from the guys, and the friendly teasing that doesn’t really mean anything, except for how it does—it’s all just proof that he’s fucking terrible at hiding it.

It’s not like he’s ever expected anything of the kind in return.

But he’d kind of thought he’d be able to hide it, for—forever, basically. Until he found somebody else, somebody else that took his breath away, claimed his focus without even trying; somebody he could watch for hours and not get bored, talk to for hours and not notice the clock even ticking by. Somebody else he’d be willing to watch Dirty Dancing with. Twice, even.

Maybe it’s because he’s drunk, and everything’s fuzzy at the edges, but it feels like he was just fooling himself, thinking there’d ever be somebody else like that. Patrick’s just—Patrick. There’s nobody else like him, and Jonny’s a damn fool for letting himself get in this deep, fall this hard.

Still, what’s he supposed to do? Stop caring? Stop hanging out, watching dumb movies and reading books while spread out on the sofa, stop playing hockey and fooling around with the puck, stop learning the language he’s starting to love just for it, for the way he can communicate with his whole body, not ever saying a word out loud.

Yeah, sure.

 

Their next game against Columbus back in Chicago is getting pretty rough by the time the second period ends. Patrick’s got a split lip that won’t quit bleeding, Sharpy’s got a nasty bruise on his shoulder that he swears is fine, Nemo is out a tooth, and it seems like everybody’s been in the penalty box at least once.

Jonny’s just climbing out when the clock on the jumbotron hits zero, but he has to shake it off and yell at the guys in the locker room. “Pick up the pace! We’re letting them walk all over us; we’re better than this. If you see a chance, go for it. If you don’t have the guts, pass the puck to somebody who does and get your ass back to the bench. Come on, guys, we’ve fucking got this. Pick it up.”

Somehow, they do; they pick it up and Columbus fumbles in response. Patrick manages a goal off of a pass from Duncs that’s barely in, ringing off the post and sneaking into the net by an inch. It wins them the game, anyway, and Patrick’s fistpumping celly gets broadcasted through the arena, followed by a pan over of the group of fans in the stands, all waving their hands in the air. The unique way to cheer Patrick's goals has caught on and people throughout the arena are throwing their hands in the air in silent cheers, along with the more familiar, not-so-silent cheers at the same time.

Patrick’s flushed and glowing, grinning up at the screen, surrounded by teammates. Jonny pushes his way through until he can get his arms around him himself, yelling, “Great shot!” as loud as he can, even though he knows Patrick isn’t looking, can’t hear. He’ll know what Jonny’s saying anyway.

Burish ruffles Patrick’s hair when they come in from the showers, messing with the wet curls, and Jonny has to twist away so that he isn’t staring at the way Patrick laughs and pulls away, water dripping down his chest. “We’ve got ourselves a champion, guys!” Burish yells, grabbing Patrick around the waist and lifting him up off his feet.

Patrick yells, “Let go of me, asshole!” but he’s laughing too, clutching at the towel around his waist to make sure it doesn’t fall off. Jonny averts his eyes again, tugging on his socks, one at a time.

“Yeah, I think our little champion deserves something special,” Sharpy says, and looks like he might actually be aiming to pull the towel off on purpose, so Patrick’s smart to be holding on to it for dear life already. “Who feels like going out tonight?”

Jonny clears his throat and looks up to say, “Uh, we have a game tomorrow.”

“Oh, come on, live a little,” Burish says, at the same time as Patrick pulls free and plops down in his locker, grabbing at his bag with his clothes. “Besides, we didn’t mean a bar. Just dinner.”

Jonny tends to be pretty hungry after a game, and he knows everybody else does too, but still—it’s late, and they have to be ready for the game tomorrow. Every point matters this close to the end of the season.

“Unless,” Sharpy jumps in, “you’re offering to make dinner for all of us?”

Jonny snorts.

“What, can’t cook?”

“Jonny makes a pretty mean piece of toast,” Patrick says, grinning, even though Jonny knows there’s no way he’s been paying attention to the whole conversation and is just now jumping in.

“Fuck you,” Jonny says, lifting his middle finger at the room, “I can make a fucking breakfast for champions. None of you assholes deserve it. Just show up ready for practice tomorrow, alright?”

Coach comes in to talk about the game and tells them all to get a good night’s rest. Jonny miraculously makes it to his car without getting grabbed by any of the guys.

He’s got a package in front of his door when he gets home, and nudges it into his apartment with his foot before closing the front door behind him. He dumps his bag on the ground and kicks off his shoes, picking up the box and carrying it into his room, putting it on the desk.

At first, Jonny’s dubious of the huge black headphones that he pulls out of the box. He’d ordered them online, for a ridiculous price, because they were the best; everyone said so. But they look—well, heavy, for one. They’re incredibly padded, and he guesses they’d have to be as noise-cancellers. They’re supposed to be the best, capable of blocking every noise out.

He climbs into bed and puts them on, with the television going in the background. As soon as he lets the headphones cover his ears, the sound of the anchorman drops to zero, and he can’t hear the guy talking at all. He can’t hear the buzz of the air conditioner, or whatever sounds he must be making as he shifts on the blankets and pulls at the sheets.

It’s weird as fuck. He tries to watch the news—tries to understand what they’re saying just from their hands, their mouths, their expressions. There are words across the bottom of the screen that help, but it’s harder than he was expecting to keep up, and he has no idea if he’s right or not, about it, because there’s no way to check unless he takes off the headphones.

Which: he can, so he does, and the sound is jarring when he can suddenly hear again.

He puts the headphones on the edge of the desk, reaching at the same time to snap the television off. He checks his phone before going to sleep, and has two new messages: one from Sharpy, a picture of his dog that he’d sent to everyone on the team, drooling, like he always is, and one from Patrick, informing him that he’d be there in the morning for the promised breakfast of champions.

Jonny lets his head fall back on his pillows.

Right, he thinks, he’d walked right into that one.

 

Patrick knocks on the door early the next morning, and while Jonny’s already up, it still feels too early. Patrick grins, walking in, and looks up at Jonny’s face to ask, “What’s for breakfast, Captain?”

Jonny, as deadpan as he can manage, says, “Eggs.” He breaks, after a second, as Patrick keeps looking at him, and adds, “Go sit down, Jesus.”

He’d only just started the bacon, since he likes it crispy enough that the eggs and toast get cold if you cook it last, and Patrick drums his fingers on the table while he waits, watching Jonny wander around his kitchen, cooking. He has some peppers cut up for the omelets, and orange juice out on the table.

He knows Patrick prefers strawberry, but that’s what he gets for making Jonny do all the hard work.

Patrick comes up right behind him, at one point, reaching over to steal a piece of bacon and stuff it in his mouth before Jonny can steal it back. He doesn’t even bother yelling, because Patrick isn’t looking at him—he has his eyes on the food. Jonny bumps him and sticks his thumb back at the table.

Jonny’s been figuring out what works, and pointing is a universal standard everybody understands. Same with facial expressions, until you meet really fucking weird people, and then you’re shit out of luck. Patrick waves his hand, like, yeah, yeah, okay, and Jonny goes back to making sure the eggs don’t burn.

He’s putting them on plates and dropping them on the table when Patrick comes out of his room, obviously having been snooping, with the noise-cancellers in his hands. He says, “What are these huge fucking things?” with a little awe in his voice.

“Uh,” Jonny starts, because Patrick knows he’s taking ASL-type classes back home, that’s not—

This is different. Jonny just wanted to see what it felt like; what it must be like, for Patrick.

“Headphones? I mean, yeah, headphones.”

“How loud do they get?”

Jonny spears his egg, mixing in some broken pieces of bacon, and says, “It doesn’t actually play music? I mean, it probably could.” Jonny hadn’t thought to try it, but he bets there’s a plug-in somewhere for that.

Patrick furrows his brows, and says, “Uh, I think I misread you. Unless you have headphones that actually don’t… make noise.”

“They’re noise cancellers,” Jonny says, finally giving in. “I was just curious, I guess.”

Patrick stares at him, frowning, and then down at the headphones. Then he holds them out, and Jonny puts down his fork to take them from him. “Put them on,” Patrick says, “try to read me.”

Jonny grunts, but then puts them on anyway; it’s still a weird feeling, even without the television in the background. Patrick says something out loud, and lifts his hands to sign at the same time, but whatever it is, Jonny can’t tell what it means, and he can’t read lips for shit anyway. He has no idea what Patrick is saying, and stares at him dumbly.

Patrick grins and then starts laughing, and Jonny, irrationally embarrassed, pulls the stupid headphones off and throws them on the counter in the kitchen. They make a horrible noise when they smash into the tiles, but Patrick doesn’t jump, probably not even noticing. He’s still laughing though, and says, “Your face looked so dumb with those things on, man. You were so lost.”

“Jesus, shut up,” Jonny says, and then, “It’s fucking hard not being able to hear anything. You were born deaf; you don’t know what you’re missing.”

Patrick stops laughing, looking at him sharply.

“Missing?” he repeats, and he sounds angry all the sudden. Jonny’s fingers twitch.

“I didn’t mean that,” he says, quietly. “I don’t—“

“Yeah, apparently you do,” Patrick says, standing up. He’s angry and everything he says comes out fast and tripping over the word in front of it, Patrick too mad to care about pronunciation. “I’m not missing anything, people don’t need hearing to—why are you such an asshole? You’re not supposed to—whatever, fuck you. I’m leaving. Stop trying to—whatever you’re doing. It’s pointless if you don’t even—I’m not missing anything.”

“Patrick, that’s not what I meant to say!” Jonny yells, but Patrick isn’t looking at him, and Jonny’s front door slams so hard that a picture rattles against the wall. He raises a hand to cover his face, says, “Fuck,” and goes to clean up the breakfast that’s still on the stove before he has a kitchen fire to deal with too.

 

The Preds are off their game that night and despite Patrick’s refusal to talk or even look at Jonny, they win four to one. Jonny does try to talk to him, once before the game when the boys are playing two-touch down in an empty corridor, and then gives it another weak attempt after the game is done and over, everybody heading for the showers. Patrick straight up ignores him, and Jonny frustratedly grabs his keys and leaves the building.

He hadn’t meant to imply Patrick was missing out on something, even if a small part of him guiltily thinks that it’s true. But there’s plenty of other things that make up for it, and Jonny’d sooner get in a fight with someone that tried to say Patrick was handicapped by his lack of hearing than think it himself. At least, not anymore. Maybe in the beginning, that’s what he would have thought, if Patrick hadn’t been so—so amazing on the ice, a step above everyone else with a stick in their hands and blades under their feet.

Patrick has to know that Jonny doesn’t think of him like that, like he’s only half of how good he could’ve been, if only he’d been born with his hearing.

But Patrick’s been off for a few weeks, since breaking up with Jennifer. He’s quick to grin when anybody looks at him, but his shoulders have been slumped, and he collapses whenever they’re on road trips like just going through the motions of the day is exhausting for him.

Jonny gets that way too, sometimes—who doesn’t? But instead of working it out on the ice or relaxing with the guys, Patrick’s let it bubble over. He’s pissed off at Jonny for something so stupid, a dumb comment when Jonny was too embarrassed to think about what he said in gut reaction to being laughed at.

He’s barely back in his apartment, digging through his fridge for something to eat, when there’s a loud rapping on the door. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised when he pulls it open and Seabs pushes his way through, Duncs right behind him.

“Alright, time to work this shit out. What’s up with you and Kaner?”

Jonny huffs and says, “Seriously? Nothing. We had an argument; it happens.”

“Did you tell him you’re into him? Because I swear I thought—”

“Jesus fuck,” Jonny groans, “what is this?” He looks at Duncs, who grimaces and holds his hands up. He’s not the one calling the shots here, obviously, and Jonny looks back at Seabs, who’s dumping his coat onto Jonny’s couch and pulling out a green video game case.

“Just bros, hanging out,” Seabs says, waving the game in the air. “And you, talking about your shit.”

“I don’t have any shit to talk about,” Jonny throws back, but tosses a bag of chips at Duncs from off the counter when he goes back into the kitchen and gets followed, like it’s his job to feed the fuckers who followed him home without permission.

“Chips are not gonna do it,” Duncs says, doubtfully holding the doritos, and Jonny waves at the fridge.

“You want food, make it yourself.”

He feels less than generous, considering the reason they came over is because they think he’s some thirteen-year-old with a crush that’s never gonna happen and he needs to talk about it. Living with Seabs for a whole year may have sounded good in the beginning, but sure as hell didn’t leave him with any favors. The guy knows him too well now, but just because he wasn’t in a great mood today doesn’t mean Seabs needs to come over and try to get him to spill his guts. Jonny’s not about to crack just because he brought a new video game with him, and dragged Duncs along for the ride.

“So,” Seabs starts, when Jonny settles in at the end of his sofa, grabbing one of the controllers, “the silent treatment Kaner was giving you all day, what was that about? You seemed pretty settled after the whole Jennifer thing, even if you were a sad fucking mess while he was dating her—”

“Christ, do you ever stop talking or do you just load up on crap before visiting? I swear to God, Seabrook.”

“I’m just here to help, man,” Seabs says, eyes wide like he’s innocent in this whole thing. “Sharpy said something about you, uh, taking it too far, maybe, with the whole crush thing.”

That—

Jonny actually wasn’t expecting that.

“What? I don’t even—don’t call it a crush, jeez. And what do you mean, taking it too far? What the fuck? I didn’t even do anything. Patrick got pissed because I said something about him not knowing what it’s like to hear—it wasn’t even that fucking bad.” But if Patrick’s complaining to Sharpy about him, about the way he acts—

It feels like cold water being poured down his spine.

Duncs interrupts when he comes back in the room, balancing sandwiches, chips and some pre-cut fruit in his hands, and says, “Technically, he never said it was about the crush thing. More the deaf thing. We all respect the kid, doing what he does, but you’re fucking learning another language for him.”

Yeah, Jonny’s been chirped for it hundreds of times already, even had questions from beat reporters, asking if it was just another reason for the team to call him Captain Serious, going out of his way to learn signs like he is. Jonny’d sort of played into it, because it made sense, but Duncs is right: it’s not like Jonny’s gone out of his way to learn Russian or Swedish, and he’s got teammates from both countries right now.

The only reason he cared enough to learn ASL was because it was Patrick who already knew it; Patrick that Jonny wanted to get closer to. Learning to sign—learning Patrick’s actual first language—was the tool he’d chosen to do it with, when hockey somehow wasn’t enough, when sharing a room on the road wasn’t enough, when Jonny still wanted more.

“Not that that’s a bad thing,” Seabs adds. “It’s awesome, seriously. Everybody knows Kaner appreciates it. Just maybe tone it down, some.”

“Wait,” Duncs says, swallowing a grape and clearing his throat, “go back to the fight. Were you being an asshole? It kind of sounds like you were being an asshole.”

“You two are the assholes,” Jonny snaps. He has the worst fucking friends. “Thanks for the advice; I’ll apologize. Are you leaving now?”

Duncs motions at his sandwich and then reaches for one of the game controllers, picking through the character selections on the screen one-handed. Jonny sighs and sits back, resigned to waiting them out. He can’t keep his foot still, incessantly tapping against the floor, fingers twitching at his side.

He did start learning ASL for Patrick, but it was because they were fucking friends, and it was only fair to give it his best shot when Patrick spent every day reading his entire team’s mouths, watching to see if he was being talked to, on constant look-out. They’re friends, teammates, and it wasn’t so hard, really, to learn what he could. It wasn’t because of the way Patrick makes his breath catch on the ice, or the way his cheeks dimple when he grins, or the way his voice sounds when he’s making fun of Jonny for something stupid.

That stuff is all true, but it’s irrelevant to why he’s learning ASL now. It’s more than that, now—it’s just fun. He likes learning the new signs, the meanings behind them and how to use them, quicker and with more confidence the more he practices. He’s always liked languages, English, sure, but French too, when his mom would talk to him and David, laughing at their dad’s unfortunate accent.

He talks to her in French when she calls, defaults into it as easily as breathing.

Maybe it’s just to prove it to himself, but when Duncs and Seabs finally allow Jonny to shove them out his door, he grabs his jacket and shoves on his shoes, dropping his wallet and keys into his pocket and heads downstairs to his car. He’s not even sure if that bar he and Patrick had gone to a few months earlier is still open, if it’s a night for deaf or hearing patrons, but he keeps driving, pulling into the lot after twenty minutes of skidding around traffic.

There’s music playing loudly, but he can tell it’s what he’s looking for easily anyway—nobody’s talking, that he can hear, and hands are up, flying quickly. He pushes his way to the bar, bypassing the billiards table where three guys are silently arguing about something or other.

The bartender looks at him, and Jonny lifts his hand up to order something easy, just a beer on tap. He just wants to prove that he can; he started because of Patrick, sure, but it’s more than that now, and working on it—memorizing words and being fucking determined to gain the speed and deftness of hand that he’s seen demonstrated by Patrick, by Donna and Erica and anybody else he’s met, over the last two years, who can do it; it’s about him, now.

It isn’t some desperate plea to get Patrick to pay attention to him. It never was, and Seabs can go fuck himself if he thinks otherwise. He’s not going to tone it down, stop giving it his all.

“God,” Jonny mutters, tipping his head back and rubbing at his face.

He’s tapped on the shoulder, and looks back at a girl, long blonde hair and dark brown eyes, smiling and shifting her hands into a familiar hello.

After a second, he smiles back.

 

The problem, of course, is that Patrick shows up in the morning, halfway to apologizing before Jonny can say a word, and Elle comes stumbling out of his bedroom, absently buttoning up her shirt before realizing there’s another person in the room. She pulls it tighter when she does, startled and covering her cleavage. Jonny winces as Patrick’s voice tapers off mid-sentence as he stares at her in what looks like surprise.

“Uh,” Jonny starts. Somehow, despite being roommates and practically living out of each other’s pockets for almost two years, now, neither of them has ever walked in on the other during a hook-up, or during the awkward morning-after.

Elle darts around Jonny to grab her heels off the floor where they’d been kicked off last night on the way to the bedroom, and she sits down on the edge of the sofa to pull them on. She signs at him, patiently slow like she was last night, easing Jonny’s hands into different shapes, signs, and then even slower, easing his hands down her thighs.

I’m going to go, is the clear message, and Jonny nods, managing to nod and wave as she leaves. It's lucky it's a universal way to say goodbye, because he seems to have blanked on how to sign anything else. Somehow, Jonny doesn’t think he’s going to see her again, despite the fact that they’d had a pretty good time. He was going to make breakfast—kiss her good morning and ask for her number, but Patrick showing up has changed the situation.

Jonny’s not even sure why, except for the pounding in his chest; the stupid feelings that threaten to swallow him up whenever Patrick comes around.

Patrick still hasn’t said anything.

“Uh, hey,” Jonny says, finally, after the front door shuts with a solid click. He has to clear his throat.

Patrick just nods, finally, and then shakes his head. He licks his lips and, voice a little rough, says, “I just came over to apologize. About yesterday. Morning. I overreacted.”

“I shouldn’t have said it,” Jonny says back immediately. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I know,” Patrick says, shuffling in place. After a minute, “You picked up? I didn’t even know you went out last night.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, rubbing self-consciously at his neck, “I wasn’t going to. I just sort of ended up at that bar, the one we went to a couple months ago?”

Patrick nods slowly, looking at Jonny, face blank. Jonny fidgets, feels like he’s done something wrong, even though he hasn’t, really, except for yesterday at breakfast, but that isn’t what they’re talking about anymore.

“Yeah,” Patrick says, finally.

Awkward, Jonny nods at the game system, left out from yesterday, “You up for a game? Seabs left the DC vs. Capcom game in the player. You’ve been, uh, wanting to play for a while, haven’t you?”

Patrick mentioned it a couple weeks ago, how he wanted to play just so he could kick Jonny’s ass as Batman.

But now Patrick shakes his head, and says, “No, thanks. I’ve got stuff to do today. I should go, actually.”

“Oh, right. See you at practice.”

Jonny waits for him to leave, and then thumps his head against the back of the door.

 

Practice goes alright, even if Patrick is still quieter than usual – but it’s not just with Jonny. He brushes Sharpy and Burish off when they steal the puck off him during a minute of down time, and doesn’t stick around to practice his shooting towards the end. Jonny ends up jogging after him when they’re done, grabbing his elbow and raising his eyebrows.

“You okay?”

Patrick sighs, but shoots Jonny a small smile, and signs, Fine.

“Want to grab something to eat? Something quick.”

Patrick deliberates, for a minute, but answers with, “Taco Bell?” and it’s not exactly what Jonny would have picked, but he doesn’t have a problem with it necessarily.

Patrick drives and they go in to order, getting a dozen soft tacos each, and spreading them out on one of the tables to eat. It’s pretty loud; there’s a birthday party in the corner, Jonny thinks, if the cake and stack of gifts are anything to go by. None of the kids pay him and Patrick any mind, and Patrick wouldn’t care about the noise anyway. Jonny can deal with it.

He reaches for one of the tacos, only to get his hand swatted at.

“That one’s mine,” Patrick says, carefully separating them. Jonny doesn’t particularly see why it matters; they’re all basically the same thing. But he nods, and waits for Patrick to finish coordinating.

“You done?”

“Yep,” Patrick says, grinning, and takes such a big bite out of his taco that some of the beans and meat falls out of the end. “You ready for the Oilers on Saturday?”

 

Three days later, Savard gets fired.

Jonny wasn’t expecting it, even though it’s not a surprise, exactly. Head coaching positions are hard to hold onto, especially when the team is just falling short of reaching the Stanley Cup, again and again. Jonny wasn’t all that attached to Savard, not really; he was a good coach, as far as it went, and they got along well enough, but Kaner’s the one the news hits the hardest.

He ends up crying and wiping at his eyes in the locker room, and no matter who tries talking to him, even familiar guys like Sharpy and Burs... Jonny can tell Patrick’s having too hard of a time reading their lips to really be able to answer. There's no way he could answer well, not with the way he’s crying, his voice rough from it.

Jeremy is there, and he interprets Patrick’s answers for the reporters throughout the entire interview—something neither he nor Shawna has had to do in ages, and the reporters obviously find it just as unsettling as the rest of the Hawks do. As soon as the reporters are gone, Jonny’s turning to lift his hands, and sign You okay?

Patrick wipes at his eyes again, red and puffy, and then signs back, Yeah. He says it out loud too, maybe for Sharpy’s benefit, who’s hovering behind him.

Patrick ends up coming back to Jonny’s after, and Jonny doesn’t realize anything is up except for Patrick not feeling like being alone, until they walk through the door and Patrick looks at Jonny seriously, and starts to sign. It isn’t fair.

Before Jonny can think of anything to say, and then think of the signs to say it, Patrick adds I feel so dumb, sometimes, and sits down on the couch, leaning back and just—he looks so fucking tired, Jonny doesn’t know what to do. His hands flop down on the couch next to him, not signing anymore.

“What—“ Jonny starts, but the word sounds too loud and out of place in the otherwise quiet apartment. He swallows, and signs instead: what do you mean?

Patrick makes a frustrated motion with his face, his shoulders—that way he has, of showing his emotions with his entire body, like he’s feeling so much that he can’t contain it at all. Then he sighs, and signs, It’s hard, being around hearing people all the time. I feel dumb.

It takes Jonny less than a second to parse through the signs, and he shakes his head, because what Patrick's saying is ridiculous.

And left out, Patrick adds, but almost looks embarrassed when he does.

Why?

You didn’t invite me out last week, Patrick signs, finally, and he darts his eyes away, even though Patrick—he almost never does that. Jonny rubs the back of his neck. He doesn’t know what to say—that was the guys, trying to talk to him about Patrick, Seabs sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Of course they wouldn’t have invited Patrick. Any of you, Patrick adds, and Jonny gets the feeling that Patrick might be bitter about it.

It’d be easier to read him if he was talking out loud, but Jonny thinks he can tell, anyway.

Sorry, Jonny signs, haltingly. He wants to get this right. It wasn’t personal. No, it was. But for me, not you. They wanted to talk to me about— He stops, struggling for a verb that doesn’t give everything away, and settles for —something.

Okay, Patrick signs back, after a second, but why did you go to the bar without me? You can’t just— something Jonny doesn’t quite get — deaf girls, like that. Did you even get her number? It’s too easy to take advantage for you—

“Stop, stop,” Jonny says, holding a hand up. This is important; he doesn’t want to screw it up by signing the wrong thing, so he sits down on the ottoman, across from Patrick, to be at a better height for him to read his lips. “I would have, probably, but you walked in on us. She wouldn’t have given me shit. But Patrick, you have to know I wouldn’t do that. I went because—I don’t know. I wanted to know if I could do it. You’re so fucking tolerant, sometimes, and you never tell me when I’m getting shit wrong—”

“I tell you all the time,” Patrick protests, both aloud and with his hands.

“Not enough.”

“Nothing’s ever enough for you,” Patrick grumbles, not bothering to sign it; he crosses his arms instead.

Jonny shrugs. “There’s no point in learning something if you’re about to half-ass it.”

Patrick sighs, heavy, and says, “Yeah, and it’s—great. But I don’t like being left out. I’m already left out so much—“

“What? No, Patrick, we don’t—“

“Not on purpose,” Patrick says, “but sometimes you still don’t look at me when you’re talking, or you talk about something I didn’t get the first half of, and sometimes people laugh and I have no idea why, and I'll ask, but everybody just says 'never mind', and— And then you go out without even inviting me, and I just feel—and they fired Savvy, and it just, it sucks.”

Jonny’s shoulders slump as Patrick talks, because none of that—he can’t do anything about it. He can imagine the feeling, of being on the outside of an inside joke, of missing something everyone around you gets, and having to ask somebody to repeat it, even though it wouldn’t be as funny the second time around. He hates that Patrick has to deal with that, with his team, like that.

I’m sorry, he signs, finally, because there’s nothing else he can do, nothing else he can say. He feels fucking helpless.

They end up watching an old re-run of M.A.S.H. because the subtitles on the Friends re-run were too awful to bother with, and neither of them is really willing to get up and put an actual movie in. Patrick elects to sleep in Jonny’s guest room, and when he gets up, he opens his mouth like he’s going to say something. But he shakes his head, smiles a little sadly, and says, “Night, Jonny. Remember to wake me up before you go anywhere.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, “night, Kaner.”

 

Patrick gets a goal in the next game, an assist off of Jonny and Seabs, and that seems to cheer him up. It helps, probably, that even Jonny can feel the rumble through the arena, tucking his face into Patrick’s neck as he wraps him up in a hug after, blocking the audience from sight. Patrick’s glove’s come off, fallen somewhere on the ice. Jonny’s is loose enough that he can shake it off and wrap his hand around Patrick’s wrist, pressing his thumb over Patrick’s pulse, feeling the way it’s thrumming under his skin, so fast. He can still hear the goal horn sounding; the music and screaming fans, but he can feel it too, and that’s what matters, right then—that he knows Patrick knows how amazed everyone is by him, by his fucking hands, his talent on the ice.

Patrick looks at him, eyes bright and wide, face red, and Jonny jumps at him again, getting his arms up and making Patrick laugh when Sharpy comes at him from the other side at the same time.

The thing is, it’s not going as well at practice. Patrick fumbles through a simple drill, goes in the wrong direction more than once and has to ask, a couple times, what it is they’re even doing, like he doesn’t know, like he hasn’t done it a thousand times. The new coach, Quenneville, is losing his patience and that just makes Patrick mess up more. Jonny winces when Kaner pulls a wrist shot on goal, when he’d been told to slap shot it.

It doesn’t matter that Khabibulin misses it; Q walks over and starts in on Patrick, and that’s—good. He’s not giving Patrick any special treatment, like Savard had tended to, but at the same time, Jonny kind of wants to punch him in his dumb fucking mustache.

And then blinks, because fucking duh.

After the next play Q goes over on the whiteboard, Jonny watches Patrick squint, tilting his head, and yeah, it’s the mustache. Patrick can’t see Q’s mouth to read what he’s saying. Jonny remembers Patrick complaining about it early on when they’d first met—about accents, beards and mustaches, and people who don’t look at you when they’re talking.

He grabs Patrick after the play and without asking starts explaining what Q had wanted, as quick and easy to understand as he can, so that they don’t hold up practice. Patrick nods back when Jonny’s done and says, “Thanks. It’s, uh, hard, with the mustache, you know,” and then skates off and does exactly what he’s supposed to in the face-off circle, knocking a pass back to Sharpy. Q nods, but doesn’t smile.

Jonny’s not particularly surprised when Q gestures for him to stay after practice, and he skates over already knowing what the question’s going to be. He feels determined—it’s not Patrick’s fault he’s having issues, and if Q tries to imply anything—

“You have to do that often?” Q asks, nodding his head toward where the guys are filing off the ice. He doesn’t say it specifically, but Jonny knows he’s talking about Patrick. It probably wasn’t subtle, Jonny grabbing him after every diagram of play, and them standing there and talking for a minute before letting practice keep going. Q’s holding onto his clipboard, but at least he seems to be genuinely asking. Jonny has to wonder, then, if Q’s ever worked with a deaf player before, or even somebody that was hearing impaired. Probably not; maybe he deserves some slack too.

“Kaner can’t really read your lips because of your, uh, mustache, there,” Jonny says, slowly, trying not to say anything dumb. He hasn’t talked with Q enough yet to really know how he operates. He seems like a nice guy who knows his stuff, but Jonny’s not betting on anything just yet. “He’s great as long as he knows what he’s supposed to be doing,” Jonny adds, because it’s true, and he feels like it needs to be said. The fact that communicating isn’t easy… Patrick’s talent more than makes up for it.

Q lifts a hand to his mustache, tugging on it, and then nods, still looking serious, and says, “Alright. Good to know. You’re the captain, Toews. If there are any other problems with anybody on this team, you let me know about them.”

Jonny nods, because yeah, he’ll take care of his guys, for sure—that’s his job, that’s why they gave him the ‘C’ even though there are plenty of guys that have been there longer than him—and then skates off to catch up with his team.

 

He should have been expecting something, but he wasn’t expecting Q to walk in to practice a day later with his mustache just—gone. Patrick stares, along with everybody else, and then spins around, looking straight at Jonny. Jonny just shrugs, helplessly. He had no idea Q would do that, but he’s impressed and to be honest, pretty pleased about it.

“What are you all looking at? On the blue line, now!” Q blows his whistle and everyone scrambles, still giving each other incredulous looks. Patrick skates over to stand next to Jonny, bumping him and grinning when Jonny looks. Jonny can’t help but grin back before the bag skates start and he has to concentrate on skating.

Patrick doesn’t have a problem with any of their drills the entire practice.

 

Playoffs in Chicago cause a bit of a stir when they start up. For starters, in the past eleven years, the Blackhawks have only made the playoffs once, and they burned out in the second round. Making the playoffs is pretty big for them as a team, as a franchise—hell, as a city. They’re bringing hockey back in a way Jonny’s always known he wanted to, but—but it’s different to actually start doing it, to watch the seats fill up because of what you and your teammates are doing.

But the big thing is that not a single guy on their team is growing a beard. Playoff beards are a tradition—and everybody knows how hockey players, or athletes in general, can be about shit like that. But apparently Coach Q set a precedent for them.

Sharpy claps Patrick on the back, says, “Life would be terrible if you couldn’t understand what I was saying, Peekaboo. Terrible.

Patrick turns away but he’s smiling bigger than ever, and when he thanks everyone later on, ends up crying and having to rub at his eyes to get it to stop before everyone can start chirping him for it. He signs shut up and everyone on the team, even the newer guys, know that one by now, so it just gets him more jibes and chuckles, people trying to grab him and mess with his hair.

Jonny stays out of it, grinning off to the side.

He really loves this team.

 

They don’t end up winning the Cup, or even top their conference, and it’s like pressing a bruise when they have to sit down and fucking talk to microphones and cameras after, when all Jonny feels like doing is—is fucking crying, yeah. Maybe he could throw something too, break something. He has to keep it together long enough to try and explain why they couldn’t pull it off, why they only managed to win one game against the Red Wings, why he wasn’t good enough to get them to the Cup Finals.

It’s just a mess, after. He tries to make sure all of the guys are okay and that they know it wasn’t their fault; that next year is going to be their year. Somehow, next year, they’re going to win this.

Patrick rubs a hand over his face, refuses to even look up at Jonny at first, even when Jonny claps his shoulder, and then does it again. Finally, he looks up, eyes red and puffy, like he’s trying not to cry, and Jonny knocks their foreheads together. It’s not a sign, or anything, but—but it’s all he can think of, right then.

Next year, he signs, making a circle with his fist in front of his chest as he pulls away.

Patrick reaches forward and touches Jonny’s hand, pressing it closed until it’s back in the shape of a fist. “You start down here,” Patrick says, quietly, and guides Jonny’s hands down, until they’re just above the waistline of his jeans. He moves Jonny’s hands through the motion again, slowly, and then lets go, looking up at Jonny’s face.

“Next year, Jonny.”

 

His summer is busy, as pretty much always. Jonny packs it full of golf and boating, hanging with his brother and Dan, his cousins and friends in Winnipeg that he doesn’t get to see nearly enough. He signs back up for that summer class at the community center, goes skating with a bunch of kids and somehow empties his wallet by paying for lunch for all of them, and signs every t-shirt in sight. He skypes with Patrick a few times, and Patrick makes him prove he’s practicing his signs by demonstrating pretty much everything he’s learned in class that he can remember.

He texts Sharpy and Seabs a lot, and spends most of his time at the gym with his trainer, or in his new house’s guest bedroom—the one that doesn’t actually have a bed, despite having a dumbbell set and a treadmill.

He’s ready for the new season, for his third year as a Blackhawk, by the time the convention hits and they’re surrounded by fans and media, more than the year before by half. BHTV follows them everywhere over the weekend, him and the rest of the team.

He’s heading back to Winnipeg for a couple weeks before he needs to be in Chicago for the start of the season, but he uses the convention weekend as a good time to finally buy some of the furniture his condo’s been missing. He gets a new armchair for his room, and a new bedframe to fit the mattress he’s having special ordered.

Patrick shows up right as the moving guys shuffle out the door, tips in their pockets, and signs what’s up? even as he’s falling into the armchair, limbs flopped out. “This is a nice chair,” he says, closing his eyes. “I might steal it, man.”

Jonny rolls his eyes and moves to shove Patrick out of it. Patrick grabs hold of the arms and manages not to budge, his eyes flashing with mischief until Jonny says, “Fine, stay in my bedroom all day. I’ll watch the movie on my own.”

Patrick hops up and follows him out to the living room, settling in on the couch that he himself has at his own apartment. He takes up at least three seats, and Jonny has to shove him over just to sit down once he’s got the remote in hand. He gives Patrick a look, raising his eyebrow, and Patrick just shrugs.

“Popcorn?”

“Go make some yourself,” Jonny says back, clearly, and starts flipping through Netflix to find something good, with decent captioning options.

He’s finally settled on The Dark Knight, when he hears a loud thump from down the hall.

"Jonny!" Patrick yells suddenly, voice loud and strained.

Jonny is already heading for the kitchen when Patrick meets him halfway in the hall, bouncing awkwardly on one foot with blood streaking down the calf he's not limping on. He says something, but it’s so fast and slurred that Jonny can’t understand him.

"Jesus Christ, what the fuck did you do?" Jonny asks instead, alarmed and reaching forward to pull one of Patrick's arms up and over his shoulders, helping him back into the living room where he can drop him on the sofa and get his leg up on something.

Patrick is shaking his hands, directing Jonny's attention to his calf. "Just sit down. Wait," and Patrick is biting his lip hard enough that Jonny reaches out and grabs Patrick's shoulder, making him look up. Jonny very carefully signs wait and then gets up and runs into the bathroom, grabbing for the gauze and peroxide and a white towel he’s going to regret staining later, but doesn’t really care about at the moment. Patrick doesn't see him coming back until Jonny is dropping to his knees in front of him and grabbing his attention.

Jonny signs okay?, and waits for Patrick's yes before he starts wiping away the blood surrounding the deep cut up Patrick's calf, careful not to touch the cut itself with anything but the towel. Patrick winces and his leg jerks under Jonny's hands anyway. "Sorry," Jonny mutters, but doesn't think Patrick is reading his lips right now. He grabs the bottle of peroxide and starts cleaning the cut. It's deep enough that it's still bleeding, but probably not bad enough that they need to call the hospital or anything; just the trainers, maybe, after they get it cleaned up and settled under a hefty bit of gauze.

He sits back when he's done, rubbing a thumb against Patrick's ankle.

Patrick gives him a weak smile, and then says, "That bedframe in the closet isn't really safe," while moving his hands, talking and signing at the same time like he thinks Jonny's signing is good enough that he can understand that. His words come out a little thicker than usual, and Jonny has to actually read Patrick’s hands as they move to figure out what he’s saying.

Surprisingly, he mostly can. “I could have died, Jonny,” Patrick adds, to be as melodramatic as possible, and a bit clearer too.

Jonny huffs, shakes his head, and says, "Shut up and stop going through my closets," partially because denial is how he responds to feelings of guilt, and partly because it hadn't managed to bite anyone else in the leg. Patrick's a magnet for disaster, so it figures it’d happen to him if it was going to. "I'll get an ice pack," Jonny says a second later, making to get up off his knees. He lets go of Patrick’s ankle.

Patrick nods and starts trying to move his leg, testing out how much it hurts. Jonny shakes his hand, grabbing Patrick's attention, and then signs don't, and says the word aloud at the same time, intentionally not raising his voice so Patrick can’t beg off understanding. Patrick grins, making Jonny roll his eyes as he gets up off his knees and walks towards the kitchen. Jesus, Patrick's a pain in his ass, he thinks, as he gets to the freezer and opens it up, digging through it for the icepack.

“You know,” he says, coming back into the room after bringing his hand up to catch Patrick’s attention, “what would you do if you got hurt on your own? If you weren’t here, I mean. You can’t really call 911 can you?”

Patrick shrugs and says, “My phone’s set up to automatically go through Skype. And there’s a special number in my contacts somewhere for emergencies that uses video service. I’m good. Don’t worry about it.”

He nods at his phone, lying on the ottoman, but Jonny just scowls.

“Yeah, just don’t have any emergencies, alright?”

“Hear, hear,” Patrick says, grinning, and reaches up for the cold pack.

 

They’re just under twenty games into the season, and Jonny’s not sure how it happens. One minute he’s digging through his fridge to find a redbull he’d hidden before the guys had come over, and the next—

The next he has Patrick pressed against the refrigerator door, magnets displaced on the kitchen floor, and Patrick’s mouth under his, kissing him back for all he’s worth. The thing is, Jonny didn’t mean for this to happen; hadn’t even thought of it, about the idea of just… ambushing his best friend as soon as everybody left. But Patrick had walked in the kitchen, barefoot and smirking, signing feed me, asshole, and Jesus, Jesus, Jonny just—

Jonny just kissed him, and Patrick closed his eyes and kissed back.

They’re both hard in their sweats, obvious and grinding against one another already; fuck, Jonny wants to get out of his kitchen before this is what he ends up thinking about every time he wants a goddamn sandwich. He says it against Patrick’s neck when he finally breaks his mouth away, just, “Fuck, Pat, let’s—let’s move,” and Patrick can’t understand him, but Jonny can feel it when he tightens his fists in Jonny’s shirt and swallows. Then they’re pushing and prodding at one another, leaving their clothes behind in a trail as they scramble to get past Jonny’s bedroom door, into the room and on his bed.

All Jonny can think is fuck, this is happening.

When Jonny’s thought of this—when he’s let the shame and guilt slip away long enough to let his imagination drift, he’d thought it’d be so quiet, no point in talking when he’d rather be kissing Patrick’s mouth, no way to sign and run his hands all over the warm skin of Patrick’s hips and back and ass at the same time. It always got him off, thinking about it.

But there’s nothing about Patrick that’s silent, and he should’ve known that’d stay the same when he had him on his bed, pressed down into the sheets and thrusting his hips up to meet Jonny’s and provide the friction they both need and want. Every time Jonny so much as moves, Patrick’s breath hitches, loud and audible; and not being able to hear doesn’t stop him from tipping his head back and cursing when Jonny wraps a hand around his dick, smearing pre-come around with the tip of his thumb, just under the swollen head.

Jonny should’ve known it’d be like this. They aren’t talking, like he usually does when he has sex, but with Patrick, there’s just so much more to communicating than words. It’s everything—talking and feeling and body movement and sign language, the looks they send each other and the things they don’t say but understand anyway. All of it’s wrapped together, and Jonny’s not sure how Patrick’s the only one who knows him, who just looks at him and understands, but he is.

Fuck, Patrick—

He says it out loud, and feels the vibration in Patrick’s chest and neck before he hears the short laughter, a giant smile on Patrick’s face when he says, “Yeah, okay,” and lifts his hips before grabbing one of Jonny’s pillows and settling on top of it. “Lube?” Patrick asks, and Jonny can barely concentrate on what he even means, he’s just.

Patrick is naked on his bed, all strong muscles and pale skin and messy, dirty blonde curls everywhere Jonny looks.

Jonny hates to move long enough even to find the supplies he needs to press him into the sheets; to kiss at Patrick’s jaw and push into him, slick and hard and fast enough to make him whine. That’s what Jonny wants—to hear the noises spill out of Patrick’s mouth, like he can’t help it. He moves anyway, reaching for the lube and struggling to get the condom out of the packet.

Patrick is pulling on his dick impatiently as Jonny fumbles with the condom, hands shaking like he’s a virgin again, seventeen and high off a championship win.

He reaches down to push Patrick’s hands away from his dick. Jonny wants to be in charge right now, wants to do that for Patrick, wants to get him off and make him come, wants to fuck him until they both come like that. Somehow, instead, he ends up wrapping his fingers around Patrick’s wrist. He can feel Patrick’s pulse beating so quick, and remembers when he’d done the same thing during that game against Vancouver a couple months ago, the way Patrick had calmed down and just—just looked at him, like Jonny had been some sort of—like he was important.

“Jonny,” Patrick says, and the -ny is cut off the way Patrick does sometimes, when he forgets to finish out the sounds, followed by an uneven hitch in his breath, his adam’s apple moving under the skin of his throat as he swallows.

Jonny leans over him to smash their mouths together again, licking into Patrick’s mouth and swallowing up the surprised noise Patrick lets out before he raises his free arm to wrap around his neck and kiss back, even as their hips stutter against each other, dicks sliding casually between their bodies, against slippery, slick skin.

Jonny says Patrick’s name against his mouth, against the underside of his jaw, against his shoulder and armpit and the side of his chest, mouthing his way wetly down Patrick’s side, feeling the way Patrick’s stomach contracts with every unstable breath he sucks in, and then lets out like he can barely manage it.

He’s put on a condom and gotten out the lube, but he’s so hard he can’t—there’s no way he’d last, pushing into Patrick like this, no way it’d be all that he wants it to be, needs it to be. Patrick whines in his throat and thrusts his hips and cock up when Jonny is mouthing at his pelvis, hands on his hips to keep Patrick’s ass down where he’s not as likely to get cuffed in the chin and end up having to explain away that injury to the medical staff tomorrow at afternoon practice.

Jonny can hold Patrick down; he’s strong enough.

He wraps his mouth around Patrick’s dick, drool already collecting at the corners of his lips, making it easy. He can taste pre-come and sweat, feels Patrick’s hands grabbing at his hair for purchase, and hears the unintelligible noises coming out of Patrick’s mouth, like he’s given up on English altogether, and when Patrick comes, his hips stutter and his entire body spasms like his orgasm is so strong he can feel it everywhere.

Jonny’s had sex enough that he can swallow well enough not to spill, and he keeps his mouth on Patrick’s dick until he’s completely finished, starting to soften and letting out another whine and breathless curse. Patrick pulls Jonny back up the bed by his shoulders and wraps his fingers around his dick, condom still stretched out over it. Jonny ends up coming embarrassingly fast, but he’s never not had a thing for Patrick’s hands, and can’t really find it in him to care when Patrick presses his face into Jonny’s shoulder, naked and sweaty and every sign saying he’s exhausted and comfortable and never wants to move again.

Good; Jonny doesn’t want him to.

He handles the condom, idly aware that they managed to avoid making a mess, and neither of them say a thing as they let the air conditioning cool them down, drying the sweat on their skin slowly.

Jonny wants to ask if Patrick’s going to stay; wants to make sure. He almost does, turning and pressing his hand against Patrick’s back to get his attention. His skin is warm and damp underneath Jonny’s hand. Patrick glances at him, but he looks tired and Jonny doesn’t say anything; can’t bring himself to interrupt the silence, or maybe it’s just fear that asking will make Patrick leave, whether he was already thinking about it or not.

But Patrick doesn’t go anywhere, and that’s enough.

 

“You’re out of cereal,” is the first thing Patrick says, when Jonny walks into the kitchen in the morning. He’s standing in front of the counter, bowl set in front of him, and the milk next to it, but the box of Kellogg’s he has in his hand is letting out nothing but crumbs.

Jonny shrugs, signs sorry, and opens the fridge, grabbing the also nearing empty case of orange juice. He heads to the toaster and pops in four pieces of bread, two for him and two for Patrick. It’s all he has left. He really does need to go buy groceries.

He very carefully doesn’t look at Patrick, ready to play dumb.

Fuck, fuck, they slept together last night.

That’d be fine, it’d be great, if Patrick had—if Patrick had ever—

The toast pops up, golden brown, and he grabs them by the corners and turns around, handing two pieces to Patrick, who takes them delicately and starts buttering them up. He isn’t signing, or talking, and Jonny feels uncomfortable in his own skin, just waiting for something, anything.

“Are we—“ Patrick says, finally, after a long moment, but then he stops and shakes his head.

Jonny waits, and Patrick puts the toast down, looking up. He wipes his hands off on his pants, slowly, crumbs falling. He’s wearing a pair of Jonny’s sweats, now that Jonny looks. They’re hanging a bit low on his hips, exposing the pale skin. Fuck, Jonny had touched Patrick’s hips last night; had touched him everywhere, with his hands and his mouth, taking all of him in, every last fucking piece.

Patrick takes a deep breath, and lifts his hands, signing out Are we dating now?

Jonny stares at him.

“Are we what?” he asks, dumbfounded, and doesn’t even sign, too surprised to think of it.

Patrick fidgets, scratches his neck, and then asks, out loud, “Are we, you know, dating?”

Jonny swallows, and takes a step forward, and then another, until he’s in Patrick’s space, close enough to reach out a hand and touch his waist, and say, “If you—yes? If you want. I want to. Yes.”

Patrick leans in and kisses him quickly, and says, “Okay, let’s try that.”