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Patrick looks—blinks—looks again.

Nope, he really did see what he thought he saw: Bryce Marcus is wearing a wedding ring.

Bryce fucking Marcus is wearing a fucking wedding ring.

Huh.

*

The media asks Marcus about the ring, because of course they do. From what Patrick can tell, listening with half an ear while he’s waiting his turn for this and that, they ask over and over, in different ways. None of which is in any way surprising, because they’re the media and Marcus was the Flames’ leading goal scorer last season, and like … well, honestly, most of the time when guys get married in the off-season, they’re more than happy to go on and on about it, like it’s a nice break from talking about hockey.

Marcus is notoriously prickly with media, and he isn’t the type who goes on and on about anything, so it’s also not super surprising that he doesn’t gush the way a lot of guys would. He confirms he got married, he says that’s his personal life and he’s here to talk about his job, shit that would be a little weird from, say, Big Z or Caster or Kenny, but from Marcus? Pretty expected, honestly.

What is a little surprising, thought, is that Marcus—Marcus who loses it on the ice and gets stupid penalties, then gets defensive in postgame interviews—handles the whole thing … really well. He doesn’t get impatient or cranky, he doesn’t deviate from his script, he’s not visibly bothered—he just keeps on calmly saying he wants to talk about hockey until, finally, they give up and let him talk about hockey. 

Patrick’s not sure what’s in the Flames water bottle Marcus is drinking from, but maybe he should get some of it before it’s his turn. He could really use some of that new Marcus chill.

*

Marcus seems different in the room, too. Like, not in a super obvious way? Patrick’s not saying Marcus is suddenly captain material, or like, a glue guy. He’s still a bit of a loner, a bit awkward, not super friendly with anyone except Rossi. Still smiles more at his phone than at anyone or anything else (which … wait, yeah, that should probably have been a clue). But he seems more relaxed, less ready to drop gloves with anyone and everyone—more ready to at least try being friendly.

So whoever he married, Patrick guesses, he’s happy about it.

That also probably explains why the gross fuckboy shit Patterson’s complained about has been completely absent for quite a while now.

So like, all in all—three cheers for Bryce Marcus’s new wife, is what Patrick’s saying.

*

It starts to get weird, though, when the new wife, who they never met before this supposed wedding, also never shows up to family shit afterwards. Like, this Flames roster isn’t the most family-oriented Patrick’s played on? There’s a lot of young unattached guys, a lot of grumpy aggressive guys—and honestly, some guys who are into, as they say, hookers and blow—and of course there’s Patrick himself, who obviously isn’t gonna be bringing a wife or girlfriend to the Flames Stampede Breakfast anytime soon. Or like, ever.

But the guys who do have SOs, they bring them around. Patter’s wife, Kenny’s fiancee, Rossi’s and Casterley’s girlfriends … and like, Marcus seems super happy (for Marcus), and yet he never brings his wife around. What the fuck is that about?

… well, maybe he’d rather she didn’t realize how much some of the guys still really don’t like him. And that’s fair, Patrick thinks, because if he was married to a dude who made the kind of contribution Marcus does on the ice, and he came to a team BBQ and saw how shitty a bunch of his teammates were to him, well, he’d probably end up punching somebody.

When he thinks about it like that, maybe Marcus keeping his wife and his teammates in different bubbles is actually really smart?

And like, Patrick’s the last person who should be criticizing someone for keeping their relationship details on the DL. It’s not like, if he was in a relationship, he’d be broadcasting all the deets. It’s just … it’s different, right, because Patrick’s into dudes.

Whereas Marcus? Marcus is into girls. Women. Whatever. Not dudes , is the point.

Patrick hasn’t seen as much of it himself as some of the others have (or claim they have), but buddy is fucking notorious for like, picking up women and bragging about his sexploits with said women, whether or not anyone has any interest in hearing about them. And sure, Patrick knows a lot of the shit guys talk about women in dressing rooms is just that—total shit that they completely made up, or like, saw porn of one time and then fantasized about—but like … well. Most guys, if they’re gonna talk shit, will talk shit about what they're actually into, right?

Like, no shade, but hockey players are not the most subtle and sneaky group of dudes? If Patrick had to bet, he’s not gonna bet on “secretly gay but putting up a super effective smokescreen” over “definitely not getting as much pussy as he claims, but wishes he was”. That’s just logic.

Marcus has been married for months now, is the point, but has still told absolutely nobody who he’s married to .

Well. Maybe he’s told Rossi? If there’s anyone he has told, it’ll be Rossi. It’s not like he talks much to anyone else.

*

Patrick’s not gonna claim to be particularly smart, but he can be curious, okay? He is   curious. Marcus is a fucking talented player, and he’s got this off-ice reputation that … honestly Patrick doesn’t understand. It’s like there’s two Bryce Marcuses, which … well, okay, Marcus wouldn’t be the only player whose media persona doesn’t match his actual self, but with most guys, they try to look like less of a dick in public than they actually are. Doing the exact opposite seems … what was it Dr Ito said when Patrick tried to talk his way back onto the ice after that last injury? … counterproductive . It seems counterproductive.

He thinks he might be onto something with his “Marcus doesn’t want his wife to know his teammates suck” theory, though. He also thinks Marcus’s wife might have a job in Edmonton, because it seems like whenever they go up there to play the Oilers, Marcus is like … weirdly happy-looking on the way up, and extra gloomy on the way home, even after they win. Which, let’s face it, they usually win, because the Oilers may have Julius Halla now, but having one really great centre isn’t the foolproof winning strategy their front office seems to think it is.

That idea holds up until Patrick notices the exact same … symptoms, he’s gonna call the symptoms, because why not, no particular reason, the next time they play Edmonton at home. Which makes no sense.

Unless, Patrick realizes, thinking it through, Marcus’s wife’s job in Edmonton is with the Oilers ! Like, maybe she works on their social media, or on their medical team, or is one of the media people that follows them on the road—some job that means she goes where the Oilers go.

And that would also be a good reason for Marcus to keep quiet about her around the Flames, because that’s like … well, maybe it’s not exactly a conflict of interest, but it’s not a great look.

Late in the second period Patrick collides one of Halla’s wingers in a pile-up that leaves him with blood dripping from his chin—the kid helps him up and apologizes, all gruff and earnest, while Patrick is feeling around with his tongue for loose teeth—and while Dr Ito is stitching up the cut, he says, “I figured it out!”

“Stop talking!” says Dr Ito.

“I figured out who Marcus is married to,” Patrick continues, pretending to ignore this.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to get back out there? But it’ll be intermission by now, and Patrick has figured out that the longer he can drag out whatever Dr Ito has to do, the … well, the longer it takes.

Dr Ito raises an eyebrow. There’s zero reason that should be hot, and yet, here Patrick is.

“I mean,” Patrick amends, “not exactly who. But I figured out, she’s gotta be someone on the Oilers staff, or like, Edmonton media. That’s why Marcus gets all happy when we go to Edmonton, right, but also when the Oilers play here.”

It takes him a while to get all those words out, because like, stitches are happening. 

“I had no idea you were an aspiring Sherlock Holmes,” Dr Ito says, with a little chuckle, when he’s done.

Patrick grins, which turns out to be kind of a mistake, because despite the lidocaine he can feel it pulling on the stitches. “Does that make you Dr Watson?” he chirps back.

Dr Ito raises both eyebrows this time, and wow, Patrick’s abruptly really glad that he was already red and sweaty because he just flashed back to some uh .... very explicit Holmes/Watson fanfiction he uh … ran across, that he definitely should not be thinking about right now , fuck.

No. Not fuck. Definitely no thinking about fucking while he is having his hockey injury repaired, even if—make that especially if—the repairs are being done by the very smart, very hot older man that Patrick may or may not have been lusting after for … a while.

“Uh,” says Patrick.

“At least try to be careful when you go back out there,” says Dr Ito, with that long-suffering little sigh he does when he thinks you’re being an idiot. “Since I am fully aware that telling you not to go back out won’t do any good whatsoever.”

“I’m fine,” Patrick says. “It’s just a little cut.”

“I just put four stitches in your chin.”

“And I appreciate them!” Patrick is trying to not look like a man with like, heart eyes, and is honestly pretty sure he’s failing. “But, y’know. It’s not like I broke my leg or something.”

Dr Ito closes his eyes and shakes his head.

He tells Patrick to come straight back to the medical room if anything else happens in the third, and Patrick gets a move on, because they’re winning this game and he doesn’t want to miss it.

He ends up next to Marcus on the bench while Gregor’s line is out. Marcus glances at him, not unfriendly; he’s focused on the play, which Patrick needs to be too. Patrick needs to stop basking in the glow of Dr Ito’s (admittedly gloved) hands on his skin and get his fucking head back in the fucking game.

*

“Matheson got you good, huh,” Rossi says to Patrick, crowded beside him at the bar after the game. (Another two points for the Flames, and Patrick’s not gonna lie: it feels pretty fucking great.)

“Nah,” Patrick says. He sips his beer carefully. “Fuckin’ Morris got me by accident with that high stick, opened up one of the stitches. It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“Shit,” says Rossi. He’s not gonna trash-talk Morris out loud, he’s a good bro like that, but Patrick can kind of guess what he’s thinking.

“You know Matheson, right? From the Hitmen?” Patrick asks, to change the subject. “He seems like a good kid.”

“Yeah, J’s a good guy,” Rossi agrees. “And like, super smart. Great playmaker.”

“I mean, you put anyone on Julius Halla’s wing and they’re gonna look pretty good,” Patrick can’t help pointing out.

“Well, I mean, Halla’s something else,” says Rossi, “but I had Jared on my wing my last year on the Hitmen, and I got a shit ton more goals than the year before, so. I don’t think it’s all Halla.”

Patrick shrugs. “That’s fair.”

Two girls who look like they’re still in high school, but that’s probably just because Patrick is getting old, come over by their table and ask, giggly and shy, for Kennedy and Rossi to sign their jerseys. One of them clearly is hoping for hand-on-boob contact, but Rossi manages to get them both to turn around so he can sign their backs, and Kenny follows his example. They stick around, try to get some flirting going. Rossi chats politely for a few minutes, then somehow manages to extricate himself without offending them and comes back to sit with Patrick again, leaving Kenny to handle the two-on-one if he wants to, Patrick guesses.

“Hey, where’s Marcus?” he asks the question as soon as it occurs to him, because if anyone knows, it’ll be Rossi.

“Had somewhere else to be,” Rossi says. He shrugs, easy, but there’s something about his expression …

… Patrick is too tipsy and too full of post-injury adrenaline, or whatever—not to mention still a little high on maybe-flirting with Dr Ito—to follow up on that line of thought.

*

Marcus looks extremely pleased with himself the next morning, which just reinforces Patrick’s working theory, and extremely like a sulky little kid the following day, so again, Patrick is obviously right.

*

Patrick’s theory even kind of, sort of, explains why Marcus looks pleased when the Oilers flatten the Golden Seals at home right after the Flames get seriously roughed up by the North Stars on the road—everybody else in this stupid-ass downtown Minny bar is grouchy and licking their wounds, like, metaphorically, but Marcus is watching the post-game on the big TV with this smug little grin on his face.

“What’s with you, BJ?” Patrick hears Rossi ask him, as grumpy as Rossi ever gets, and then Marcus shows him something on his phone and Rossi smiles a little, too, and goes, “Heeeey, nice one,” and they bump fists.

It’s weird, but hey, Marcus is kind of a weird dude. Patrick figures Marcus’s wife, like, stitched somebody up or did a really clever Instagram post or something. 

He wonders what she’s like, if she got into working for (or around) an NHL team because she’s an athlete, or a fan, or both, and that’s how she and Marcus met, or if they met some other way and she looked for an NHL job because of him, or like, some other totally different combination of things. Wonders if he’d spot her if he like, started stalking the Oilers on social media, or if she’s as publicly invisible as the Flames PR and media people generally are.

He watches some Oilers stuff, later, discovers that Halla got a hatty in that game against the Seals, and Rossi’s buddy from the Hitmen, Matheson, got assists on all three of those goals. There’s a fun Insta post about Matheson and Halla—maybe that’s Marcus’s wife’s job, and that’s why he and Rossi were fist-bumping about it? 

… no, Patrick doesn’t know why he’s so obsessed with this, except that it’s a good distraction from his other obsession. Well, a decent distraction. Most of the time. Some of the time.

*

Apparently there’s a fan theory that Rossi’s girlfriend, who is this tall intellectual-looking brunette U of C student you’d think would be way too smart to be with even Rossi, let alone Marcus—and who is very obviously dating Rossi , as in, they live together and she’s in half the pics on his Insta and his profile is literally “#LloydminsterAB boy, #11 for @NHLFlames, bf of @ashleyyc”—is married to Marcus. Because apparently the three of them have been seen together out in public! Shocker!!

Patrick isn’t sure whether to fall down on the floor laughing or facepalm himself into next week.

Honestly, like, people can be so oblivious??

*

They’ve just been shut out by the Caps, a humiliating 5-0 loss that has everyone sullen and silent as they take off their gear, when the next weird thing happens.

A callup d-man from Stockton is grumbling out loud about David Chapman—not weird, because that speedy little fucker got not one but two goals past him tonight. Patrick’s all ready to sympathize, until Stockton, who’s definitely old enough to know better, calls Chapman fucking cocksucker , gets halfway through fucking fa—  

Rossi, two stalls over, reaches across and cuffs him. Not gently.

“Hey,” he says. “You don’t say that shit, asshole.”

He doesn’t yell, but his voice carries.

“It’s not—”

Patrick makes himself step up. “You don’t. Say. That. Shit,” he repeats.

Stockton looks pissed, and like he’s expecting someone else to defend him, tell them they should learn to take a joke or some shit. Nobody does—less because of what him and Rossi said, Patrick suspects, than because it was Rossi who said it first—and he shuts up.

Patrick’s grateful, not only for the obvious reason but because, like, if he punched that asshole in his homophobic fucking face, he’d be benched next game, probably, and have some explaining to do that he doesn’t really want to.

Anyway, none of that’s the weird part: lots of NHL players are homophobic as fuck, some NHL players are good allies, it’d be great if there were more of those guys and less of the homophobic ones, but it’s whatever. Only difference is, most of the guys on this roster have learned not to be super homophobic right out loud like that, because the media might hear you and that’d be a shitshow and a half.

No, the weird part is that Patrick happens to be kind of looking at Bryce Marcus while all this is going down, because Marcus’s stall is between Rossi’s and the asshole from Stockton, and Marcus … 

Marcus didn’t flinch when he heard that word coming, but he went really still at cocksucker , like it was really important for him not to react. Kind of like Patrick did. And when Patrick said … what he said? Marcus looked so relieved .

And after, as they’re all shuffling tiredly out to the bus that’s taking them back to their hotel, Patrick’s behind Marcus and Rossi and he sees Marcus bump Rossi’s shoulder gently, hears him say, “Thanks, Big Z.”

“Got your back, BJ,” Rossi says. 

Like, Patrick’s not imagining how weird that is, right?

*

Patrick feels like the world’s biggest idiot when he finally figures it out.

Although, to be fair to him, his working theory was like … half right? Not totally wrong, anyway. Like, Marcus is married to someone who lives in Edmonton, he is married to someone who travels with the Oilers, he was keeping his SO’s identity on the DL for hockey reasons.

It’s just, Marcus doesn’t have a wife , he has a fucking husband .

He’s married to an actual fucking Edmonton Oiler.

Jesus, imagine if the fucking media got hold of that.

It happens like this:

They just played the Rangers, and they’ll be staying in NYC to play the Isles day after next. They lost 3-1, and that one goal was Marcus’s, so almost everyone else (except Dobrogosz, who’s still in the shower maybe hoping to drown) is already mostly dressed again by the time Marcus is done doing media.

Patrick is exhausted, and his bruises have bruises, so he’s just kind of collapsed in his stall, waiting for it to be time to go get on the bus, and like … people-watching. He’s not paying much attention, but he happens to see Rossi take a phone call and get a freaked-out look on his face, and then go and talk to Patter, whose head rears back in surprise. And he wonders what’s up with that, so he lets his eyes follow Rossi back over to Marcus’s stall, sees Marcus frowning at his phone, Rossi crouching down to talk to him.

They disappear from the locker room and they don’t come back.

They’re still not back when the bus leaves for the hotel, and they’re apparently not back when Coach Wally knocks on Patrick and Gregor’s door looking for Rossi.

And when Rossi does reappear at breakfast the next morning, looking like he spent half the night drinking and the other half throwing up—still no Marcus.

Patrick skates up next to Rossi at morning skate, leans on the boards all casual like. “Hey, Big Z,” he says. “Is Marcus sick, or?

Rossi looks at him, frowns a little. “Uh,” he says.

Then Coach Burns threatens to bag-skate them if they don’t quit being lazy assholes. 

“Marcus is out for the Isles,” Coach says, when they’re about to start scrimmaging. All around him, guys look at each other, like, the fuck? “So we’re gonna be mixing up the lines a bit …”

Patrick tries again, later, walking down the bus aisle and oh-so-casually dropping into the empty seat next to Rossi that’s usually Marcus’s. Rossi is frowning at his phone.

Is Patrick being more nosy than he probably should be? Yeah, maybe. Probably. It’s whatever, and he wants to know .

“Real talk, though, where’s Marcus?” he says. He keeps his voice low.

“I, uh,” Rossi says. It’s weird: Rossi’s not, like, the biggest talker, but he doesn’t usually struggle for words, either. “I … lemme send a text real quick, Patty.”

“Sure, whatever,” Patrick says.

Rossi thumb-types rapidly on his phone, frowning again. He stares at it, stares at it some more, and then it buzzes and his eyebrows like … reverse positions completely, end up halfway up his forehead. “Huh,” he says. “Okay.”

He turns to Patrick. “BJ says I can tell you where he is,” he says. “But you gotta swear—this is me asking you, not BJ—you gotta swear it won’t go any further.” 

Patrick hesitates—what is this, some kind of like, mafia or drug cartel shit?—but curiosity wins out. “I swear,” he says. “You can tell me.”

Rossi blows out a breath, like he’s gonna do it, but he’s still not sure it’s a good idea. “You see the highlights last night? You see the injury from the Leafs-Oilers game?”

Patrick did. He winces.

“Shit,” he says, realizing. “That was your buddy from the Dub, wasn’t it? I forgot. He gonna be OK?”

“Jared’s gonna be fine,” Rossi says. “But uh.” He lowers his voice a little more. “That’s where BJ is? He’s in Toronto. With Jared. Because they’re married.”

Patrick is literally speechless. Like, he could not form words right now if his fucking life depended on it.

“What,” he eventually manages. “Like … like, to each other?

“Yup,” says Rossi. He holds up a hand. “Before you say anything else, if this leaks to the media and I find out it was you, we are gonna have a really big problem .”

Rossi isn’t a particularly scary dude, normally? Like, he’s big, but so’s Patrick, and he can throw a check, but he’s not a goon, and he’s just generally pretty chill.

Right now, he looks fucking terrifying.

“We’re not gonna have a problem, bro,” Patrick says. “Believe me, I get it.”

“You … do?” Rossi gives him a look .

Patrick’s not gonna say I’m gay right out loud in the middle of a noisy NHL team bus. That would be … counterproductive. He’s not gonna do it.

Instead, he makes a grabby-hands gesture for Rossi’s phone, and when he reluctantly hands it over, goes into the Notes app and types,

I get it bc im gay

He hands it back.

Rossi reads it. He blinks. “ Oh ,” he says, quietly. “Oh. Wow, bro, thanks for trusting me.”

And he lets Patrick watch him delete the note.

“So like, I put him on a plane to T.O. last night,” he says, speaking low and quick, “and he had two panic attacks on the way to the airport, and I’ve already gotten shit from the coaches and he’s gonna get a ton of shit from front office probably, because—”

He stops, shuts his mouth into a flat line like he thinks he’s already said way too much and shouldn’t say anymore.

Well, that sure explains why Big Z looked hungover at breakfast, anyway. 

“So, uh,” Patrick says, cautious. “How long has this uh, relationship been a thing?”

“A few years,” Rossi says.

“And the, uh.” Patrick flails a little. “The whole … fuckboy thing I kept hearing about last year, that was like … an act?”

Rossi sighs. “Yup.”

Patrick sits back in his seat, looks up at the turned-off reading light and A/C thingy. “Shit,” he says.

“Yup.”

*

Marcus is back in the lineup for their next home game, against the Leafs. Rossi sticks closer to him than usual, and Coach Wally talks to him for a minute at the start of morning skate, but nobody else says anything, or does anything, or asks anything. 

That’s fucked up, Patrick thinks, so he makes a point of skating over to Marcus and Rossi, standing by Marcus while Coach is talking strategy. 

“Hey,” he says, low. “Everything good?”

Marcus ducks his head, rocks one skate back and forth. “Will be,” he said. “Uh. Thanks for asking, bro.” 

Coach snaps at them to pay attention, and they chorus, “Sorry, Coach,” and quit talking.

Patrick keeps an eye on Marcus, though. He looks …

Well, honestly, he looks a lot like that Dallas backup goalie whose wife had twins the January of Patrick’s season there: worried and relieved and fucking exhausted , like if you poked him too hard he’d just collapse into pieces like a Jenga tower.

Once they take the ice at the Saddledome that night, though, Marcus plays like someone’s lit a fire under his ass. When he gets into it with a couple of Leafs d-men in the first and gets 2 minutes, Patrick exchanges a glance with Big Z: Yep, one of those guys was Ethan Spitzer. Nope, not a coincidence.

“Hey,” says Patrick, low, when he finds himself next to Marcus on the bench a bit later. “You know it was an accident, right?”

Marcus actually growls .

“Okay, okay,” Patrick says, holding up the hand that’s not holding his stick in surrender. “You do what you gotta do. Just like … try and stay out of the box, eh? We’re not that great on the PK without you.”

Marcus glowers at the ice and chews his mouthguard, like, angrily . He does not stay out of the box.

They beat the Leafs 4-2, though, with two of those goals coming from Marcus, so Patrick can’t argue with the results.

*

The first time Patrick meets Jared Matheson off the ice, it’s at Rossi’s place, playing video games and drinking beer with Rossi and Marcus. Rossi forewarned him, when he asked if Patrick was down to hang out on their off day, texting  BJs coming too and hes bringing Jared. U gonna be cool?

So Matheson being there isn’t a surprise, or anything. And obviously Patrick is cool with it, because like, what kind of hypocrite would he be if he wasn’t? It’s just …

Well, it’s weird, okay? 

Like. Patrick knows, like, intellectually, that lots of gay people get married, have relationships, just like … uh … straight people. (He was gonna say normal people, but that suddenly doesn’t sound right?) He knows, obviously he knows, that NHL players can be gay dudes. They can even be out gay dudes. They can be out as a couple, even, although the way shit went down for Riley and Lapointe a few years ago, that’s not something Patrick’s gonna be signing up for anytime soon, thanks.

He knows all this stuff.

Seeing it, though? Totally different from knowing.

And like. It’s not even that Marcus and Matheson are all, like, lovey-dovey, or all over each other, or whatever. They’re not. In fact, the most PDA Patrick sees them engage in while he’s there in Rossi’s apartment with them is Marcus like, putting his arm around Matheson’s shoulders, or resting his hand on the back of Matheson’s neck, or the two of them sitting side by side and maybe possibly leaning into each other a little bit.

In other words, it’s not all that different from the way a lot of hockey bros just ignore each other’s personal boundaries all the goddamn time, right? Except, Patrick knows Marcus, has practised and played with him for long enough now to know that’s not how he is. Not even with Rossi, and Rossi is far and away his best bud among the Flames, the guy he spends the most time with and talks to the most.

Anyway, there’s that, and there’s the chirping, which again—in some ways not so different from the way Patrick and Rossi and Marcus are talking to each other as they take turns battling it out in NHL 17, and at the same time, totally totally different.

Mostly, though? It’s the way Marcus looks like a completely different dude than the one Patrick knows from team shit. Matheson’s a bit stiff, which like, he’s never met Patrick before except that time Patrick needed four stitches, so that’s fair. Marcus? Marcus is smiling . He smiles every time he looks at Matheson, sitting there in Rossi’s recliner where he can chirp the fuck out of the guys playing Chel but his splinted and bandaged wrist won’t be jostled by their random flailing. He smiles when Matheson chirps him, or chirps Rossi, or eventually unbends enough to chirp Patrick. 

And Matheson doesn’t really smile at anybody else, but he watches Marcus playing against Rossi, intently focused on the tiny digital Vancouver Canucks on the screen, and he gets this look, this half-smile of such unbearable fondness that Patrick, catching him at it, feels like he just saw the dude buck naked and has to look away.

What Patrick’s saying is, these are not two dudes who are fucking around and having fun; these are two dudes who are like, totally in love with each other.

Patrick’s not jealous. He’s not

Halfway through the afternoon, he ends up in Rossi’s kitchen with Matheson, giving him some tips on how to do shit with only one working hand—something he’s unfortunately had more experience with than most guys he knows, even though almost everybody he knows also plays hockey.

“Sucks,” he says, when Matheson complains about Bryce having to help him so much, and about his mom repeatedly suggesting he go stay with his parents when Bryce is out of town.

“Like, literally the only good thing about this whole situation is getting to actually live with my damn husband,” Matheson says. 

He lets Patrick spot him as he struggles to unscrew the top from a bottle of blue Gatorade, which for some reason the fridge is exclusively stocked with. Patrick guesses he’s so happy to have a new person to vent to, he’s willing to ignore that Patrick is basically a total stranger.

“And she keeps saying, like, I just want to be able to take care of you , and it’s not that I don’t appreciate it? But like …”

“But it makes you feel like she thinks you’re still a little kid,” Patrick says, because yeah, he gets it.

“Yeah, exactly,” Matheson says. He finally gets the lid off, and throws it into the kitchen sink with a whoop of triumph.

“Sucks,” Patrick repeats.

“Babe,” Marcus calls from the living room, “are you okay in there?”

Matheson rolls his eyes, but like, affectionately. “I’m fine, Bryce,” he calls back.

*

The Habs come to town, and in the last 5 minutes of the third, Patrick gets a black eye and needs stitches in his forehead.

Fucking Anton Petrov.

While he’s getting stitched up, sucking grouchily on an orange lollipop because Dr Ito ran out of the lemon ones, Marcus and two of the trainers appear in the doorway of the medical room—that is, Marcus, being held up by Salima on one side and Alan on the other. His face is kind of green, and his arm is hanging all funny.

Dislocated shoulder, is Patrick’s armchair diagnosis, because that arm thing looks familiar.

Patrick hops down from the table, because clearly Marcus needs it more than him, and watches from out of the way as Dr Ito swings into action. He tries to focus on Marcus, because focusing on Dr Ito being like, authoritative and competent with those glasses and those hands has the potential to lead to an uh … embarrassing situation.

It doesn’t completely work. Look, Patrick’s not obsessed, okay? He’s just … he has a bit of a thing for hot, competent older guys with glasses. Nothing obsessive about it.

After, a finally stitched-up Patrick offers a groggy, grouchy Marcus (and his second cherry lollipop) a ride home.

“Hey, Patty,” Marcus mumbles around the lollipop stick. “C’n I tell you s’m’th’ng?”

“Uh, sure,” says Patrick, carefully threading the passenger-side seatbelt under Marcus’s sling.

He’s not sure what he expects the something to be—if there’s one thing he knows from experience, it’s that some guys will say literally anything if they’ve had enough painkillers—but he definitely wasn’t expecting what Marcus actually does say, which is: “You should just ask him out.”

Patrick freezes. Blinks. Tells himself very firmly that of all the guys on the Flames roster who could’ve guessed that he’s into dudes, Bryce Marcus is the safest.

Still: the idea that he’s that obvious, that someone in pain from a dislocated shoulder and stoned on pain meds can tell , that’s … not great.

“Uh, what?” he finally manages.

“Doc Ito,” Marcus says. Patrick can practically hear him rolling his eyes.

“What makes you think—”

Marcus uses his not-in-a-sling hand to pull the lollipop out of his mouth. “I’m not that smart,” he says, “but I’m not blind . You like him. You should ask him.”

“I don’t—”

“You know how I met Jared? He was at this camp I was supposed to be coaching at,” and Jesus, Marcus should probably not tell people that? “and he was like, he didn’t listen to me at all and he was just so, so pretty and so snarky , and I didn’t think he’d ever want to go out with me but finally I just asked him and he did , and now we’re married .”

He sticks the lollipop back in his mouth and pokes Patrick, probably harder than he meant to, in the right biceps. “C’mon, drive. I wanna go home.”

Patrick drives.

*

He thinks about it for a week.

Thinks through all the ways it could blow up in his face.

Thinks about dropping Marcus off at his apartment door, and the look of worry-exasperation-relief on Matheson’s face when he said, “Jesus fuck, Bryce,” and how he thanked Patrick for bringing his husband home safe, and was already hugging said husband (carefully) by the time Patrick let the door close behind him.

Thinks about having that with someone, having someone to go home to, someone to give him an uncomplicated, undeniable hug when he feels like shit.

Like, it’s not even about the sex? (Although, yeah, it is also about the sex, Patrick is pretty enthusiastic about the sex, the theoretical sex, that is.) It’s like … the honesty, he guesses. 

Like, with Rossi: it’s not that they’ve talked about it since Patrick’s confession. They haven’t, not directly. But holy shit, does it ever feel good to know that one guy on this fucking roster knows this thing about him and isn’t using it against him. Like, he knew before that Rossi was a good guy, but there’s always that question, when you take the risk, that someone you thought was a good guy has some limits, and you’re on the wrong side of them. But Rossi knows, and not only does he seem to not give a shit, he’s been like, actively inviting Patrick to hang out. And Patrick’s not gonna lie: it feels good, it feels great , to have one person he can be less on his guard around.

Well, two people, since apparently Marcus is way less oblivious than he seems. Maybe even three?

The point is … the point is, Marcus and Matheson—Bryce and Jared—they took a chance on each other, and it’s worked out great for them (well, aside from a lot of front-office shit), and … maybe Patrick could have that, too. 

Maybe it’s worth the risk.

*

“Hey, doc,” Patrick says, leaning on the open door of the medical room.

“I’m out of lemon,” Dr Ito says. “Sorry to disappoint.” 

“Uh,” says Patrick, wrong-footed. “I uh … I actually came for something else?”

Dr Ito stops what he’s doing—organizing different shaped bandages, it looks like—and gives Patrick his full attention.

“What can I do for you, Mr Drake?” he asks.

“I, uh. This is gonna sound weird? And feel free to say no? But uh.” Patrick swallows, gives himself a quick mental pep talk: You can do this, bud. “I wondered if, uh. If you’d ever want to like …” You can do it. You got this. He clears his throat. “Go out. With me. Or.”

Dr Ito blinks at him for what seems like a long time. Then, slowly, he starts to smile.

“Francis,” he says.

“Uh?”

“My name’s Francis. If we’re going on a date, you can’t keep calling me ‘Doc.’”

Patrick can’t help it: he grins.

“Francis,” he says. “I’m Patrick.”

Dr Ito—Francis—holds out his hand.

“I’d like that, Patrick,” he says. “Where did you have in mind?”