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Taylor is ten when he meets Jordan for the first time. They’re on opposing teams at hockey camp, and Taylor brushes up against Jordan’s side and relieves him of the puck during a scrimmage. He dekes around the defencemen and scores, and even though he automatically throws his hands up in victory, he feels strangely annoyed and upset. He skates over to the bench to fistbump his teammates, then stops abruptly in front of one of the assistant coaches and says, “I feel kind of sick.”

“Like you’re going to throw up?” she asks, but Taylor is already over the boards and heading for the locker room. He barely makes it to the toilet before he’s puking. Metres away, in the next locker room, Jordan is doing the same thing.

That’s how their soulbond is initiated. They don’t know for sure that’s what it is until later, after they’ve undergone some tests and spent a few hours awkwardly sitting one chair apart in a brightly lit hospital waiting room. Their parents show up pretty quickly, called in by camp staff, and they talk to each other in hushed tones on the other side of the room. Taylor spends most of the time panicking and glancing at Jordan, who’s reading an old issue of Sports Illustrated and looking bored. Taylor can’t stop thinking about being stuck with some kid he doesn’t know for the rest of his life. He obviously knows about bonds, everyone has one, but he’s ten. Bonding is for people way older than him, people who are ready to be tied to another person. Taylor doesn’t want to be tied to anything except hockey.

Finally, they’re called into the office, and the doctor shows them a chart that’s supposed to depict the brainwaves involved in their low-grade bond and gives them pamphlets to read.

“You’re very young for this, honestly,” the doctor says, adjusting her glasses. “But your bond is already fairly stable, even as weak as it is, and I suspect that it will only strengthen over time.”

“Is it safe to separate them?” Taylor’s dad asks. “It’s just—we don’t even live in the same province.” So that’s what all the whispering was about, Taylor realizes. He hadn’t been thinking about that. He doesn’t even know where Jordan is from.

The doctor looks perplexed at the question, but then she shrugs. “Weak bonds like this don’t usually cause any adverse effects due to distance as long as the pair keep in contact.”

Taylor watches all the adults relax simultaneously. “Well, that’s all right then,” Jordan’s mother says, patting Jordan on the shoulder. “You can certainly call each other.”

“I wasn’t the worried one,” Jordan mutters, rolling his eyes and looking over at Taylor like can you believe this shit? Taylor has to hide his smile behind his hand. Jordan doesn’t even bother hiding his own, and he nudges Taylor’s foot with his. Taylor kicks back, and for the rest of the meeting their parents keep having to tell them to stop it in between asking the doctor questions.

“Wait. This isn’t going to affect hockey, right?” Taylor asks when it looks like they’re going to leave the doctor’s office without anyone asking the most important question.

“No,” the doctor says reassuringly. “In fact, I would guess that the only effect it’ll have is making playing together easier.”

In the back of his mind, in a place he’s never noticed before, Taylor can feel Jordan’s sudden relief bloom white-hot to match Taylor’s. Taylor can’t help grinning at him. It’s nice to know that if he had to be soulbonded to anyone, at least it’s someone that gets how important hockey is.

They keep in contact over the years, at first through weekly phone calls that are enforced by their parents, then through email, and eventually texting and social networking sites. They usually see each other at camp for at least one week during the summer, and they play pretty great hockey together when they get the chance. It’s never a big deal; Jordan is just another one of Taylor’s long distance friends, all too common in the hockey world, where moving around a lot is the norm.

Of course, it’s less normal the time Taylor sprains his ankle during gym class and gets a call from Jordan later, complaining that he fell over in the hallway because he felt it like it was happening to him, and is Taylor gonna be okay? It’s less normal when Jordan has sex for the first time and Taylor wakes up in the middle of the night, half hard, with Jordan’s pleasure pulsing in the back of his head. (Taylor tries to work on closing off the connection more after that, but he can’t really figure out how no matter how many guides he reads. He eventually gives up. It’s not like it’s that much of a hardship. For the most part, he and Jordan left privacy behind years ago.)

Not all bonds are romantic. That’s something that’s repeated over and over on the pamphlets from the doctor’s office—every bond manifests itself differently. Sure, the romantic ones get the most presence in the media, but statistically just as many bonds are platonic. There are even players in the NHL who are platonically bonded to each other, and Taylor always figures that that’s how his and Jordan’s bond is.

The doctor was right, though, that their bond would only get stronger. At first the connection fades so much that Taylor can forget it’s there some of the time that they’re apart, but every time Taylor sees Jordan again, he’s struck by him all over again. It’s like a sigh of relief in his brain, the feeling of something he’d forgotten was missing slotting back into place. It gets progressively harder and harder for them to separate, and after the U18 tournament in Russia in 2008, Taylor can constantly feel Jordan in his head like he’s standing right next to him, even when Jordan is in Regina and Taylor is in Windsor.

i think the next time we meet we wont be able to leave, Taylor texts Jordan one day. not for long anyway.

yeah, comes Jordan’s immediate response. so wed better mean it.

They successfully avoid meeting up until they both make Team Canada for the 2010 World Juniors. They come in second and ruin Canada’s five year gold streak, which fucking sucks, but they’re both top scorers and Jordan is MVP. Taylor can feel Jordan’s emotions cycling from crushing disappointment to disbelievingly happiness and back again, and he nudges Jordan in the arm and thinks about Jordan’s game-tying goal, letting the elation he’d felt in that moment flood into the bond.

“We played sick fuckin’ hockey,” Taylor says quietly.

“Damn right,” Jordan says, just as soft. He smiles, and Taylor feels it like a punch to the solar plexus. He pushes the feeling to the side and smiles back.

It hurts when Taylor has to leave. They’d known it would, but knowing is different from feeling. Taylor takes comfort in the fact that two years of avoiding meeting up have made leaving at all possible. If they’d seen each other sooner, Taylor is sure they wouldn’t have been able to do it, and that would’ve been unacceptable. They both have obligations to their teams that they can’t abandon.

They hug goodbye at the airport, clinging slightly and then punching each other in the shoulder and smiling like that will make it hurt less.

“Play hard,” Jordan says. Come back to me, Taylor hears.

“You too,” Taylor replies. I always will, he means.

It’s the most painful flight of Taylor’s life. Jordan’s worry and pain throbs in the back of Taylor’s mind the entire time, increasing with every passing minute and more space between them, and when he gets to his bed, he sleeps for sixteen hours straight. After that it’s a constant but manageable pain. Taylor throws himself into hockey, and he can feel Jordan doing the same.

It pays off. The Spitfires win the Memorial Cup for the second year running, and a month later, Taylor is drafted first overall by the Oilers. He pulls the jersey over his head and stands on the stage in the Staples Center, grinning from ear to ear. Jordan’s happiness and relief is screaming wordlessly in his head, just like it did in the doctor’s office all those years ago. Taylor screams right back.

Taylor signs a contract a few days later and calls Jordan immediately after. Both of their NHL contracts now include clauses that prevent their separation due to their high-strength bond (and fuck, getting the medical paperwork for that had been a trial that included far too many incredulous, pitying stares from soulbond experts that insisted they shouldn’t have been able to be apart for those last few months), so they’re either both in Edmonton or they’re both in Oklahoma City. Taylor doesn’t want to count his chickens, but he’s pretty optimistic about Edmonton.

“Want to get an apartment together?” Taylor asks when Jordan answers the phone.

“Live with you? No,” Jordan says, “absolutely not. Never. Dumb idea.”

“Fuck off,” Taylor says. He can feel Jordan’s agreement; he doesn’t have to hear it as well.

It occurs to him, when they’re sitting next to each other on their brand new couch in their empty apartment, that this is the beginning of the rest of their lives. Taylor can see their careers like a wide open road in front of them, with the possibility of the Cup hiding just beyond the next curve.

Taylor nudges Jordan’s knee with his own and smiles when Jordan looks over at him in question. “You ready for this?” Taylor asks.

“Born ready,” Jordan says without missing a beat. “You?”

Taylor lets himself think about kissing Jordan, about leaning in and losing himself in him. He could do it right now, but he doesn’t feel like he needs to. It feels like an inevitability, one they’re both aware of and in no rush to get to.

“Me too,” Taylor says.

They have time. A soulbond is for life, but hockey is right now, and they’ve got shit to do.

-

The bar is a sea of blue and orange, cheers filling the air and drinks appearing on their table without prompting. Edmonton loves hockey, and after the Oilers’ defeat of Blackhawks 9 - 2 at home, the city is effusive with their love. Taylor had been feeling a bit out of it lately, the nine games he’d gone without scoring weighing on him, but there’s no doubt that he’s back now, baby, flying high with his second career hat trick under his belt. His shoulders and upper back are tingling from the amount of congratulatory slaps he’s gotten over the past few hours, and his cheeks ache slightly from grinning so hard.

He can feel Jordan’s presence in the back of his mind just like always. Ebs is just as happy and drunk as Taylor, and Taylor actively has to stop himself from closing his eyes and sinking into their feedback loop of sticky sweet joy.

It’s not so hard, really, not when Taylor’s got Ryan sitting on his other side, bumping their arms together every so often. “Hattyyyyyy!” Ryan yells in Taylor’s ear yet again, holding his glass up.

Taylor obligingly clinks his glass against Ryan’s, but says, “This one’s to you, man! Fuckin’ beautiful assists, we couldn’t have done jack shit without ya.”

“Hear, hear!” Jordan agrees, adding his glass to the toast. They all finish off their drinks and smack their glasses onto the table at the same time.

“Rookie of the fuckin’ year,” Taylor murmurs, knocking his shoulder into Ryan’s. “Rookie of the decade.”

Ryan smiles at him, wide and bright, his cheeks flushed bright pink, and something in Taylor’s gut twists. “Can’t go that far,” Ryan says.

“Can,” Taylor insists. “And just did, so there.”

Ryan’s smile widens. Taylor wants to press his thumb to the corner of it and then kiss him. He wants to touch Ryan everywhere and follow his fingers with his mouth. It’s not the first time he’s thought about it, but it is the first time he’s seriously wondered if Ryan would let him.

It’s not like Jordan can tell exactly what Taylor is thinking, it doesn’t work like that, but they’ve been in each other’s heads long enough that he can tell something, and the feeling of approval Taylor is getting isn’t his own. Jordan’s knee bumps into Taylor’s under the table, and when Taylor looks at him, he’s got his elbow on the table, resting his head on his hand and smiling lazily. He raises his eyebrows at Taylor, and Taylor makes the same face right back. Jordan smirks.

Taylor lets his other leg fall against Ryan’s, testing the waters, and Ryan presses his thigh against Taylor’s instead of pulling away like Taylor was half-expecting.

“Maybe it’s time to get out of here,” Taylor says abruptly. Ryan’s eyebrows furrow slightly in confusion, and Taylor scrambles to clarify. “I’m just saying that the older guys already left, and I’m getting a bit”—he waves a hand to indicate the entire bar—“tired of the crowd, y’know?”

“Your adoring fans too exhausting for you?” Ryan teases. “Can’t handle the glamour and fame?”

Taylor rolls his eyes. “You’re the only fan I need, babe,” he shoots back. Jordan makes a protesting noise even though Taylor can tell he’s not even close to annoyed, and Taylor slings his arm over Jordan’s shoulders in mock reassurance. “You and Ebs.”

“Come back to our place,” Jordan says to Ryan. Taylor waits for him to add a reason, to make some sort of convincing argument about how Ryan will wake up Jonesy if he goes home now, but he doesn’t.

Ryan shrugs. “Okay,” he says, just like that. Then, because he’s Ryan and he’s helpful as fuck even when he’s wasted, he asks, “Want me to call a cab?”

They huddle at the entrance of the bar to wait for the cab, trying to be the least outside as possible while still being outside. The November night is so cold that Taylor feels like his nose is going to fall off after barely a minute, and his gloves are practically useless. He crowds up behind Ryan and shoves his hands into Ryan’s jacket pockets, tucking his face into the crook of Ryan’s neck above his scarf. Killing two birds with one Ryan-shaped stone. Taylor feels pretty proud of himself.

“Aw, you two are fucking adorable,” Jordan says from where he’s hogging the heater above the door.

“You know it,” Ryan says, leaning back against Taylor. Taylor shivers and tightens his grip on Ryan. He feels fuzzy with alcohol and a bit reckless, and he presses a kiss to Ryan’s neck. Ryan tenses slightly, then relaxes again. Taylor thinks he maybe tilts his head slightly, giving Taylor better access, but he’s prevented from confirming that theory by the arrival of their cab.

They squish themselves into the back seat, despite Ryan’s attempt to go for the shotgun door that Taylor has to redirect.

“Oh God, it’s so warm in here,” Taylor says when he closes the door behind him.

Warm,” Ryan agrees, sounding reverent.

Jordan shakes his head at them and tells the driver their address before sitting back. Taylor becomes suddenly acutely aware of not only every centimetre of his own body that’s touching Ryan, but of Jordan being aware of exactly the same thing. It’s a sensation overload, and Taylor closes his eyes and presses a cheek against the cold window to try to ground himself.

“I might fall asleep right here,” Ryan says after a while.

“We’re almost there,” Jordan says. “You can make it.”

“Yeah, Nuge,” Taylor says. “At least wait until you’re horizontal.”

Ryan sighs. “It’ll be hard, but I guess I can do it.” He grins at his own joke. It’s adorable.

“That’s the spirit,” Taylor says, nudging him with his elbow.

The cab driver is probably pretty glad to not have to put up with their play fighting anymore when they arrive, but hell if Taylor regrets a second of it.

-

Taylor and Jordan’s apartment is just so them, Ryan thinks. It hits him all over again every time he comes over to visit, and it’s even worse when he’s wasted. It’s just so—nice. Lived in. Familiar. There’s a grocery list in Jordan’s handwriting with annotations from Taylor stuck to the fridge, and you can’t walk far without tripping over random articles of Taylor’s clothing. It’s not overly cluttered, but it’s lived in, and Ryan finds it comfortingly predictable, the same way he thinks of Jordan and Taylor.

There are multiple blankets draped over the back of the couch because Jordan likes to take impromptu naps there, and Ryan wastes no time wrapping himself in one. Ryan can see what a good thing Jordan and Taylor have going just like everyone else can. He knows about their bond and would never dream of fucking with it, but sometimes—well. He’s always loved the idea of his bond partner, of that one person who understands him completely, even if it’s not romantic. The older he gets, the more he wants that for himself. He knows he’ll have it eventually, that someday the bond will initiate with someone—maybe even someone he already knows, because these things are fickle like that. He wants it now, though, and watching Jordan and Taylor’s particular brand of ease with each other always makes Ryan ache for it.

He closes his eyes and breathes in the now-familiar scent. He’s probably being obvious, but he can’t bring himself to give a fuck right now. He can’t help but feel safe in their apartment, like the world and all its expectations can’t touch him. He figures it’s only natural to be drawn to that. It’s fine. He’ll bond with someone and get over it eventually.

“Should we put on a movie?” Taylor asks. Ryan hears the TV flip on just as he feels someone sit down next to him on the couch, their knee knocking against his.

“Just stick it on Movie Central,” Jordan says. Ryan opens his eyes just in time to see Jordan’s finger press against Ryan’s cheek. “Are you a sleepy Nuge?”

Ryan shrugs. Jordan is still touching him, and Ryan doesn’t know why. He turns his head to look at Jordan, which only has the effect of making Jordan’s finger slide from Ryan’s cheek to his lips. Ryan’s mouth falls open a bit in surprise, and Jordan pulls his hand away. Ryan kind of wishes he hadn’t.

Jordan’s face is quite close to Ryan’s. He’d sat down much closer than usual. His eyes are blue. Ryan had known that, but he feels like he hadn’t really known that until right now. They’re so close that Ryan can feel the warmth of Jordan’s breath on his face. He smells like alcohol, but so does Ryan, so whatever. Ryan looks at Jordan’s lips, because they’re there, and when he makes eye contact again, Jordan kisses him.

It’s kind of surprising, even though it shouldn’t be at this point, and Ryan is slow to react. He feels like he’s been put in a snowglobe, the air around him heavy and silent, and he only starts kissing back when Jordan puts his hand in Ryan’s hair and kisses him harder. It’s kind of a mess of kissing, sloppy and uncoordinated, but undeniably good despite all that.

“Whoa,” Taylor says. Jordan presses a soft kiss to Ryan’s lips before pulling away, and Ryan leans forward, following his mouth for a second before stopping himself. “That’s—” Taylor cuts himself off and whistles lowly. Ryan agrees completely. His head is spinning. “Do I get a piece of that?”

“Which piece?” Ryan asks dumbly. Both Jordan and Taylor laugh like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard.

“Touché,” Taylor says. “I’m a greedy motherfucker though. I kind of want all of it.”

Jordan smirks. Ryan stares, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he’s kissed that mouth. “We can probably arrange that, eh, Nuge?” He waggles his eyebrows at Ryan, and Ryan snorts at him. “Why don’t you stop standing there and staring and get over here?”

Taylor does so very enthusiastically, throwing himself down on Ryan’s other side and leaning into him. He’s grinning, his face close to Ryan’s, and Ryan thinks about kissing him. Taylor leans farther though, right across Ryan to where Jordan is, and whoa. Yeah. They’re kissing, and Ryan has a front row seat. Like. They’re right there. Ryan could probably die happy in this moment, honestly, except then he will have died without kissing Taylor, and now that he’s pretty sure that’s an option? Yeah, no.

Ryan doesn’t have enough time to mourn even a little when Jordan and Taylor break apart because Taylor immediately presses his mouth to Ryan’s. Ryan maybe groans a little, but Taylor’s lips are warm and slick with Jordan’s spit, and he’s really good at kissing. Ryan can’t be blamed for anything that he does right now, up to and including sinking his teeth into Taylor’s lower lip and tugging a little bit. Taylor lets out the prettiest moan at that, and Ryan wants to devour him.

“That was ballsy,” Taylor says softly, mouth still so close to Ryan’s. Ryan can’t stop staring at how red his lips are. There are faint teeth marks on his lip that Ryan left there. God. Ryan still can’t believe this is happening.

“Do it again,” Jordan tells him.

Ryan is no one to deny a request like that, so he does.

-

Ryan wakes up in a pile of blankets on the couch. He’s warm and comfortable and really doesn’t want to move, but within about thirty seconds it’s either move or throw up on the floor.

He makes it to the bathroom, thank fuck, and stumbles back out again after rinsing his mouth to find Jordan standing in the kitchen. “Rough, eh?” he says, holding out a glass of water to Ryan. “I’m feeling pretty gross myself.”

“Ugh,” Ryan replies, taking the glass. This might be the most hungover he’s ever been, which is unfair, especially considering that after the whole kissing on the couch for awhile thing they’d all decided that cutting that off in favour of bed was a good idea. They’d even made sure to drink water before they went. Ryan had, like, three full cups.

“I heard Taylor earlier, but he went back to bed,” Jordan says. “Think I might, too.”

Ryan thinks about his couch blanket cocoon, then thinks about his actual bed at Jonesy’s. “I’ll go home,” he says.

Jordan looks startled. “Oh, you—you don’t have to,” he says quickly. “I wasn’t trying to get rid of you.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Ryan reassures him. “I just… my bed?”

“Oh,” Jordan says, nodding. “You’re sure you’re okay to go? Do you want me to drive you?”

Ryan considers it. “Are you cool to drive?”

Jordan shrugs. “It’s not far.”

He seems sure, and Ryan trusts him, so he agrees.

It’s not until they’re actually in the car that Ryan starts thinking about the kissing. That’s a thing that had happened. Outside, away from the quiet comfort of Jordan and Taylor’s apartment, Ryan is starting to maybe freak out a little bit. He knows that he probably didn’t infringe on anything, considering they were both there and into it, but he still feels a little bit guilty. Jordan and Taylor are, like, a power couple. Ryan shouldn’t be trying to get in the middle of that.

They stop at a red light, and Ryan wonders if he should maybe apologize. That seems stupid, though. Jordan’s the one who kissed him first.

The light turns green. “Taylor and I aren’t together,” Jordan says as he hits the gas. “I mean, like, we’re not… romantically involved.”

Ryan stares at him. Jordan stares at the road. “Uh,” Ryan says when the silence drags on for too long, “okay.”

“I just thought you should know,” Jordan says. “I thought you might think you were fucking things up between us and feel guilty or something, so. Don’t, I guess. We’re solid.”

Ryan has approximately a thousand more questions than he did a minute ago. He’d genuinely thought that Jordan and Taylor were lying to avoid homophobic assholes every time they told the media their bond isn’t romantic, but Jordan telling Ryan the same thing after kissing Taylor in front of him lends a whole layer of truth to it. On that note, if they’re not together— “Was last night the first time you kissed?” Ryan blurts out.

Jordan’s knuckles turn white against the steering wheel. Ryan kind of wishes he hadn’t said anything, but now that he has he really wants to know the answer. “Yeah,” Jordan says.

“Oh,” Ryan says. He’s having trouble wrapping his head around the idea that bond partners—who’ve been soulbonded for years, at that, for half their fucking lives—kissed for the first time and then thought that kissing Ryan was at all relevant. If a bond is anything like what Ryan’s read about, he should’ve been nothing to them in that moment.

And if that was the first time they kissed, with Ryan there, isn’t he maybe fucking something up between them anyway?

Ryan doesn’t get a chance to say anything else because Jordan’s pulling into Jonesy’s driveway and putting the car in park. “Here’s your stop,” Jordan says unnecessarily. “You good?”

“Yeah,” Ryan says. “You?”

“Yeah,” Jordan says. “See you tomorrow, man.”

“See you,” Ryan echoes, pushing open his door and getting out. It’s fucking cold, even though the sun is shining, and Ryan books it for the front door. When he glances back, Jordan is laughing at him. Ryan gives him the finger.

-

Jordan crawls back into his bed as soon as he gets home and doesn’t emerge until the mid-afternoon. He still feels vaguely sick when he wakes up, which is annoying and doesn’t make much sense. Normally he’s a pro at sleeping off hangovers, but apparently this one just won’t leave. He should probably eat something.

Taylor is sprawled across the couch watching TV when Jordan leaves his room. Jordan pauses in the middle of the living room and watches until a commercial ends and what is obviously Iron Chef America comes back on.

“There’s a marathon on,” Taylor says.

“It’s Sunday,” Jordan says, meaning obviously.

Taylor rolls his eyes. “Are you going to sit down and watch? Or just stand there like an idiot?”

“I was going to make food,” Jordan says.

“As you were,” Taylor says immediately. “Bobby Flay did this thing with steak in the last episode that looked fucking obscene. I wanted it in my mouth.”

Jordan sighs. “I’m not making steak.”

“Nah,” Taylor agrees. “I think we both feel too gross for real food. That was some night, eh?”

“Some night,” Jordan agrees. He hesitates, wondering if they’re going to talk about it more, but Taylor’s eyes shift back to the TV. Jordan lets it go and heads into the kitchen.

They probably should talk about it more, Jordan thinks as he stares into the fridge. He’d told Ryan that they were solid, but he doesn’t know that for sure. He knows that they’ve been intentionally taking the romance thing at a glacial pace, concentrating on their hockey first and relationship second, but he’s pretty sure neither of them had factored Ryan into the equation. Or all that alcohol. Or that game, fuck, they were so on fire last night.

There’s practically nothing in the fridge. On the one hand, that’s good, because they’re leaving on a week-long road trip tomorrow, and they’ve learned their lesson when it comes to leaving food in the fridge when they’re gone. On the other, it’s not good, because there’s nothing for Jordan to make for them to eat now.

He closes the fridge and checks the pantry instead. He wonders what it means that they’ve kissed now. It had felt like everything slotting into place, like settling down and getting comfortable, and he knows that Taylor had the same feeling, but that doesn’t mean that they’re doing this. It’s not like that feeling has a time limit.

There’s nothing in the pantry that Jordan wants to muster up the effort to make, either. He gives up and goes to find the menu for the Chinese place they’ve decided is their favourite.

He leans against the counter and orders the same things they always get, double checking the notations they’ve made on the menu to make sure he doesn’t fuck it up. He gets extra vegetables in order to feel better about his life choices.

“Thought you were making food,” Taylor teases when Jordan sits down next to him on the couch.

“Shut up,” Jordan says. He thinks about kissing Taylor and wonders if he could do that right now. Was it only a fluke that they’re not going to repeat? Is it a thing that they’re only going to do with Ryan there, like Ryan’s an excuse? He hopes not; Ryan deserves better than that.

Jordan can feel Taylor’s emotions like a safety blanket in the back of his mind. It’s mostly Sunday afternoon contentedness, mixed with occasional flashes of amusement or confusion, probably about what’s happening on TV, and tinged with the slight sick feeling Jordan’s dealing with as well. He wishes any of that actually told him anything. It would be so much more convenient to just know what Taylor’s thinking.

They keep watching Iron Chef until the marathon ends, at which point it’s been so long that the food has not only arrived but been eaten. Taylor changes the A/V input to the XBox and tosses Jordan a controller. “NHL ‘12?” he asks. Jordan doesn’t answer because it’s not a real question.

Video games kill time until it’s late enough that they should probably go to bed so that they can be up early to get to the airport. Taylor lets Jordan win their last game, which is obvious by how not annoyed he is when the final scores appear on the screen. They’re both competitive enough that even idle video games usually spark emotion, even if they don’t actually show it.

Jordan can feel that Taylor is slightly nervous as they’re turning off the lights in the apartment, so he turns to him before he goes into his room and asks, “What’s up?”

“Last night,” Taylor says, and Jordan thinks here we go. “That was nice.”

It’s not a question because both of them know it’s true. “Yeah,” Jordan answers anyway. He waits. Taylor shifts his weight from one foot to the other and doesn’t say anything. The silence stretches on. “Which part was nice?” Jordan asks finally.

“All of it?” Taylor says. Jordan rolls his eyes. “I mean, I don’t know. What kind of question is that, dude?”

“A logical one?” Jordan says, getting defensive because Taylor is. He takes a deep breath to calm himself down and throws caution to the wind. “Are we doing this now? Or were we just drunk? Or was it because Ryan was there?”

“It wasn’t just because Ryan was there,” Taylor says immediately. “I mean, yeah, he’s hot and I wanted to make out with him, but I’m bonded to you.”

Jordan bites his lip. “The bond doesn’t have to be romantic,” he points out. He thinks it’s relevant; he’s always hated watching movies where a soulbond automatically meant romance.

Taylor looks at him incredulously, his exasperation blooming in Jordan’s head. “Sometimes I really worry about you,” he says, stepping closer to Jordan.

“Yeah?” Jordan asks, losing his train of thought entirely with Taylor in his personal space.

“Yeah, you dumbfuck,” Taylor says, and then he kisses Jordan. It’s not a very long kiss, but it’s nice, and Taylor is grinning when he pulls back. “Just because it doesn’t have to be doesn’t mean it isn’t. What were you planning to do, pretend you don’t have all kinds of crazy feelings for me? You’re in my head, bro.”

“Whatever,” Jordan says. He doesn’t know what he was going to do, he just wanted to say it.

Taylor rolls his eyes. “I’m going to sleep. Night, Ebs.”

“Night,” Jordan says. He watches Taylor walk to his room and thinks about asking Taylor to come sleep in his bed, but he doesn’t say anything. It's fine. They’re still them; they still have time.

-

Their four-game road trip doesn’t get off to the best start. Ryan gets on the plane to Dallas even though he feels even worse than he did when he woke up on Sunday, despite sleeping for most of the day. He spends the plane ride sitting next to Jordan and Taylor and across from Jonesy, all of whom keep asking him if he’s okay. By the end of the four hours, he’s annoyed but strangely feels a lot better. They lose that night, but they kill it against the Preds and the Wild, so they’re in high spirits by the time they hit the ice against the Avs.

It all goes to shit pretty quickly. Ryan Wilson hits Taylor into the boards hard in the first period, and Ryan immediately knows it’s bad, even before he sees Taylor skating off the ice with a limp arm. His shoulder twinges in sympathy, and he has a bad feeling about it every time they’re out on the ice until Quincey cross checks Taylor and sends him off for good.

They take Jordan off the ice at the same time as Taylor on account of Jordan literally having Taylor’s pain in his head. Ryan tries to pick up the slack when he gets ice time for the rest of the game, but he’s so out of it that he doesn’t get anything done. He feels stupid. Sure, Taylor is quickly becoming one of his best friends, but they’re hockey players. Teammates get injured and you have to keep playing. That’s just the way it is.

They lose 5 to 2, and by the end of it Ryan doesn’t even care anymore. He just wants to see if Taylor is okay. It’s an odd feeling, one that Ryan thinks he shouldn’t really be allowed to be having.

He gets through his media scrum and out of the locker room on autopilot. He’s the first back to the bus other than Jordan and Taylor. Taylor has his head resting on Jordan’s shoulder, his eyes closed, and when Ryan sits down across the aisle, Jordan raises his eyebrows at him. Ryan nods toward Taylor in question and gets a shrug of Jordan’s free shoulder in response.

“He’s pretty drugged up right now,” Jordan says. “They’re gonna look at his shoulder back in Edmonton, but I dunno. Doesn’t feel too awful to me.” Ryan nods. If Jordan is optimistic, then so is Ryan.

-

Ryan wakes up in the middle of the night with his left shoulder aching. He shakes it off and rolls over to go back to sleep. He needs to get a hold of himself even more than he thought if his subconscious is making him dream about Taylor’s injury.

-

They have the next day off, and Ryan spends most of it feeling sorry for himself. He feels off-kilter, like he’s missing something, but he doesn’t know what it is. He attempts to distract himself by playing Call of Duty, but he can’t concentrate. He keeps thinking about all the evenings he’d spent hanging out in Jordan and Taylor’s room on the road, wondering if they were going to do more than just hang out and being kind of disappointed when he ended up returning to his and Jonesy’s room to sleep. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, really. The making out was obviously just a drunken fluke, but God. He can’t stop thinking about it.

It really doesn’t help that Taylor’s injured now, because that’s just another thing for Ryan to feel irrationally worried about. He keeps telling himself that he doesn’t even know how bad it is, but he can’t seem to help it. He feels strangely guilty, too, like it’s his fault that Taylor got hit. He knows it’s not; he was nowhere near Taylor on the ice and couldn’t have stopped that hit even if he’d tried, but the guilt persists.

Ryan begs out of dinner with Jonesy’s family, citing illness, and it’s not even a lie. He really does feel awful, his head aching and constant nausea lurking in the back of his throat. He goes to bed early and sleeps hard. He wakes up early, feeling just as, if not more, sick. He lies in bed and stares at the ceiling for awhile, wondering why his life is like this, then rolls over and grabs his phone from his nightstand.

He has a fair number of notifications he’d missed after passing out early, but a text from Jordan catches his eye and he taps on that one first. It’s actually two texts, one that just says Hey man, and another twenty minutes later that says How’s it going?

Ryan smiles slightly at his phone, thinking of Jordan texting him just to see what was up even though they’d just seen each other and are going to see each other again today. Sry I missed your text, he types in response. Fell asleep early, I feel fucking awful. Think my sickness caught up to me again :( :( :(

Jordan replies surprisingly quick for so early in the morning. Wow, so many sad faces. You’re just as whiny as Hallsy.

Ryan replies with more sad faces. There’s no response for long enough that Ryan drifts back to sleep for a bit, phone clutched in his hand. He starts awake when it vibrates and checks it to find a text from Taylor.

Come over before morning skate and be pathetic with me. If ur here ebs might actually show some sympathy.

Ryan laughs and considers it. I dont want to get you sick tho, he replies after a minute.

Taylor sends him a solitary sad face. Ryan stares at it, wondering if it’s too late to take his no back. He’s more disappointed than he’d anticipated, the unfamiliar weight of it pressing down on him.

Come anyway pops up right below the first text. Ryan gets out of bed.

-

“I brought coffee,” Ryan says when Jordan opens the apartment door. He holds out the tray of drinks he’d picked up at Tims on the way over.

“Oh, good,” Jordan says, taking it and ushering Ryan inside. “I’m wiped, Taylor’s shoulder kept waking me up all night.”

Ryan can’t help himself. “What’s going on with that?” he asks.

Jordan shrugs, putting the drink tray down on the kitchen counter. “Got an MRI scheduled this morning, meeting with the team medical staff after that. He’ll be a scratch tonight, then we’ll see. I was going to make breakfast, you want some?”

Ryan frowns. “Uh, yeah, sure,” he says, watching Jordan struggle to tug his coffee out of the tray. “Are you—”

He’s cut off by Taylor himself wandering into the kitchen. His face lights up with a grin when he sees Ryan. “Nuge, I thought I heard you! What’s up, man? You sick?”

Ryan shrugs. “Yeah. I’m feeling a little better now, though,” he says. He hasn’t had to fight the urge to vomit once since he got here. He’s calling that a win.

“It’s ‘cause you’re here, obviously,” Taylor says, sitting down on one of the stools by the island and patting the one next to him. “Come, sit with me and watch Ebs make us the good shit.” Ryan obediently sits.

“Cereal and protein shakes is the good shit now?” Jordan asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Taylor says, affecting an affronted tone. Jordan shakes his head and sighs, but his expression is fond.

They fall into a comfortable silence. Ryan has to admit to himself that it’s nice, sitting with Taylor while Jordan dumps things in the blender for the protein shakes and then pours them cereal, setting the bowls in front of them. Ryan murmurs a thank you, and Jordan nods in reply, smiling at him. Ryan stares into his bowl and ignores the swooping feeling in his stomach.

He could easily spend every morning just like this, with Taylor’s knee pressed against his and Jordan smiling at them from where he’s leaning back against the counter, soaking in the idle companionship. He pushes the idea from his mind. He doesn’t need to dwell on things he can’t have.

“Jordan’s going to drop me at the hospital before he heads to Rexall,” Taylor says when they’re nearly done eating. “Want to ride along with us?”

“Sure,” Ryan says automatically.

“You’re not too sick to skate?” Jordan asks, concerned.

Ryan shakes his head. “No, I feel pretty good now. What about you, are you okay to play? With the whole—” He gestures between Taylor and Jordan.

Taylor makes a face. “He’ll be fine as long as I stick to my painkiller schedule and avoid getting super emotional.”

Ryan feels a pang of that irrational guilt again. “Okay, cool,” he says.

All three of them are avoiding making eye contact in the silence that follows. Jordan starts rinsing their empty dishes, and Taylor does something on his phone. Ryan stares at his hands and wishes he knew what to say.

“It’s really not that bad,” Jordan says suddenly, abruptly turning off the tap and looking up at Ryan. “Sorry,” he adds in response to whatever he reads from Ryan’s face—surprise and confusion, probably. “You just seemed worried.”

Ryan shrugs awkwardly. “I am, I guess.”

“Don’t be,” Taylor says, punching Ryan’s shoulder. “Leave it to Ebs, he’s the one who’s good at it.” He grins at Jordan as if daring him to deny it.

“Oh, shut up,” Jordan says, but he’s smirking. Ryan laughs a bit, and both of them turn their smiles on him.

Ryan actively stops worrying. If they say everything’s cool, then it is.

-

Taylor is going to be out for two to four weeks. A month, Ryan thinks when Taylor tells him before the game, his heart sinking. It’s not awful, it could be so much worse, but fuck, it could be so much better.

“Fucking sucks,” Taylor says. “But hey—get out there and score some goals for me, okay?”

“Damn right we will,” Ryan says, pulling Taylor into a cautious bro-hug. Taylor slaps his back and doesn’t smile, not quite.

“We got this,” Jordan agrees, steel in his voice. He holds up his fist, and Taylor bumps it.

They put up a hell of a fight. There’s something new between him and Jordan on the ice lately—Ryan’s been getting the same feeling with Taylor there, too, but without him it’s different. More charged, maybe, like they’ve got something more to prove. Jordan scores off Ryan’s assist in the first, but from there it’s all downhill, skating hard and fast and getting nowhere. The Preds win, 2 to 1. The loss tastes sour in Ryan’s mouth.

Taylor wanders into the locker room after all the media people and half the team have left, looking for all the world like his perfectly knotted tie is all that’s holding him together. Ryan makes a move toward him, wanting to do or say something to get that look off Taylor’s face, but he stops himself. Jordan is already reaching out to him, reeling him in with a light touch on his wrist and saying something softly enough that Ryan can’t hear.

Ryan tries not to stare at them, but, well. He can’t help it. Taylor nods at whatever Jordan said and says something back that makes Jordan’s entire face soften. Jordan brushes his thumb against Taylor’s cheekbone and leans in to kiss him so quickly that Ryan isn’t even entirely sure that’s what he saw, except how he knows that it is. He glances around the room; no one else is paying a lick of attention. Ryan stares down at his sock feet and tries to remember how to breathe.

He hadn’t realized until this moment just how much he’d been preserving his feelings by thinking of the kissing as a thing that only happened once. Seeing proof that that’s not true for Jordan and Taylor, no matter how brief, is jarring. Jordan had said they weren’t together, but clearly Ryan’s worries about changing things for them weren’t unfounded.

Well, Ryan thinks as he yanks on his shoes, good for them. Clearly it wasn’t a fluke for them, it was just a fluke that Ryan was there. That’s fine. Ryan’s glad he could help in whatever small way. Now they can be the power couple he thought they were.

“Hey,” Taylor says from right in front of him. Ryan doesn’t jump, but it’s a near thing. “Good game, dude. Great assist.”

“Thanks,” Ryan says, standing and aggressively zipping up his bag.

“Do you want to come over?” Taylor asks. “Ebs and I were going to—”

“No,” Ryan interrupts. He doesn’t think he wants to know what they were going to do. He doesn’t want to be able to picture them doing it without him there, because there’s no way he can go over there now. There’s no point in trying to intrude where he doesn’t belong, and that’s what it would feel like to him right now. Taylor and Jordan should really have time to themselves anyway. “No, I’m tired? Just gonna go home and sleep.”

Taylor worries at his bottom lip with his fingers and avoids eye contact. The pained feeling in Ryan’s chest increases. “Still sick?” Taylor asks, dropping his hand and looking right at Ryan.

Ryan shrugs. “Tired,” he repeats. “See you, Hallsy.” He waves to Jordan as he leaves the locker room and gets a confused look and a wave back for his trouble.

When he gets to his car, he just sits in the driver’s seat for a moment, trying to get a handle on the confusion and hurt and disappointment and who the fuck knows what other emotions that are swirling around in him. He feels like he’s going to choke on it all. His fucking shoulder hurts, and there’s no good reason why it should.

It’s fine Ryan thinks, shoving his keys in the ignition and starting the car. Everything’s fine.

-

“Nuge was acting pretty weird,” Taylor says. By unspoken agreement, he and Jordan had gotten ready for bed as soon as they got home and are now curled up together on the couch, a blanket pulled around them. The TV is on, but Taylor is fairly sure neither of them are watching it. He can’t get the guarded look behind Ryan’s eyes when he’d said no out of his head. “Do you think he was acting weird?”

Jordan doesn’t answer for a moment. He’s got his head pillowed on Taylor’s chest and is idly playing with the hem of Taylor’s t-shirt. Taylor nudges him after a moment, wondering if he spaced out, and Jordan sighs and tilts his head up to look at Taylor. “I dunno,” he says. “I guess he did book it out of there pretty fast.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Taylor says. “He didn’t even look like he was considering coming over.”

“Well, he said he was tired,” Jordan says sensibly. “And we just lost, he’s probably upset about that.”

Taylor sighs, annoyed. He hates when Jordan rationalizes things to the point where Taylor can’t argue. He can feel Jordan’s amusement. “Don’t laugh at me,” Taylor says, indignant. “I just have a bad feeling about it, okay?”

“I wasn’t laughing,” Jordan says, even though Taylor knows that he totally was. He’s serious now, though, the worry that’s been living in Taylor’s head back full-force. Taylor wonders how much of that is for Ryan. “He’s fine, Hallsy. He was just sick, he deserves to get some rest. And speaking of…” He sits up and reaches for the TV remote. “We’d better get to bed.”

Taylor reluctantly agrees and hauls himself up off the couch, careful not to strain his shoulder. They shuffle down the hall together and pause in front of Jordan’s door, where Jordan immediately leans in for their now-customary goodnight kiss. Taylor marvels all over again at how nice it is that they do this now, and when Jordan pulls away and smiles softly before turning to go into his room, he catches Jordan’s wrist without thinking.

“What?” Jordan asks, concerned, when Taylor doesn’t say anything right away. “Is it your shoulder, do you need me to—”

“I don’t need you to get me anything,” Taylor says quickly. “I just—” He pauses, stuck on the words, then jerks his head to indicate the way to his room. “Come to bed with me?”

Jordan sucks in a breath, the bond filling with surprise and happiness and worry all in succession. Sometimes Jordan has so many emotions that it makes Taylor dizzy. Taylor’s always the more straight-forward one of the two of them. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Taylor says. “Just to sleep, no funny business, mister.”

That makes Jordan laugh, quick and loud. Taylor smiles helplessly. “No, of course not,” Jordan says, touching Taylor’s shoulder with barely there fingertips.

It’s not that they’ve never shared a bed before, but those times were either when they were kids or when they were drunk. This is the first time they’ve done it since they acknowledged the romantic part of their bond, and it feels important. It’s different when they’re both sliding in at the same time, meeting in the middle and arranging themselves carefully so they’re touching but not so much that they can’t sleep. It’s different when Taylor can press an idle kiss to Jordan’s forehead before he closes his eyes.

It’s nice, though. Even the bond feels warm when they’re tucked in close like this, and Taylor feels himself drifting to sleep in record time. He gets a pang of sadness just as he’s dropping into sleep, jarring and out of place in the bed. It doesn’t feel quite like his own, but Jordan is calm next to him, his breathing steady, and his hand squeezes Taylor’s hip reassuringly like he felt it, too, so it must’ve been.

He’ll be back out on the ice in no time, he tells himself, and in the next moment he’s asleep, dreaming of skates scraping against the ice.

-

Taylor’s not entirely sure, but he thinks Ryan might actually be avoiding them. He and Jordan are playing really well together, but off the ice is another story. After a pretty devastating shootout loss to Minnesota, they beat Columbus in a stunning third period comeback, and the team goes out for drinks after. Ryan doesn’t talk much and then ducks out early. Taylor makes meaningful faces at Jordan until he gives in and asks Jonesy if Ryan’s been acting weird, but Jonesy just shakes his head. He’s pretty drunk at that point, though, having been thoroughly rewarded for his hat trick with copious free alcohol, and Taylor doesn’t trust his judgment.

They go back to losing after that, first to Calgary and then Carolina. Taylor watches from the press box and goes home with Jordan after, trying to push calm confidence at him so they don’t get caught in an endless cycle of beating themselves up for things beyond their control. He doesn’t think he fully succeeds.

Taylor can tell that they’re both feeling off, the apartment taking on a dismal mood, but he chalks it up to a combination of the lost games and his shoulder. They sleep in the same bed every night now, even when they don’t talk at all, and Taylor has to admit that it helps a lot. It would be better if he could just play, though. He grits his teeth and throws himself into physiotherapy when Jordan is at practice. He keeps having to be warned not to push it, but eventually his physiotherapist gives in and tells him he’s looking a lot better.

The next day they win against the Avs. Ryan plays so well that Taylor keeps finding himself on the edge of his seat, murmuring “Nuge,” appreciatively when he makes assisting Sam’s and Jordan’s goals look effortless.

Taylor waits in the locker room after the game and enthusiastically fist bumps everyone as they file in, handing out compliments where they’re due and giving Sam the full-on hug he deserves for his first star status. Gags laughs at him, but he’s grinning.

Taylor would have hugged Ryan, too, but when he went in for a fist bump, Ryan’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. He’s even quiet on the way to Calgary, despite the general air of cheer amongst the team. They can’t celebrate too hard, since they have another game to play the next day, but everyone is in a good mood and joking with each other.

Taylor really doesn’t think he’s making Ryan avoiding them up anymore, not after watching him laugh with Pecks and Jonesy but avoid eye contact with him and Jordan, but he also doesn’t know what to do about it.

There’s nothing to be done with their team around, anyway, and they get in to Calgary late enough that everyone heads straight to their hotel rooms. Taylor’s not cleared to play tomorrow, but everyone’s hopeful for the next game. He would’ve gotten to come on the road trip anyway, since his injury doesn’t restrict travel and it’s better for him to not leave Jordan susceptible to bond separation symptoms, and he doesn’t think he’s ever been more grateful for that.

“I think Ryan’s avoiding us,” Jordan says, sitting down heavily on one of the beds.

“Yeah,” Taylor agrees, sitting down next to him.

“He’s fine in practice and at games and stuff, but even then it’s kind of…” Jordan trails off, searching for words. “Off? I don’t know. I can’t really explain it.”

Taylor shakes his head. “I get it,” he says. “I feel it, too, when I see him. Which isn’t often.” He smiles wryly.

“I wish I knew why,” Jordan says, frustration evident both in his voice and in the bond. “I don’t know how to fix it.”

“I don’t think there’s much we can do,” Taylor says. He reaches for Jordan’s hand and tangles their fingers together. “At least, not right this minute.”

“I guess,” Jordan agrees, sullen. Taylor smiles despite himself; he’s pretty sure that if Taylor had an idea of what to say to Ryan, Jordan would want to go hunt him down and fix it immediately.

“Hey,” Taylor says, squeezing Jordan’s hand. “Let’s think about other things, eh? Like that great game you just won.”

Jordan brightens a bit. “It was pretty great. Nuge—” He cuts himself off and his face falls, and Taylor does the first thing that pops into his head, which is apparently kissing Jordan.

He’d been meaning to anyway, convinced that Jordan deserved congratulatory kissing, and hey—now it’s just serving the dual purpose of distraction.

It’s way more intense than their usual goodnight kisses, and Taylor sinks into it easily. He leans back, pulling Jordan with him, until they’re horizontal on the bed. Jordan moves away for a second so he can shift to a less precarious position, settling his weight against Taylor, and he smirks at Taylor before he kisses him again.

Taylor shoves his hand in Jordan’s hair to ground himself but lets Jordan take control of the kissing, willing to lie back and go along with whatever he wants. It’s good, so good, the slide of their tongues against each other and Jordan’s hot palm slowly working its way up Taylor’s torso underneath his shirt. Taylor wants nothing more than to keep doing this, possibly for forever.

It’s not so much that something shifts, exactly, although that’s kind of what it feels like in the moment. It’s more of a slow realization that something’s been off the entire time, like trying to pass the puck to your linemate and realizing he wasn’t where you thought he was going.

Taylor pulls back, dropping his hand from Jordan’s hair, and stares up at him, breathing hard. “This isn’t—”

“It’s weird,” Jordan finishes. He’s out of breath, too, and his lips are red, and Taylor wants him, but.

“It’s really nice,” Taylor says, just in case Jordan decides to pretend he doesn’t know exactly what Taylor is feeling like he’s sometimes prone to doing. “I’m into it, but it’s like…“

Jordan waits, but Taylor doesn’t have the words. Jordan sighs and rolls off Taylor, flopping back on the bed next to him. “It’s like something’s missing. Some sort of spark, maybe?” He makes a face, probably at the cliche of that statement. It doesn’t feel quite right to Taylor, but he can’t describe it any better, either.

They lie there in silence for a few minutes. Taylor tugs his shirt down and then feels stupid. Jordan scrubs a hand over his face and sighs, then knocks the back of his hand against Taylor’s. Taylor knocks his hand back.

“Maybe we fucked up,” Taylor says, because he knows they’re both thinking it and he’s sick of it not being said. He regrets it as soon as he does, though, the words making both his and Jordan’s emotions plummet.

“I told—I said—” Jordan says. He makes a frustrated noise, then settles on, “I was right.” His voice is bitter, the bond full of resignation and sadness, and Taylor feels wrecked.

Taylor can fill in the blanks himself just fine: I told you so, I said that it didn’t have to be romantic. He feels sick. He wishes he could go back to when all he could feel was the warmth and safety of Jordan’s lips against his. Even without some stupid spark, that had been real. It just wasn’t enough.

Jordan rolls off the bed and walks to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Taylor stares after him, then looks down at the stupid patterned hotel-room comforter. He can hear the tap start running in the bathroom. “And I guess I was wrong,” he says to himself.

They go to sleep in different beds. Taylor can’t remember the space between them ever feeling this wide.

-

They lose all three games on the road. Taylor is cleared to play again in Phoenix, but it doesn’t help them win. Jordan feels cut loose and set adrift. It’s no wonder they can’t seem to find each other on the ice when they can hardly stand to look at each other. The bond is nothing but a throbbing source of emotional pain now. Jordan doesn’t think he’s felt this awful since they had to separate after World Juniors.

It might even be worse, honestly. Back then Jordan had purpose, had an endgame to work toward. Once the season was over, he was reunited with Taylor. Now, though—what are they supposed to do for the rest of their lives together when they’ve already fucked it up so badly?

It doesn’t help that Ryan is still ignoring them both. Jordan still doesn’t know what the fuck is up with that. The entire team has noticed that something’s off with the three of them, and after a few attempts from some of the team that were firmly rebuked, they’ve all taken to walking on eggshells around them. It’s exhausting. Jordan wants to go home, crawl into bed, and stay there for the rest of time.

He can’t, though. There’s still hockey to be played.

Jordan and Taylor take separate cars to the first practice at home and back. Ryan hadn’t been there, his stall suspiciously empty, and when Jordan asked Horcs if he knew where Ryan was, he’d just shrugged and said, “Think doctor’s, maybe? I told Hall to ask Jonesy.” Jordan had immediately felt awkward that Taylor was already asking where Ryan was and hadn’t asked Jonesy, so he’s still not sure if Horcs was right.

He’s worried, though. Ryan hasn’t been looking good lately, even from a distance, and missing practice to go to the doctor’s seems pretty serious.

Jordan is lying in bed, ostensibly watching TV but actually worrying about Ryan, when he hears someone at the door. He frowns, wondering if maybe Taylor ordered food or something, and gets up to see.

Taylor beats him to the door. “Um,” Jordan hears him say, and then Jordan is close enough to be able to see Ryan over Taylor’s shoulder. He’s wearing far less clothing than he should be for how cold it is outside and clutching a bunch of papers in his hands.

“Hey,” Ryan says. “Can I come in?”

They both nod. Jordan can tell Taylor is just as confused as he is. “What are you doing here?” Jordan asks as Taylor closes the door behind Ryan.

“I had a doctor’s appointment today,” Ryan says.

“Are you okay?” Taylor asks.

Ryan looks caught off guard. “Oh, um, yeah,” he says. “Well. That’s why I’m here.”

Jordan raises his eyebrows. He has a feeling this is about to get complicated. “Should we sit down and let you start from the beginning?”

“Actually,” Ryan says hesitantly, “I was wondering if you guys have copies of your bond brainwave scans?”

Taylor frowns. “I think we do somewhere,” he says.

“We do,” Jordan confirms. He’d been thinking about getting them framed like cheesy romantic couples do someday. “Why?”

“Can I see them?” Ryan asks. He moves the papers he’s holding slightly, and Jordan catches sight of a familiar looking sheet of lines. He freezes for a second, not daring to hope, then turns and goes to find the brainwave scans even as Taylor is asking Ryan why again.

There’s a certain brainwave that corresponds with a soulbond. It’s not fully understood by science quite yet, but one of the things everyone knows for certain is that your bond wave always matches your partner’s. Jordan’s and Taylor’s waves have changed a lot over the years, growing stronger and looking different every time they visited the doctor throughout their teens until they settled into how they are now, but they’ve always, always been the same.

Maybe I wasn’t right, Jordan lets himself think. Maybe Ryan—He abruptly pushes that line of thought from his mind. He can’t let himself go down that path unless it’s real.

Jordan finds the scans tucked inside a folder and shoved into a drawer in his dresser. He walks back out to the kitchen and puts them on the island counter carefully, side by side. Ryan and Taylor fall silent, and Ryan stares at the scans. Jordan watches him look, suddenly realizing he’s shaking slightly with nervous energy. Taylor steps toward him and puts a reassuring hand on Jordan’s elbow, and Jordan has to stop himself from sagging into it.

“Ryan?” Taylor asks.

Ryan puts one of his papers down. It’s a brainwave scan, NUGENT-HOPKINS, RYAN across the top and bright pink highlighter lining the relevant wave. Jordan’s and Taylor’s scans are highlighted in orange, but there’s no mistaking it. They’re exactly the same.

“So,” Ryan says shakily, “I think we might’ve missed something.”

“Fuck,” Jordan breathes out. He hadn’t dared, he couldn’t let himself think it, but it’s real. Somehow they’re bonded to Ryan as well.

Taylor is already beaming. Jordan can feel his relief through the bond, but there’s also trepidation there that, Jordan realizes, must actually be Ryan’s. Jordan blinks in confusion, trying to orient himself with this brand new realization. “I knew it,” Taylor says. “I mean, I didn’t, obviously, but—”

“I think we’d better sit now,” Jordan says. His knees are feeling a little weak.

They all sit on the couch, probably closer than they need to be. Ryan tosses the rest of his papers onto the coffee table and leans forward, putting his face in his hands. Jordan tugs one of the papers toward him to discover that it’s one of the standard soulbond information sheets. “What did the doctor tell you?” he asks curiously.

Ryan breathes out loudly, clearly composing himself. “I’ve been really sick off and on lately, mood swings and stuff, so I told the trainers about it and they sent me to the doctor,” he starts. “And, um, the doctor said it sounded like soulbond separation symptoms and asked if I’d met anyone new lately. I said no, not that I know of, and he said that was fine, they would still do some tests. So I had to sit around for ages—”

“Oh God, right, don’t those take forever?” Taylor interjects. Jordan shushes him.

“They do,” Ryan agrees. “When he came back he had that scan, and he asked if maybe anything had been different with someone I already know? And I… well. I asked if it’s possible to have a threeway bond.”

Jordan holds his breath. The bond feels tense, even though all three of them obviously know what the answer had to have been.

“It is,” Ryan says after what feels like forever but is only a few seconds. “It’s rare, especially if two already have a strong bond, but… I think I knew once he asked if things had changed with someone I knew.” He chokes out a forced laugh. “We’ve kind of, uh, been fucked up since we kissed, eh?”

Jordan’s heart feels bruised. It fucking sucks to look at the withdrawn expression on Ryan’s face and the dark circles beneath his eyes knowing that he had a part in doing that to him. “We’ve been stupid,” Jordan says. It seems so obvious now that Jordan has no idea how they ever missed it.

Ryan abruptly sits up and looks from Jordan to Taylor seriously. “I want you two to know that I won’t get in your way. I don’t want to fuck up what you guys have.”

Jordan stares at him. He knows what the words Ryan said mean, but he’s having trouble parsing how Ryan could think he’s in the way when there’s physical evidence that he belongs. He reaches for the bond, hoping it’ll clarify something, but all he gets is Ryan’s sincerity and Taylor’s confusion.

“You couldn’t ever be in our way,” Taylor says.

“But—” Ryan starts.

“Taylor’s right,” Jordan interrupts. “There’s nothing to be in the way of.”

“You—well, you said, but I saw… you were kissing in the dressing room? I thought… I don’t want to intrude. Bonds can be platonic, it’s fine.”

“Maybe we were kissing,” Jordan allows, “but Ryan. Why would you fuck up what we have? We don’t have anything without you.”

Ryan’s disbelief is overwhelming. “That’s insane,” he says.

“It’s really not,” Taylor says. “After we kissed that time we tried it again, and we thought it wasn’t working because something was missing.”

“It wasn’t something, though,” Jordan says, sure of this now. “It was you.”

Taylor reaches out and takes Ryan’s hand. Jordan mirrors him. Ryan clutches at them, staring down at their hands. “See,” Taylor says, “you can’t intrude. All this time we were waiting for you, and we didn’t even fucking realize.”

Ryan snorts a laugh. “Shut up, that’s so cheesy.”

“True, though,” Jordan says. “I can’t believe we left you to deal with this on your own.”

“You didn’t know,” Ryan says.

“We should’ve,” Jordan says, frustrated. “We’ve known what it’s like to be bonded for years. You had no idea. Fuck, it hurt for us, but we had each other even when we were fighting. You must’ve been…”

“It wasn’t great,” Ryan admits, sheepish.

Taylor looks furious. “We’re never gonna be that stupid again,” he says, forcibly hugging Ryan.

Ryan laughs into Taylor’s shoulder and tugs Jordan into the hug with them. “It wasn’t just you guys,” he says. “I pushed you away because I didn’t think I could ever have you the way I wanted.”

“We should’ve pushed back,” Taylor says, the bond pulsing with his indignation. Jordan thoroughly agrees.

They stay like that for awhile, silently relishing in touching each other. The bond is full of the overwhelming feeling of belong and content, and eventually Taylor moves to kiss Ryan, simple as that. Ryan makes an approving noise and presses up into it, and Jordan takes the opportunity to start pressing affectionate kisses along Ryan's neck. He's so blissfully happy that he's allowed to do this, that they're all together like this. It's such a rush after so long feeling awful that Jordan feels drunk with it.

If the way Ryan kisses him, sweet and a bit desperate, is any indication, he feels the same.

"We're going to take such good care of you," Taylor murmurs, nuzzling at Ryan's neck from behind.

Ryan breaks away from kissing Jordan in order to say, "Not if I take care of you first."

Jordan is grinning so wide that when Taylor leans over Ryan's shoulder and kisses him, he struggles to stop and kiss back.

It's not a starting over, not as such, but it does feel like a new beginning. Jordan is excited to get on the ice and see what they can do with this new connection flowing between them. They have time for that later, though. Hockey may be right now, but a soulbond is for life.