When Jonny wakes up, Patrick’s still in bed. It’s a nice change from how their mornings usually go: Patrick always gets up before him, so the sound of the shower or the smell of fresh coffee is typically the first thing Jonny becomes aware of when he awakens. They’ve been living together for a while now, but it’s still a rare luxury to share a lazy morning in bed with Patrick. He stretches, eyes closed, enjoying the feeling of sheets against bare skin, his skin against Patrick’s warmth.
Jonny looks to his left. Patrick’s on his phone. Whatever he’s reading, it’s not good, and it has his complete attention. There’s a small furrow between his eyebrows, and he’s biting his nails — a habit Patrick had broken several months ago.
“What’s wrong?” Jonny asks. Patrick startles, and immediately sets his phone down. He’s not fast enough to stop Jonny from grabbing it, and Jonny takes advantage of his own superior size to hold Patrick at arm’s length while reading what’s on the screen. “Kane losing his touch — seriously? Why are you reading this shit? You know it doesn’t mean anything.” He closes the page, locks the screen, and drops the phone, disgusted.
“Yeah,” Patrick says, but the way he sinks back against the pillows speaks of resignation and not acceptance. “I just — I was curious. It’s fine, I know better than to let it get to me.”
“Uhuh,” Jonny says, unconvinced. Patrick’s still chewing absently on the nails of his left hand. “Hey, give your hand to me.” Patrick does, bewildered. “No, not that one — the other one.” His fingertips are reddened and a little damp, nails growing ragged where Patrick had been worrying at them.
“Oh,” Patrick says. “I didn’t even notice I was doing that.” His expression is a little lost. Normally he’d be putting on a brave face: not the one he wears for the media, but the one that comes out for his friends, that he unconsciously slips into when on the phone with his parents even though they can’t see him, that he sometimes wears when skyping with his sisters if they ask the wrong (right) questions. But as he’s looking at his hand, it’s clear he’s been caught off-guard by his own body’s betrayal, open and exposed where normally he’d be shuttered. Jonny hates that look. He hates that the cruel words of complete strangers can gut Patrick like this. It’s a little hypocritical of him when in the reverse situation, he’d be just as vulnerable, but this is Patrick. For reasons that are completely bewildering to Jonny, people are eager to pounce on Patrick and believe the worst of him, and even a million public statements of support as the captain can’t change that. He’s careful not to let any of it show on his face, though. He knows by now that even though he just wants to make that vulnerable hurt he sees in Patrick’s eyes go away, saying it aloud would be asking for reruns of old arguments that neither of them can win.
So he doesn’t say it, choosing instead to try and sooth with his lips what words cannot reach. He presses gentle kisses to Patrick’s fingertips, mindful of raw skin. He doesn’t have to be this careful. As hockey players, they’re used to playing through crippling pain; a little pressure on bitten fingernails is nothing compared to getting your front teeth knocked out. Jonny’s careful because he can’t help aching for Patrick, helplessly tender because someone has to be. He wants Patrick to see himself the way Jonny sees him, as an amazing and loving person dedicated to the sport he’s given his life to. He tries to show it in the way he worships Patrick’s hand, kissing up the skin of his thumb to pause on the knuckle, and starting again on his index, middle, ring finger. Patrick’s breath, growing shaky, hitches when Jonny’s halfway past the second joint, so Jonny hurries on to the pinky.
There’s no resistance when Jonny flips Patrick’s hand over. He kisses the palm, his neck tickled by loosely curled fingertips. When he reaches the soft skin on the inside of Patrick’s wrist, he pauses. He knows where continuing up would lead, but he doesn’t want to distract Patrick with sex right now. He isn’t sure exactly what this is, but there’s a fragile trust building in the air between their syncopated breathing that he’d give the world to protect. So he lets go of all plans and well-intentioned platitudes, running on instinct, trusting blindly that he won’t do the wrong thing.
“I love your hands,” Jonny says, brushing his fingers back and forth across the lines of Patrick’s palm. When he looks up, Patrick is staring at him, utterly transfixed, pupils so dilated his irises are just rims of blue. Jonny’s never told Patrick exactly how he feels, but he thinks that maybe Patrick can hear it anyway in the moment. “They’re like your shoulders. They’re…” he casts about for the right word, finally landing on “good.”
“Good?” Patrick asks, lips quirking. His eyes move more, crinkling at the corners with gentle amusement. “You think my hands are good.”
Good barely begins to cover it. Patrick’s hands are strong and calloused and broad, and the things his wrists can do with a hockey stick leave defenders gaping foolishly and goalies completely blindsided. Patrick’s a magician on the ice, but like all magicians the magic doesn’t spring from nowhere. It’s painstakingly built with every hard practice, with hours of shooting when teammates have gone home, with never missing an optional skate no matter how tired he is. It’s all the things no one else sees that matter so much. Jonny’s no poet, though. He doesn’t quite know how to put into words the feelings that he desperately wants to convey. “I do,” Jonny agrees. “I think you’re good.”
But seeing the way that Patrick’s smiling — really smiling — makes Jonny think that despite his imperfect words, what he’s said was perfect enough. “You weirdo,” Patrick says, and pulls Jonny up into a kiss that’s deep and affectionate. They both have morning breath, but he couldn’t care less. There’s nowhere else he’d rather be. And in the shifting of their sheets, Patrick’s phone tumbles to the floor, forgotten.