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Unlike the last time they had a fight — and Jared hesitates to call their conversation one; it got kind of heated but, his inability to keep his foot out of his mouth aside, it worked out — Bryce keeps in constant touch when he heads out of town. Well, Jared guesses that was true last time as well, just that this time Jared’s texting him back.

It’s weird, because basically nothing’s changed? Bryce doesn’t want to come out to anyone who doesn’t already know about them, he’s given Jared like, permission to tell whoever he wants about himself, which Jared honestly didn’t need, since it’s his own damn prerogative who knows he’s gay, if not who he’s dating, which is something they have to agree on. That’s pretty much exactly where they were before they talked it out, if not as explicitly, but for some reason Jared feels better about it.

Like, would he prefer it if Bryce was comfortable enough to tell someone? Yes, but that’s — not really in his control. Would it be cool if he could tell Chaz that BJ stands for Bryce Justin? Yeah, though he doesn’t even know if he would. It really is all hypotheticals right now — Jared trusts Raf with the info that he’s dating Bryce, but he can’t really be sure if he can trust anyone else. Gossip about famous people gets weird, and Bryce isn’t like, David Chapman famous or whatever, but he’s big shit in Calgary, and he’s not exactly small fish in the general hockey media either. People are increasingly starting to realise he’s the real deal.

So, yeah, Bryce is kind of right. They’ll talk about changing shit if (when?) it comes to that, because right now they’re kind of in a groove, and like, even imagining some online thing about Bryce having a WHL boyfriend, or worse, one that referred to Jared by name, gets Jared’s stomach flipping. Relative obscurity is just fine by him right now.

Bryce sends him some absolutely cruel pictures of a giant fucking steak and the Dallas weather report, an obnoxious twenty-two degrees while Jared’s trudging through half a foot of snow, and Jared comforts himself, maybe a little vengefully, that coming back to snow on the ground is way worse when you were just basking in the equivalent of a beautiful summer day. Deal with that, Marcus.

It’s minus seven the day Bryce gets back (seriously, suck it, Marcus), and Jared has never been so grateful that the parking for Bryce’s condo is underground, because otherwise he’d be trudging through fresh snowfall. It isn’t even officially winter and Jared’s already over it. Which yeah, sounds weird as a hockey player, but like — Jared loves playing on the ice, and he doesn’t mind the cold, but snow fucking sucks.

The second Jared walks into Bryce’s apartment, he has to stop, because it’s uh — he thinks Christmas threw up everywhere. Tree, tinsel, all that shit, has completely overtaken the pretty bare living room. There’s even a stuffed reindeer (like, stuffed animal, not an actual stuffed caribou, that’d be a pretty anti-Christmas kind of thing) sitting on his windowsill.

“What the hell,” Jared says.

“Do you like it?” Bryce asks.

“What the hell,” Jared says. He did not peg Bryce as the kind of person who’d Christmas the shit out of his place, but apparently he was very wrong. “Christmas isn’t for like, more than two weeks.”

Bryce shrugs. “I had the whole day off, so.”

“So you Christmassed the place up?” Jared asks.

“Our break’s really short this year, so my mom’s coming here for Christmas,” Bryce says. “And she really likes this kind of thing, so.”

“…Oh,” Jared says, struck once again by how ridiculously sweet Bryce can be. It’s like, almost nauseating, but — in a good way? Can things be almost nauseating in a good way?

“You could come over on Christmas if you wanted,” Bryce says quickly, like he thinks Jared’s upset to be left out or something. “My mom would love to see you.”

“I think my parents would actually murder me if I skipped the Matheson and Murray Christmas events,” Jared says. “And then they’d probably murder you for like, good measure.”

“Maybe like, Boxing Day? Brunch?” Bryce asks. “Flames are heading to Cali that night.”

“That sounds good,” Jared says, and it actually does. He never expected to actually look forward to brunch with his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s mom, but apparently if moms are all as chill as Elaine — well, not chill, exactly, she is very huggy — it isn’t an ordeal. Contrast that with Jared’s parents: the idea of Bryce coming over for Boxing Day brunch is anxiety inducing. Jared definitely got the good end of the boyfriend’s parents bargain. He’d feel guilty if he wasn’t so relieved.

“Wanna help me decorate some more?” Bryce asks.

“Absolutely not,” Jared says, but he finds himself roped into hanging more tinsel — who needs this much tinsel — anyway.

*

Jared’s not really a Christmas guy. Well, he’s not really a holiday in general guy — he freaking loved Halloween as a kid, but he grew out of it when he got out of elementary school, unlike, apparently, most of his peers. Like, there are good things about Christmas — the food’s good, but you get all that during Thanksgiving too, except maybe cookies. Presents are great, though he often got them in September, not December, a ‘remember we bought you that Synergy stick you wanted at the start of the season’ when Christmas came. Which is fine. Shit’s expensive. Jared loved that stick, was almost sad when he got a growth spurt that meant it was time for a replacement.

Mostly, Jared’s favourite thing about Christmas growing up was the fact there were usually tournaments right after, since school was off until past the new year. No tourneys now that he’s in the WHL, obviously, though he’s got double headers on the 27th and 28th, the one on the 27th thankfully at home. Christmas this year is going to be the usual stuff: going to his grandma’s on Christmas Eve and exchanging presents with his mom’s whole family, exchanging gifts with his immediate family Christmas morning, going to his grandparents’ in the afternoon. Two boss giant meals.

And then Boxing Day, which is a whole new thing for him. Boxing Day was the first day of tournaments, usually. Now it’s going to be brunch, and the thing is, now that Jared’s thinking about Christmas, he’s kind of freaking out about what to get Bryce. Jared can’t just cook him dinner or whatever again. For one, Elaine’s going to be there, and for two, he’s got to change the game up a little.

His mom’s been giving him money to buy her and his dad their Christmas presents since he was old enough to shop on his own, and she slipped him an extra forty this year with a, “Why don’t you get Bryce something?” which feels like the most approving she’s been about Bryce yet. Except like — what’s forty bucks to Bryce? What can Jared get him that he doesn’t have and actually wants?

Jared endures an absolutely terrible trip to the mall, packed with people who look as stressed as Jared to be there. He gets his mom a Jamie Oliver cookbook, that’s easy, she likes him and it just came out, so Jared knows she doesn’t have it. His dad is the kind of weirdo who actually appreciates socks for Christmas, so Jared grabs a six pack and a James Patterson book, also new. He’d be done, in and out, as efficient as always, except Bryce is kind of a problem.

Jared ends up in the men’s section at The Bay. Specifically designer — even Bryce’s t-shirts are designer — but even the clearance section prices hurt his soul. There’s a huge tie section, though, every colour of the rainbow, and Jared lingers there, finds one that like, is practically yelling at him. It costs more than his mom gave him, but Jared’s got a bit set aside, and it looks like it’d bring out the blue in Bryce’s eyes, the silk so soft it feels like water under his fingers.

He stops at Shoppers on his way out, grabs a giant box of Whoppers, since Bryce had them once at the movies and has eyed them longingly every other time they’ve gone. You can’t not eat gift candy, so Jared is providing both the candy and the excuse for cheat food. He’s not like, happy with what he’s got, but he’s already stretching his budget, so.

“Got Erin a gift card for Hot Topic from you,” his mom says, when they meet back at the car. “Sign your name on the card.”

“I really don’t feel like we should be sponsoring more of her all-black teen angst thing,” Jared says.

“On the card, Jared,” his mom says, and Jared sighs and signs it.

*

Jared’s honestly fucking grateful when the Christmas break comes. Between midterms and a bunch of essays, school’s completely overtaken every minute of his life that isn’t hockey for weeks, enough that he’s barely seen Bryce. And the hockey? Well, they’re on a four game losing streak right now, the worst they’ve dealt with this season — by far, since they hadn’t dropped more than two straight until now — and maybe the break will shake them out of whatever funk they’re in. Definitely can’t hurt.

Jared sleeps until noon on his first day off, and it feels fucking awesome. He doesn’t get dressed all day, just pulls pyjama bottoms and an old shirt on before he wanders downstairs for sustenance. He can’t even remember the last time he got to be lazy — between school and hockey and carefully calculating every moment him and Bryce both happen to be free, he almost forgot what it felt like to just do nothing all day.

It’s fucking awesome. He remembers now. Like, not something he’d want to do all the time, but damn it feels good.

Of course, he only gets to be lazy for a day before they head to his grandma’s and all the Murrays (well…nee Murrays — his mom’s one of four girls, and not one of them still has the Murray name, which makes Jared feel kind of sad for his grandma) descend.

Jared ends up with a pretty good haul — a ton of gift cards to Sport Chek from the aunts and uncles, which has basically been the default since Jared got serious about hockey, and even though he doesn’t need them for gear like he did back before the Hitmen, he might be a total nerd and buy himself a Marcus jersey with the cards. Maybe he’ll get Bryce to sign it. Jared would love to see the look on his face if he asked.

His grandma gets him a sweater and a Calgary Flames calendar like she has since he was a little kid (his dad gets one too, so there’s always one in the kitchen, one in Jared’s room) and — oh god. Bryce is literally in the calendar. March is going to be the best month ever. Deniable pin up of his boyfriend looking hilariously intense above his desk? Check.

Also, now Jared’s wondering if his dad’s going to like, just…skip March. Fuck, he can’t wait.

Yo check out what I got from my grandma, Jared texts, sending Bryce a picture of his scowly little face.

burn it, Bryce texts back. i look terrible.

I know, it’s amazing, Jared texts back, and puts his phone away because his dad’s scowling at him, carefully puts the calendar back in the Jared pile so he doesn’t forget it.

Dinner’s awesome, as usual — his grandma’s having trouble getting around now, but she can still fucking cook — and Jared goes to bed full and happy, his new Flames calendar already set to January above his desk.

They all sleep in on Christmas morning, for the first time in, like, ever, probably, because Erin was waking them up at seven last year — Jared guesses she’s too cool for it now. He wakes up to a merry xmas and a heart from Bryce, a selfie of him and his mom in matching fucking robes, which he can’t handle without coffee.

Jared still can’t handle it after coffee, it turns out. He can’t even manage to chirp Bryce about it, because it’s so fucking cute. What has he become? Bryce Marcus has destroyed his snark.

“You going to just stare at your phone, or you going to open your presents?” his mom asks.

Jared considers.

“It was a rhetorical question,” she says. “Put your phone away.”

“Fine,” Jared sighs, and drags his coffee with him to the living room for present opening.