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Jared is an Edmonton Oiler, and just for the record? It fucking sucks.

It’s funny, because technically he would be too busy doing press stuff and photo ops to dwell on his feelings, except for the fact that every single photo op, every single question from reporters, it all puts it front and centre. “How does it feel to play in your home province?”, as if it’s a fucking dream to play for the enemy. “You’re from Calgary,”, a warning sign it is going to be a question about playing for the enemy, and Jared makes sure to paste on that weak ass smile he’s been using a lot of today while he gives an answer that’s pure evasion.

His family’s taking him out to dinner — it was supposed to be a celebration dinner, but Jared would go more for ‘drown your sorrows in something really bad for you’ dinner now. He wants ice cream. He wants so much ice cream, because it’s stinking fucking hot outside, and he’s an Edmonton Oiler, and none of this is going the way he imagined it. Ever since he was a little kid he imagined pulling a Flames jersey on, fingers tracing the burning C, and now he’s wearing the jersey of a team he’s hated as long as he can remember, not just the rival of the team he grew up loving, but a rival of the team his fucking boyfriend’s on.

Speaking of said boyfriend, Jared’s got two missed calls from him, and it’s probably not a conversation he can put off until after dinner.

He finds a relatively quiet spot in Amalie Arena, one he’s probably technically not supposed to be, but whatever. He needs privacy, and if he gets in trouble, he gets in trouble. It’s not like the day can get much worse.

“Hey,” Bryce says, when he picks up, all cautious sounding, like Jared’s about to burst into tears. Honestly, if Jared wasn’t so pissed, he’d consider it.

“Hey,” Jared says. “So. I’m an Oiler, I guess. Because the hockey gods are apparently laughing their asses off at me.”

“It could be worse,” Bryce says.

“How’s that?” Jared says.

“Literally every single team is further from Calgary?” Bryce says, and Jared blows out a breath, because fair enough. He can drive from Calgary to Edmonton in the length of time it’d take in even some of even the closest cities to fly the distance.

“I can try to find a place halfway—” Bryce says quickly. “Or like, maybe not halfway, halfway’s like an hour and a half, but I don’t mind a bit of a commute into Calgary if that means—”

“Bryce,” Jared says. “Chill. I’m probably going to be with the Hitmen next year, we don’t have to think about this right now.”

“But the Oilers suck,” Bryce says. “And you’re so good, so you’ve got a really good chance of cracking the roster.”

“Not if they’re smart,” Jared says. “Developing prospects is more important than sticking them in the roster, especially if you’re not going to contend anyway. Even you didn’t stay up until you were nineteen.”

“Yeah, but the Flames are a way better team, so it wasn’t as easy to slot in,” Bryce says, and Jared kind of bristles. Bryce is right, and it’s something Jared would have said a thousand times over, probably with glee, because fuck the Oilers, except — he is an Oiler.

Fucking — fuck.

“Can we talk about this later?” Jared asks, his voice coming out just as strained as he’s feeling right now.

Bryce is quiet for a second. “Sure,” he says. “And like, I didn’t say it yet — congrats.”

Jared bites back something ungrateful and unfair. It’s not Bryce’s fault he went somewhere he didn’t want to go. Not his fault either. He wished scouts would like, wear the jerseys of the teams they rep so Jared would know to play badly. Not that he actually would: the day Jared plays hockey badly on purpose is the day he should hang up his skates.

“I kind of get how you feel,” Bryce says, when Jared doesn’t say anything. “Like, not like, exactly, I’m sure, but I didn’t exactly grow up liking the Flames either.”

Jared imagines if he got drafted to Vancouver, and it’s not like, the same thing, but there’s no love lost between the Flames and the Canucks either.

“I wish there was like, a no draft clause or something,” Jared says. “Pick five teams you’d rather die than go to.”

“I wouldn’t have landed in Calgary if there was,” Bryce says.

“Well,” Jared says. “I guess I’m scrapping that idea, then. Fuck, I hate this.”

“It’ll work out,” Bryce says, with a lot more optimism than Jared has right now.

“I’ve got to meet up with my family,” Jared says. “We’re supposed to be having like, a celebration dinner. Though the celebration part’s bullshit, obviously.”

“You just got drafted,” Bryce says. “You’re allowed to celebrate a little.”

“Just don’t really feel like it now,” Jared says.

“Yeah,” Bryce says, then, “Say hi to your folks from me?”

“Say hi to Elaine,” Jared says.

Jared does say hi for Bryce, and he’s little surprised when his dad’s face doesn’t get all scowly, doesn’t even really change. Maybe he’s slowly growing a Bryce tolerance? It has been almost a year now since the first unfortunate meeting, and Bryce has pretty definitively proven the whole ‘not fucking around’ thing.

“What’s he think about you going to the Oilers?” his dad asks.

“He says at least it’s, like, close?” Jared says.

“Hmm,” his mom says, which is basically mom for ‘oh, you listen when your boyfriend says that but not when your mom does’, he’s pretty sure.

“Anyway, I’m probably going to be with the Hitmen next year, so I don’t have to like, worry about that right now,” Jared says. Maybe they’ll trade him! Maybe he’ll be a tiny prospect piece in a blockbuster trade with — what, the Flames? The Flames and Oilers are suddenly going to start being trading partners? There’s optimism, and then there’s being an idiot, and Jared is definitely crossing the line with that hopeful thought.

“You might not be going back,” his dad says, and Jared gives him a resentful look for not even letting him engage in moderate optimism. Which — it’s so stupid. Who doesn’t want to get called up? He’s thinking it now, and even though it makes the most sense for them to let him develop more, even though he talks about staying in Calgary with hope, if he gets cut when training camp comes around, it’s going to hurt.

“I just, like, don’t want to think about it right now,” Jared says. “I dunno. If I get something really unhealthy you’re not allowed to give me that look.”

“What look?” his dad asks.

“You know exactly what look,” Jared says, and when he orders cheese fries as his side for a double cheeseburger, he can see his dad struggling not to give him that exact face.

He fails when Jared orders cheesecake for dinner.

“How much cheese can you eat in one meal?” he asks.

“I’m eating my pain, dad,” Jared says, and scowls when his mom laughs and leans across the table to kiss his head like she used to when he was being an especially ridiculous kid. Which maybe he was. Look, he had questions, okay? He was inquisitive. Nothing wrong with that.

His parents make him share the cheesecake with Erin, which is so unfair.

*

Jared’s life doesn’t suddenly change because he’s an Oiler — well, a prospect the Oilers have the rights to. Which, obviously, but he’s still kind of surprised.

They go back home. Jared’s agent deals with the details, the Oilers front office sends him some emails. Jared stuffs the Oilers jersey in his closet and then comes home one day, betrayed, to find out that his mom has not only gone into his room — not allowed — but gone into his closet — really not allowed — and framed the fucking thing — very much not allowed.

“When you’re a little older you’ll appreciate it,” his mom says, and refuses to give him back the jersey so he can stuff it in the shame corner again.

Bryce is gone most days until the evenings for training, so Jared makes himself a really rigorous training schedule so he doesn’t sit at home and dwell. He’s put on some significant muscle in the last year, but he’s still a little on the lean side, at least ten pounds from where he wants to land.

His school mails him his final report card. It’s mostly in the A- to B+ range, his worst grade a B.

“You know,” his dad says. “You could get into university with those grades if you wanted to skip out on the whole Oilers thing.”

“Hmm,” Jared says, “Point,” and his mom steps on his dad’s foot when she doesn’t think Jared’s looking, the two of them having this silent conversation that involves his mom scowling and his dad giving her a mock innocent look, all ‘what did I do?’

*

Nothing’s really changed, but Jared knows everything’s about to. He can’t think about it, where he’ll be in October — Calgary, Edmonton, fucking Bakersfield — so he focuses on where Bryce is going to be, and that’s Calgary, with a boat load of cash. Not that he can’t focus on it, because it’s pretty much the main topic of conversation right now.

Bryce comes back from contract talks grumpy every time, all ‘this is a waste of my time’ and ‘I should be training right now’ and ‘my agent’s such a dick’ and ‘why can’t they just agree on something already?’ Jared can practically mouth the words with him. He’s maybe a little repetitive.

“I just hate the like, business stuff,” Bryce says, not for the first time. His grumpy today has taken the form of pouting with his head in Jared’s lap while Jared, you know — mouths along. “I don’t know why I even have to be there. Like, I’m good at hockey. They know I’m good at hockey. I don’t see why all this like, talking back and forth stuff has to happen.”

“Poor Bryce, stuck negotiating for millions of dollars,” Jared says, and Bryce scowls up at him, though it softens when Jared twists a lock of hair around his finger.

“You’d probably like this kind of stuff,” Bryce mutters, like it’s an insult.

In another life, Jared would be a hell of an agent, he thinks, so that’s fair. Not the fact that Bryce thinks it’s an insult, but yeah, Jared would probably like it. Not so much if it was his own future on the line, though. Not that he has to worry about that. The Oilers haven’t come running with an ELC to sign or anything. Which obviously makes sense: only dudes who get that first thing are like, maybe the top three draft picks or something, the ones who are clearly game ready. Anyone else, you wait and see.

Bryce won’t talk numbers with him, term, not because it’s confidential or anything — it probably is, but Jared doubts that’d stop him. Jared suspects it’s more to do with the way Bryce whined “I talked numbers all day,” when Jared asked. The media’s guessing, and Jared’s guessing too, and that’d bug him a little, if it wasn’t so clear that Bryce just wants to stop talking about it when he’s home. Well, beyond bitching about it. He seems to be getting a lot of enjoyment out of that.

“Tell me about your training,” Bryce says, and sighs jealously as Jared runs through what’s become his schedule — seriously, Jared said “Why are you sighing?” the third time he did it and Bryce answered “Because you get to train and I have to sit around all day in a chair”, because he’s a little dramatic. A little.

“Come on,” Jared says. “Sitting in a chair’s better than working on fucking pull-ups.”

“Only because you’re bad at them,” Bryce says, then, “Hey!” when Jared flicks him in the forehead. “You are! You’re always saying you are!”

I’m allowed to,” Jared says. “You’re not, Mr. fucking…a dozen of them at a time.”

“Do you even lift, bro?” Bryce says, and yelps when Jared tips him right off his lap.