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For all his parents’ worries Jared and Bryce will get on each other’s nerves or something the second Jared moves in, that’s — really not a problem, honestly.

The thing is, Jared isn’t spending a significant amount more time at Bryce’s than he has lately. The only real addition is that they have breakfast together, and that instead of going home to sleep, he sleeps with Bryce, which is a way better set-up, even though Bryce is an unrepentant cuddler and it’s freaking August. At least he has A/C. Or…they. They have A/C. Because Jared lives here now.

He’s still adjusting to the idea. Jared gets this like, pang, he guesses, when Bryce has groceries delivered or comes home with take-out or whatever, knowing Bryce is paying for the both of them, but honestly, it’s always kind of been like that. Bryce has probably spent hundreds, if not thousands, on food for Jared over the past year, and for some reason that was easier for Jared to accept when he wasn’t living there, but nothing’s actually changed. Bryce isn’t paying any more rent than he was before Jared moved in, and he’s making almost seven times the amount of money he made last year, so Jared sternly tells himself he’s not allowed to feel guilty. It mostly works.

Anyway, he’s got other things to worry about, because the emails from the Oilers are coming fast and furious now — arrangements for where he’s staying during training camp, who he’s going to be rooming with — a dude from BC a year older than him who clearly didn’t make an impression on him at prospect’s camp, because Jared doesn’t remember a Brewer — a freaking checklist of he needs to pack, like he’s a little kid going to a sleepover camp.

Bryce, true to his word, comes to dinner with Jared, and it’s excruciating. Without Elaine as a buffer, his dad’s no passive aggression agreement is void, and he seems to be making up for lost time. There are truly extraordinary levels of passive aggression wafting Bryce’s way. Some of it thankfully seems to go over Bryce’s head, since his dad’s too subtle about his disses for his own good, but some of it emphatically doesn’t, and Bryce gets quieter and quieter, almost small, while every other Matheson at the table glares daggers at his dad.

Apparently the way to get Erin on Jared’s side is to involve Bryce. It’s good to know, but Jared would have preferred to know that without his dad being a total dick to Bryce first.

“I’ll talk to him,” his mom promises when Jared and Bryce are heading out. Jared would again have preferred she did that before Bryce got the shitty Don Matheson Experience, but rather her than him, at least. His dad is way, way more likely to listen to his mom.

“You okay?” Jared asks on the way home. Still a weird feeling, considering Bryce’s place home, but he’s adjusting to it faster than he expected.

“I’m fine,” Bryce says.

“My dad was a dick,” Jared says. “Sorry.”

“You were even more of a dick to me when we first met,” Bryce says. “I’m used to mean Mathesons.”

“Well,” Jared says, can’t retort, because he totally was. “I clearly get it from my dad. Seriously, I’m sorry about him.”

“It’s okay,” Bryce says, and reaches over to squeeze Jared’s hand when they hit the next light.

*

All of a week before training camp’s set to start Chaz gets traded in a prospect swap between the Golden Seals and Flames. The Flames need more non-Bryce centres with some firepower, and having played on Chaz’s line, Jared’s pretty sure they got some. Jared’s happy for him, because he was a Flames fan growing up too, but he’s also seethingly jealous.

“Keep an eye out for my man Chaz?” Jared asks Bryce, though. Just because Chaz is, like, living all of Jared’s dreams doesn’t mean he isn’t Jared’s friend. He guesses.

“Your liney?” Bryce asks, confused.

“He got traded to the Flames today,” Jared says. “You’ll see him in training camp.”

“He doesn’t, like,” Bryce says, then trails off awkwardly.

“He knows I’m gay and that I have a boyfriend,” Jared says. “If that’s what you’re asking. Obviously he doesn’t know it’s you.”

“I wasn’t asking that,” Bryce says.

“What were you asking then?” Jared asks, and Bryce shrugs a little defensively, so yeah, that’s what he was asking.

“I mean, just avoid referring to yourself as BJ and you’re good,” Jared says.

Bryce blinks. “BJ?” he asks.

“That’s what you are in my phone,” Jared says. “You literally made a name for yourself, your BJs are so good.”

“Fuck off,” Bryce says, but he’s grinning, looking all pleased with himself.

What the fuck, I’m so jealous, Jared texts Chaz, because honesty is important.

I no rite???? Chaz texts back, with about a million smileys, and because Jared is mature, and kind, and all that bullshit, he doesn’t tell Bryce never mind, screw that guy.

*

There’s a pit in Jared’s stomach that appeared the moment he got drafted by the Oilers, and it gets bigger and bigger in the days leading up to training camp, until it’s all Jared can do not to throw up.

The night before his parents are set to drive him down to Edmonton, he can barely even swallow around it. Bryce wanted to drive him, but his mom flatly nixed that idea when Jared mentioned it, and Jared kind of gets it. They’re like, empty-nesters now or whatever it is. Well, they still have Erin, he guesses, but considering she’s turned her room into a cave and only emerges to receive sustenance and distribute scowls, he’s not sure that actually counts.

Jared doesn’t pack light, exactly, but he doesn’t pack like he’s moving to Edmonton or anything. He’s going to be living out of a hotel room for the next few weeks, and they’re claustrophobic enough without taking a bunch of space up with luggage, so there are just a few bags sitting in the living room for when his parents pick him up. Even so, he’s basically packed everything he brought to Bryce’s, so it’s like within fucking weeks of moving in, he’s moving out all over again.

He fucking hates this.

Bryce is apparently in agreement. That night in bed he’s clingier than ever, and it’d usually be a little bit stifling — it’s almost thirty fucking degrees out today — but it’s not stifling tonight.

“This sucks,” Bryce mumbles against the back of Jared’s neck.

“Maybe I won’t make the team,” Jared says.

“That’d suck too,” Bryce says.

“Yeah,” Jared says.

“I just got you,” Bryce says.

“You’ve had me for like —”

“You know what I mean,” Bryce says.

“Yeah,” Jared says. “You’ve still like, got me though, you know?”

“It’s not the same,” Bryce says.

“I really might not make the team,” Jared says.

“You say that like you expect me to hope you don’t,” Bryce says.

“I dunno,” Jared says. “I’d still be around.”

Bryce sighs. “This sucks no matter what, doesn’t it?” he asks.

“Pretty much,” Jared says.

The next morning, Jared doesn’t think there’s a single moment between waking up and his parents arriving that Bryce isn’t touching him. Breakfast is spent with their knees pressed together under the table. The shower’s really too small for both of them, but Bryce follows him in anyway. Even getting dressed keeps getting interrupted by Bryce touching his elbow, his shoulder, like if he stops touching Jared, Jared will disappear.

Well. That’s true enough.

They say their goodbyes at Bryce’s — their — place, because anything they could do in public is unsatisfying, isn’t enough. Bryce holds him so tight Jared thinks he’s going to feel the imprint of his touch for days. He doesn’t mind.

The drive to Edmonton seems to take all day and no time at all. His dad keeps trying to talk the Oilers with him — Jared can tell he’s done his research on them as like, a team in general and not The Enemy, and he can hear his dad trying to sound positive about them. Jared appreciates it, but he can’t like — he can’t participate. He doesn’t feel it. Maybe things will change in training camp, maybe he’ll feel like he fits, but right now it’s just weird and wrong.

His dad gives up eventually, and Jared stares out the window as his parents talk about his grandma’s deteriorating mobility, his cousin’s latest teenage outrage, Erin starting high school. Jared feels more and more tense the further they get from Calgary. It’s a drive he’s done plenty of times before when they went to play the Oil Kings, but he’s not coming to play. Well, he is, but obviously it’s a different situation.

Jared’s roommate isn’t getting into Edmonton until tomorrow, so he gets the room to himself for the first night. His parents follow him up, dad insisting on helping with his bags even though he can do it himself, take him out to lunch, give him a few rib-cracking hugs before they head home, and Jared’s left alone.

Jared sits on the bed he’s decided is his, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s just — this all feels wrong. This wasn’t how he thought he would feel, running up to his first training camp. This isn’t how he wanted to feel. None of this is going the way he expected.

He Skypes Bryce before bed, because it might be the last time he can — roommates put a bit of a damper on privacy enough to talk to your boyfriend, especially since he’s, you know. A boyfriend. Also the lead scorer for their rival, can’t forget that part. Sleeps like shit, and he doesn’t even have Tristyn talking in his sleep to blame.

*

As far as ways to wake up go, a stranger walking into your room is — bad. It’s a bad way to wake up. From zero to your heart pounding out of your chest in seconds.

“Oh shit, were you sleeping?” the guy says.

“Yeah,” Jared says.

“Sorry, dude, I thought you’d be up for sure,” the guy says. Jared’s going to assume this is Brewer. Well, he hopes, otherwise the situation goes from uncomfortable to ‘who the hell are you and why are you in my room?’.

“What time is it?” Jared asks. Sun’s shining, but that doesn’t say much.

“Uh, twelve-thirty?” he says, which — shit. Not good, Matheson. Thankfully they don’t have anything official until tomorrow, but this is not an auspicious start to his time in Edmonton.

“Fuck,” Jared says. “My bad.”

Jared changes in the bathroom while Presumably Brewer brings his stuff in, then realises he should probably like, introduce himself. He’s sure they met, but he met a shitton of people, and there’s a difference between ‘hi one of dozens of dudes whose name I’m going to forget in an instant’, and ‘hi, we’re going to be sharing 300 square feet for the foreseeable future’.

“Um,” Jared says, when he comes out of the bathroom. “You don’t mind the far bed, right?”

“No, that’s cool,” roommate says.

“I’m um, Jared,” Jared says finally, and offers a hand. “Matheson.”

“Kevin Brewer,” the guy — Brewer — says, which is good. Jared’s glad to know it isn’t a rando. “But teammates call me Bruiser.”

It makes sense as a near rhyme on his last name, but you don’t actually get to pick the nickname your teammates give you, or carry it with you, you get it foisted upon you by whatever team you end up on. And with how gangly Brewer is, Jared’s a little suspicious about whether his teammates actually ever called him Bruiser at all.

He doesn’t say any of that out loud, and he is very proud of himself. Best not to antagonise the guy you have to share space with.

“You mind helping me bring some stuff up?” Brewer asks. Jared blinks, because he already brought in a huge suitcase and a hockey bag, but follows him down to the lobby, where more suitcases await.

Brewer clearly did not have the same philosophy on packing as Jared, and his shit takes up practically his entire side of the room once they get it upstairs. Jared bites back a comment about someone being a little bit optimistic he’s going to stick around in Edmonton. It’s none of his business, and anyway, Brewer’s pretty quiet — another strike against him in this ‘Bruiser’ business — and he actually thanked Jared for helping out, so already he’s about a hundred times better as a roommate than Tristyn was.

“You don’t talk in your sleep, do you?” Jared asks.

“Um,” Brewer says. “No?”

A thousand times better as a roommate than Tristyn.

Brewer’s status as Good Roommate continues to grow as the day proceeds. He’s kind of boring — like, Jared feels like he’s met dozens of Kevin Brewers in his lifetime — but he asks Jared if he needs the bathroom before he takes a shower, and he doesn’t leave his towel on the floor or like, flood the bathroom. During dinner he talks a bit, spends a bunch of time on his phone, so he’s not like, too rude, but also Jared gets to check his own phone, text some of the guys he knows are getting ready for their own training camps, let his mom know he’s adjusting, he guesses, respond to the eleven million texts Bryce sent him.

Brewer goes to bed weirdly early, which is a strike against him, but hey, he travelled, and also didn’t wake up past noon. He’s cool with Jared keeping the bedside light on, though, and he doesn’t even snore, let alone talk in his sleep. Jared hopes this is like, an omen that things in Edmonton might turn out alright.

*

Jared wakes up to his alarm obnoxiously early. Well, it’s only like, normal early, the kind of early Jared’s actually pretty used to, but his whole cycle’s thrown off now. Jared drinks his one daily allotted cup of coffee at breakfast way too quickly, stares tragically at the bottom of his mug.

“You nervous?” Brewer asks, like he’s nervous and wants company there, needs Jared to say it first so he can say it too.

Jared doesn’t oblige, just shrugs. Nervous isn’t the feeling, exactly. Tired, yeah. Apprehensive, maybe? Conflicted is probably the best one, because he’s got a whole lot of feelings clamouring for space, and all they add up to is a low grade headache. That might just be the lack of sleep, though.

“I don’t want to go back to playing for Kootenay,” Brewer says, hushed, like he’s sharing a giant secret. Jared doesn’t blame him. The Ice suck.

“Play your best, then,” Jared says blandly, double checks his mug to see if maybe some more coffee magically appeared. No luck.

“How are you so chill about this?” Brewer asks.

“I’m tired, dude,” Jared says. “No energy to be nervous.”

Brewer, on the other hand, is practically vibrating with nerves. He sticks close to Jared on the ride to the arena, isn’t ever more than a few steps away, like he needs Jared as a shield or something. Jared hopes the clinginess will drop soon. The only person he can handle being clingy with him is Bryce.

“Deep breaths,” Brewer says as they get out of the transport. It’s quiet enough Jared thinks he was probably saying it to himself, but now that Jared’s actually like, here, and knows that everything he does from this moment on can impact his entire future, that’s — it’s good advice.

Jared takes a breath, lets it go, and heads inside, Brewer still on his fucking heels.