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Down But Not Out (It Takes a Village)

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I (Bryce)

Bryce gets out his phone after post-game press shit—he scored the Flames’ only goal, so there’s a lot of press shit for him tonight—hoping for a text from Jared even though he knows Jared will be just getting off the ice. 

But there’s nothing from Jared. Instead, there’s a bunch of text notifications from Julius Halla:

when you get this text, talk to rossi 

Do not watch highlights!

everything is ok but do not watch

There’s also one from Summers, which says,

Call your mother and stay off the internet

And two from his mom:

Pooh Bear, call me when you get this

Call me right away, okay?

Bryce manages not to freak the fuck out right there in his stall in front of everyone, but it’s hard work. He doesn’t think of himself as like, intuitive? But it doesn’t take some kind of genius to make the leap from that combination of texts to the conclusion that something must have happened to Jared. Something bad . Something bad enough that Halla, not Jared, is the one texting him, and bad enough to make the highlight reel, and bad enough that—

“Hey, BJ?” Bryce doesn’t know where Chaz came from or when he got here but there he is, hand on Bryce’s shoulder, looking down at him with his concerned face on. “Julius called me, me and you need to talk outside for a sec. I grabbed your stuff, c’mon.”

Bryce blinks. Okay, Chaz has Bryce’s coat over his arm, Bryce’s toque and gloves and scarf in his hand. That’s … how … ?

“C’mon, bro,” Chaz says again.

Maybe Bryce is freaking out a bit more than he thought.

He stands up, takes his coat and shit, lets Chaz herd him out into the hallway outside the Rangers’ visitors’ room, which is old and smells funny, just like usual. He leans against the wall a bit, because he’s finding it kind of hard to breathe and stand up at the same time.

Chaz’s face is suddenly right there , Chaz’s hands on his shoulders, gripping.

“Bryce, bud, I need you to focus up, okay? Nod if you understand.”

Bryce nods. His head feels … not quite the right size?

“Okay,” says Chaz. He takes a breath. “Jared got hurt during the Oilers’ game tonight. He’s okay, though, he’s gonna be fine , so just remember that, okay?”

“Hurt how,” Bryce manages. He’s starting to vaguely recognize that he is panicking, this is what a panic attack feels like, this is a thing that’s happened to him before.

Chaz swallows. “He’s gonna be okay,” he repeats. “He caught a blade, uh, on his arm? So they had to take him to the hospital and he’s gonna be there for a couple days, so we’re gonna get you up to Toronto so you can see him, okay?”

“But,” says Bryce. But Burns. But management. But Summers. But the Isles tomorrow night.

He can’t get any of the words out, but Chaz is a good bro, and he somehow gets it. “I talked to Patter,” he says. “I’m gonna text Burns. We’ll fix it, okay? I’ll fix it. I’ll … I dunno, BJ, but it will get fixed somehow, okay? You just get to Toronto and don’t worry about the other shit.”

Bryce nods. His head still feels too big but he can breathe a bit easier now. Chaz sounds like he has a plan. That’s good because Bryce sure as fuck doesn’t—other than get to Toronto, Jared’s in Toronto —which since he’s in fucking New York City is less a plan than like … yeah, Bryce doesn’t know.

“I need to call my mom,” he remembers.

“Okay,” says Chaz. “You do that, and we’re gonna go grab your stuff from the hotel and head out to the airport.”

“I don’t have a plane ticket,” Bryce says.

“You make six million bucks a year, BJ. We can get you one. C’mon, we got a Lyft outside, let’s go.”

Mom picks up after like, half a ring. “Pooh Bear, are you okay?” she asks, without even saying hello. She sounds upset. “I’ve been waiting for you to call—”

“Press,” says Bryce, walking. “I—Chaz got a Lyft, I’m—airport—”

“—Susan’s on her way, she should be in the air by now, but she won’t be there until—”

Chaz basically shoves him into the back seat of a black sedan. Bryce doesn’t even know which airport, is pathetically grateful Chaz is there so he doesn’t have to figure that out.

“Mom,” he says, over her monologue about Jared’s mom’s itinerary. “Mom, what happened ? Chaz said—”

“Oh, honey,” she says, and it sounds like she’s trying not to cry, which … fuck, that’s not good. “It was so scary, I’m so glad you didn’t have to see it—”

“Tell me. What. Happened.” Chaz gives him a look and he adds, “ Please .”

“Okay,” Mom says, “all I know is that there was a pile-up along the boards with Jared on the bottom, and someone’s skate blade cut him across the wrist. Just a freak accident, but—”

Bryce is going to throw up. People die from that kind of injury. There’s veins there, there’s arteries , there’s tendons and important muscles and—

“Bryce, breathe ,” says Chaz. He somehow has Bryce’s phone in his hand, and says into it, “I’m gonna put you on speaker, Elaine, okay?”

II (Chaz)

Look, it’s not that BJ is a drama queen, okay? And neither is Jared. Chaz has met way worse. They just … attract drama, he guesses? Things happen to them, or around them, and Chaz is just always in the blast radius, because neither of them has enough other friends.

This time, well, there’s no way the drama can be blamed on Jared or Bryce. Shit just happens. In this case, super fucking terrifying shit. Involving shit-tons of blood, according to Julius Halla. 

Chaz is freaking out a little, he’s not gonna lie. He’s been playing hockey since he was in kindergarten, okay, he’s seen injuries before, but the kind of injury where the whole arena holds its breath while you’re surrounded by medical staff and stretchered off the ice straight into an ambulance, minus a couple litres of blood? Not so common.

Anyway, so Chaz is freaking out a little, and he could tell from Halla’s voicemail message that Halla was freaking out a little, but BJ is freaking out a lot .

So like, Chaz needs to step up.

He takes a deep breath, pries the phone out of Bryce’s shaking hand, and says into it, “Hi, Mrs—um, Elaine. This is Chaz? I’m with Bryce, we’re on our way to the airport.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Bryce’s mom says. “I was afraid he was panicking all by himself.”

BJ still looks … really not okay. Chaz has been watching him, and like, shouldn’t he have inhaled a couple of times by now?

“Bryce, breathe ,” Chaz says to him, and then, into the phone, “I’m gonna put you on speaker, okay?”

“Of course, honey,” says Bryce’s mom.

Chaz moves the phone away from his ear and hits the speaker button. “Okay,” he says, and puts the phone on the seat between him and Bryce.

“Pooh Bear, I know you’re really scared right now,” Elaine’s voice comes out of the phone, and— Pooh Bear? Does J know about this?

BJ takes a shallow, shuddering breath. His eyes are wide and scared, whites visible all around the blue.

“Listen, Jared is going to be fine , okay?” Elaine goes on. “Susan and Don have talked to the hospital, it was a bad cut and it bled a lot, but it looks like it missed all the tendons. He’ll be going into surgery tonight, and he’ll be recovering for a while but he will be fine .”

Another breath, a tiny bit deeper. Chaz is out of his depth here, okay, but Bryce Marcus is not gonna panic-attack himself to death on Chaz’s watch, dammit. He grabs Bryce’s hand and holds on tight, and when that makes Bryce look up at him, makes his breathing deep and slow and regular and tries to like, will Bryce to do the same.

“Halla—uh, Julius—told me—not to watch,” Bryce says. Wheezes. “I—”

“Julius is right, Bear,” Elaine says, cutting him off. “Absolutely definitely do not watch the highlights, or any game replays, or anything at all.”

“But—”

“Pooh Bear.” Chaz didn’t know Elaine could sound that … firm. BJ flinches. “You have one job right now, okay?”

Bryce nods. 

“He says okay,” Chaz translates.

“Your one job,” Elaine says, “is to get to Toronto and be with Jared. That’s it, Bear. That’s the job.”

The job of being married? That’s Chaz’s guess. Though it’d be his one job, too, if Ash was in the hospital for any reason—they’re not technically married, but that doesn’t mean she’s not his number one priority. The job of being someone’s partner, then.

“Okay,” says Bryce. He takes a breath, steadier. “Yeah. That’s the job.”

Chaz glances at the Lyft driver in the rearview mirror, but either he doesn’t know who they are, or big dudes holding hands and crying in the back of his car are just par for the course, or like, maybe both? Probably both. Not like hockey players from Alberta are household names—faces?—in NYC, and what a fucking relief that is.

He tries not to think about how different things might be in Toronto.

“So you let the rest of us take care of everything else, and you go take care of him.”

“Okay.” Bryce nods. “I will, mom. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried,” says Elaine’s voice from the phone, and Chaz doesn’t know her that well? But, uh, she sounds pretty worried to him.

And then he remembers Jared telling him how BJ’s dad died in a car crash when he—BJ, Chaz means—was only four, and Shit , this has got to be bringing back some bad, bad memories for BJ’s mom. Chaz kind of hopes she has someone taking care of her .

Once they’ve ended the call, Chaz steals Bryce’s phone and books him a Business Class ticket on the first flight from Newark to Toronto he thinks they can reasonably expect to be on time for, makes him put in his passcode for Apple Pay. Management should be handling this, he thinks, resentful—like, he doesn’t resent helping BJ and Jared, that’s just bros, but they shouldn’t have to depend on their bros for something like this, because management should be fucking taking care of them. Like, he bets Jared’s mom didn’t have to buy her own ticket to Toronto, or find out from one of Jared’s lineys what was happening after J left the ice. Bryce and Jared are each other’s next of kin and emergency contacts, he knows this because it’s one of many details he knows about their life because BJ will not shut up about the whole married to the love of his life thing, and yet Susan and Don have talked to the hospital, apparently, and Bryce definitely has not.

By the time they get to the airport, Bryce is calm. Like, weirdly, scarily calm? Chaz doesn’t know—it’s unnerving, but this is territory neither of them has ever navigated before, and like, you gotta do what you gotta do, he guesses.

He gets BJ through checking in, makes sure he has his passport and boarding pass in his hand and his overnight bag on his shoulder—they left everything else in their hotel room or the locker room, to go home with the team after the Isles tomorrow—and into the Global Entry lineup for Security. Hugs him hard, and watches until he disappears into the screening area, hoping he’s not too out of it to like, actually catch his flight.

It’s probably not appropriate to wish he could ask for like, an unaccompanied minor escort for a 23-year-old married guy? But Chaz … kind of does wish that.

The closest thing he can do is get out his phone and text Halla the flight details, so he does that instead.

How’s J? He types.

Surgery , Halla texts back, then, I asked but they dont tell me because I am not family

Sucks , Chaz types. J’s mom is on her way too. I don’t have details tho

He gets back a thumbs-up emoji.

His eye catches the time display at the top of his phone screen: past curfew. Way past curfew. Fuck.

As if on cue, the phone buzzes in his hand: Wally, the assistant coach.

Chaz sighs, closes his eyes for a second, then accepts the call. “Hi, Coach,” he says.

“You know what time it is, Rossi?”

“Yes, Coach.”

“And you’re AWOL because …”

“I took Marcus to the airport,” Chaz explains, like he didn’t tell both Coach Burns and Patter that’s what he was doing before they left. “I’m on my way back now.”

He looks around for the ride-share pickup area sign and starts walking towards it, so it’s not even a lie.

“Marcus is a big boy, son,” Coach Wallace says. “He can get to the airport all by himself.”

Chaz has not gotten where he is in his career by cursing out his coaches, but man.

“Coach, all due respect,” he says, “his husband was bleeding all over the ice at the ACC like a few hours ago and he’s still in surgery, so I felt like BJ could use some moral support.”

Wally sighs noisily into the phone. “You’re a good kid, Rossi,” he says. “Get your ass back here and we’ll forget you missed curfew, yeah?”

Chaz knew Wally was less of an asshole than Burns. Not that that’s a very high bar to clear.

“Thanks, Coach,” he says, and switches into the Lyft app as soon as the call ends. 

III (Bryce)

Bryce is on a plane, in a window seat in Business Class, and it’s a short flight and the seat is wide and comfy but he can’t fucking sit still. He’s not the biggest fan of flying in general, but normally he can like … distract himself from it. Not this time, though, because the only two things he can focus on are that he’s stuck in a metal tube thousands of metres up in the air (bad) and that Jared is hurt and he doesn’t know if he’s really okay and there’s nothing he can do (way, way worse).

He wants a drink. He is not going to let himself have a drink, because no way in hell is he showing up drunk for … whatever this turns out to be.

He turns up the volume on his phone, but Fall Out Boy booming through his airpods doesn’t drown out the bad thoughts.

Like, Chaz said Jared would be fine. But people lie about shit like that! They do it all the time . He doesn’t think Chaz would lie to him about something this important, is pretty sure his mom would never, but … they’re not there . They only know what someone told them , and those people could be lying, or not have the latest update, or they could be just … wrong.

Halla said not to watch the highlights, and Chaz said not to watch the highlights, and Mom said not to watch anything , but like … at least if he watches, he’ll know .

The plane has wifi, and it’s free in Business Class—Jared would have some stuff to say about how rich people get all the free stuff, and Bryce finds himself smiling a little, imagining the conversation, and then suddenly having to fight back tears.

Because what if Jared’s not okay?

Bryce pulls up the TSN app on his phone, and he doesn’t even have to go looking for NHL news, it’s right there at the top: NHL: First-Period Injury Disrupts EDM @ TOR Grudge Match

It’s news to Bryce that there’s any particular grudge between the Leafs and Oilers, but that’s TSN for you—always gotta have a narrative , even if it’s totally made up. He scrolls past small type he can’t focus on right now, and there it is: video from the game. 

His thumb hovers anxiously for a second before he hits the Play arrow, and then—

Matheson and Spitzer in a pileup in the corner there—Spitzer’s up, Matheson’s—oh, holy hell, that’s a lot of—

Bryce hits the mute icon because nope .

The camera tracks Oilers, starting with Halla, converging on the tiny orange and blue figure of Jared. Orange and blue and bright, horrible red, holy shit that is a lot of blood, that is more blood than Bryce has ever seen in his life, Halla is kneeling in it and it’s creeping past Morris’s skates—

Trainers and refs and coaches are crowding around, Bryce can’t see Jared anymore at all and he’s glad and desperate at the same time, he doesn’t want to look but he needs to see , needs to know—

The crowd backs off to let the trainers work. Halla has blood down the front of his jersey, his pants, his socks. Paramedics come on the ice with a stretcher, load Jared onto it. He’s not moving, which is even more terrifying than the terrifying amount of blood. The video cuts away as the stretcher, with Jared on it, is trundled off the ice, pans briefly back to the mess. Spitzer, the Leaf d-man Jared got tangled up with, is standing there in the corner, shaking and crying. There’s blood all over his skates. The Leafs captain and their two A’s crowd around him, start coaxing him towards their bench. 

Bryce isn’t stupid, he knows the whole thing was a terrible accident. He should feel bad for Spitzer, who’s probably really traumatized.

Bryce wants to punch Spitzer in the face.

He plays the video again, because apparently he is stupid. He doesn’t realize he’s dry-sobbing—again—until someone touches his shoulder and he looks up, startled, to find the flight attendant seated in the previously empty aisle seat next to him.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she says. Her voice is low and calm, not holding-it-together-for-Bryce’s-sake calm but genuinely actually calm. “Are you okay? Is there anything I can do, can I get you anything?”

“It’s fine,” Bryce manages to say. “My, uh. I got some bad news? About my uh, my partner. But I’m on my way to see them, so it’s fine.”

It’s one of the least convincing lies he’s ever told, probably, and Bryce has told a lot of unconvincing lies.

“Okay,” the flight attendant says, and gives his shoulder a little friendly squeeze. “You let me know if there’s anything you need, okay? We’re almost there.”

“Thanks,” says Bryce, trying to smile, and when she comes back a couple minutes later with a bottle of water, some cookies, and a package of kleenex, he’s so grateful he could hug her.

IV (Jared)

At first it didn’t hurt, and then it did.

Jared’s had that kind of experience before—you cut yourself with something really sharp, like one of his parents’ good kitchen knives, it takes a minute for the pain to hit, and meanwhile there’s this suspended-reality period of watching blood ooze out of the cut, and it’s kind of fascinating? But then when the pain does hit, it’s excruciating. 

This was like that, but like, exponentially worse. Like, first of all because the blood didn’t ooze out of his wrist, it fucking gushed. Bio 30 was a while ago, admittedly, but Jared definitely remembers having to label blood-flow diagrams, and there are definitely both veins and arteries going on at that spot. 

And second of all, holy fucking shit , it fucking hurt

Jared is about 99% sure he fainted at some point, either because of the blood loss or because of, like, watching the blood loss. He remembers crashing into Spitzer in the corner, neither of them really intending it, stupid on someone’s part, careless on someone else’s, whatever. He remembers the surprise, and the blood, and pain, how shocking it was, remembers thinking he was going to throw up, although not whether he actually did. He remembers Julius’s face, eyes wide, mouth open yelling … something … barrelling towards him, Julius on his knees next to him, gloves off, squeezing his wrist like a fucking boa constrictor, which made it hurt even more , and then … yeah, Jared’s pretty sure he lost consciousness right about then.

He kind of wishes he hadn’t woken up yet, to be perfectly honest.

He can tell he’s in a hospital. In Toronto, presumably, because it would be stupid to take him somewhere else. It’s quiet and the lights are dim, so: still night-time. He’s freezing. His right wrist is wrapped up, huge and shapeless, and strapped into a splint. It still hurts, but not the sharp pain from before, it’s this heavy, deep, persistent ache. The comparatively minor stinging feeling in his left hand turns out to be from an IV line. Is he getting blood? He looks up.

Nope, not unless it’s like, sci-fi transparent blood.

Get it together, Matheson .

It’s really cold, and watching the drip-drip-drip from the IV bag into the tubing somehow makes him feel colder? And also sleepy. Like the IV is trying to hypnotize him? Everything hurts, but not enough to keep him awake, apparently.

V (Bryce)

Jared is breathing.

Bryce stands there, punchy and rumpled and exhausted from the game and the flight and the hours of freaking out, and tries to focus on that. That he’s alive, and breathing, and at some point soon he’ll wake up. He talked to the lady in charge at the nurses’ station, and once he’d convinced her he really was Jared’s real actual next of kin, because apparently nobody from the Oilers mentioned Jared was married, she explained that the surgery went well, they’ll get to talk to the surgeon in the morning, everything is stable right now. 

Jared looks …

Not small , exactly? There’s still six feet and a hundred and ninety-odd pounds of him? But like. Bryce has watched Jared sleep before, okay, and this is … not like that.

He’s really, really still. He’s breathing, like Bryce said, but … and it’s hard to describe, because it’s not like Jared normally flails around a lot when he sleeps, or anything? It’s just. It’s different.

Bryce stands there, a foot away from the bed because he wants to be touching Jared but he can’t figure out where’s safe to touch, and like … catalogues him. Tries to match up what he can see with his own eyes against what the nurse said, what Julius told him on the way up from the hospital atrium.

Jared’s right wrist and hand are just a big club-like lump of gauze bandages, resting across his stomach. His left hand has an IV attached, the not-needle-thing strapped down with layers of medical tape. Both arms are bare below the short, wide sleeves of a faded blue hospital gown, and his skin is an extra degree of pale. Because he lost a ton of blood , Bryce’s brain reminds him, unhelpfully. With visual aids.

His wedding ring isn’t on his finger, because of course it’s not, he doesn’t wear it  during games, but it should be on the chain around his neck and it’s not—

“Ring,” he says, which is stupid and meaningless, but Halla says, “I have,” and when Bryce turns around to look at him he’s fishing in a jacket pocket. He hands Bryce a sealed plastic bag with, yes, Jared’s watch (the stupid cheap Swatch he bought himself) and the chain Bryce gave him with his engagement and wedding rings still on it.

Thank you,” Bryce says, and Julius must be able to tell that feelings are about to be spilled all over him, as Jared would say, because he ducks his head and says gruffly, “No trouble,” and if there were room for him to back away Bryce is pretty sure he would.

Bryce fumbles the bag and drops it and has to bend to pick it up, and somehow—he’s not sure how, nothing makes sense right now—he ends up sitting on the floor with Jared’s rings in his hands, crying.

Julius says something in Finnish, something that sounds like swearing. His boots appear in front of Bryce’s face, then his skinny knees, then he’s squatting down in front of Bryce and putting hands on his shoulders and like, staring earnestly into his face? It’s so weird that it jolts Bryce’s stupid crying jag to a halt, and also reminds him that OJ is Jared’s liney and was right there , kneeling in his fucking blood, probably helped save his life.  

Halla reaches into another pocket and hands him a wad of kleenex.

“You were right there,” Bryce says, in between mopping tears and snot off his face. “That must have been fucking terrifying.” He blows his nose. “Thanks for being there for him. It means a lot.”

Halla ducks his head again. “No more crying,” he says gruffly. “Go see husband.”

He stands up, and pulls Bryce up with him, and tugs him by the arm over to the bed, and pushes him gently into a chair.

“Going to get coffee,” says Julius, and Bryce is grateful, not for the coffee—who knows whether Halla means for Bryce or for himself—but for being left alone with his husband.

He touches Jared’s left hand, soft, and he manages to get the rings out of the stupid plastic bag, and one by one slides them onto Jared’s ring finger. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but somehow this makes him feel very slightly better. He gently wraps his own left hand around Jared’s so that their wedding rings touch.

“Hey,” he says. Whispers. “Hey, J. I’m here. I love you. I’m really glad you’re okay. Or. I’m glad you’re gonna be okay. Fuck. I just—if anything happened to you—fuck, babe, I was so scared, I love you so much—”

Fucking fuck, he’s crying again. At least there’s nobody here to see him this time.

It’s the middle of the night, or maybe it’s early morning, and he played a hockey game tonight and then flew from NYC to Toronto and today (yesterday?) has been A Lot, okay, so it’s probably inevitable that when he shuffles the chair closer and lays his head by Jared’s shoulder, he ends up falling asleep between one breath and the next. 

*

The next thing Bryce knows, someone’s saying his name, and he blinks himself semi-awake and Susan is there, one hand on Bryce’s back and the other gripping Jared’s knee through the blankets, and then Jared stirs and half-opens his eyes and says, weak and groggy, “... Mom ?”

And Susan just collapses . Bryce staggers upright and wraps her in his arms, afraid she’ll fall, and she clings to him like a Mini-Mite in new skates, sobbing. Bryce is in an awkward position, and this is clearly gonna be a long hug, so he gently repositions them so he can see Jared over her shoulder, and hugs her more firmly.

“It’s okay,” he says, as much to himself as to Susan. “He’s gonna be okay.”

Jared keeps blinking, looking more and more confused. “I’m fine, mom,” he says. His eyes focus on Bryce’s face. “Babe, what? You’re in New York.”

Then he tries to sit up, and Bryce can see the moment when he realizes something’s wrong. “ Ow ,” he says, his head falling back on the pillow. “Fu— ow. What’s going on?”

“Oh, honey!” Susan lets go of Bryce, sniffling, and bends over to awkwardly hug Jared.

Bryce feels like that guy in his mom’s favourite movie, the one who says Let me explain. No, is too much—let me sum up.

“Um,” he says, finally, after standing there frozen for a minute, or possibly quite a while? He doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to leave Jared, but Susan is here now, so— “I’m gonna go get a nurse?”

VI (Julius)

Bryce comes out of Jared’s room both backwards and at top speed, as though something is chasing him, and turns around just in time to narrowly avoid colliding with Julius.

Julius yelps, holding both cups of coffee up out of reach; fortunately they both have lids on. “What’s wrong?” he says. Yelps. 

He’s maybe possibly had a few too many cups of coffee over the past twelve hours. The one in his left hand will be his second just in the past ninety minutes, which … thinking about it, maybe that was not the best idea he’s ever had?

“Uh,” says Bryce. “Sorry. Nothing! Nothing’s wrong. Susan’s here, I’m going to go look for a nurse?”

“You should ring bell,” Julius says, because that’s what the bell is there for. Hasn’t Bryce ever been in hospital before?

“Uh,” says Bryce again. “Bell?”

Julius keeps his sigh on the inside, because Bryce is a very nice person and has been through a lot today.

Bell ,” he repeats. “Like … buzzer. Button, on wall. On the wall. To call n— call the nurse.” Ugh, he sounds like such an idiot in English. Why didn’t he pay more attention to his English lessons at school?!

But it seems as though what he said made some kind of sense, because Bryce says, “ Oh! ” with an enlightened look on his face, and turns around again and goes back into Jared’s room.

Julius restores his hands, and the coffee cups, to a normal position, and follows him.

Jared’s mother is sitting by Jared’s bed, and she isn’t currently crying but she obviously was crying very, very recently. And that’s fair, considering. Jared himself looks very confused and very sleepy and also very grumpy—

Well, no, this is Jared: he looks a normal amount of grumpy. It’s extremely reassuring.

“Julius!” says Jared’s mother, and smiles at him like she’s actually happy to see him. 

He isn’t sure what to do, so he holds out one of the coffee cups to her and says, “Coffee.”

She takes it from him and wraps both hands around it. “Thank you,” she says.

Then Julius looks at Bryce and says, “Coffee?”

He can see Bryce connecting the dots. “I’m good,” he says, which is a thing Canadians say that makes no logical sense but means no thank you or sometimes it’s okay or even yuck, no . “You go ahead.”

Unfortunately, Jared’s mother also connects the dots. “Oh, Bryce, did I just steal your coffee? I’m—”

“It’s fine,” Bryce says. “Really, Susan, it’s fine. Please drink it.”

Julius doesn’t know how long they’re going to politely, Canadian-ly argue about this, and he doesn’t particularly care, since at least right now nobody is crying, trying to hug him, or loudly having feelings at him.

He sneaks up towards the head of Jared’s bed, on the opposite side from Susan, and looks down at Jared. Jared’s head rolls slooowly towards him on the pillow, and his eyes blink slowly, as though he can’t quite focus.

“Hi,” says Julius.

“Hi,” says Jared, after a moment. Julius remembers how when his great-grandfather was in hospice, and was given a lot of morphine because it helped make him comfortable, he often seemed several steps behind the conversation his visitors were having. He supposes this is sort of the same thing.

“How are you feeling?” he asks. 

“You stayed,” Jared says, which is not an answer.

Julius shrugs.

“Hospital is no fun,” he says. “I thought … not good if you’re alone? Coach said was okay if I stay.”

Another long slow blink. “That’s,” says Jared, and then stops. Starts again: “Thanks, Julius.”

Julius gives him an awkward shoulder pat, and then takes a sip of his coffee, which is somehow already getting cold. Then he remembers that Bryce was supposed to ring the bell for the nurse and definitely hasn’t done it, so he leans across the bed to press the button on the wall.

There’s a buzzing noise that he was definitely not expecting—apparently Canadian hospitals make different sounds from Finnish ones—and everyone jumps, including Jared, who also winces and yelps, “Ow, fuck!”

A long moment later he says, “Sorry, mom.”

Susan makes a noise that sounds like laughing and crying at the same time, and Bryce sniffles loudly and blinks a lot, and then a nurse comes in and Julius flees gratefully because Jared is his best friend, and he’s very relieved that Jared is okay, and he likes Bryce and Susan very much, but there are too many feelings happening in this room right now and he really needs to not be here.

Also, it’s finally morning in Oulu, and Julius wants to call his mother.

VII (Jared)

His mom is here. 

Bryce is here! How is Bryce here? Aren’t the Flames playing the Islanders tonight? Or like … who knows what day it even is.

Fuck, none of this makes any sense.

Julius is still here. Why is Julius here? 

“You stayed,” he says, and Julius ducks his head and says something about not wanting Jared to be alone, and holy shit there is something really wrong with Jared’s … everything, because he’s so grateful he almost starts to cry .

*

The next time he’s able to pay attention, Julius is gone but Jared’s mom and Bryce are still here. They both look like they slept in their clothes, which … yeah, they probably did. What day is it? Jared has no idea.

Bryce has clearly been crying. It’s unfair how that doesn’t make him look like shit? He’s still so handsome, it’s completely unfair.

Bryce is laughing at him, which is also unfair.

“I think you said the quiet part out loud, honey,” says Jared’s mom, who is obviously laughing at him too.

*

Jared’s mom takes Bryce out for food, and the entire Oilers roster troops through Jared’s hospital room, two guys at a time for five minutes at a time, before they leave for the airport. They’re so quiet and careful and subdued, he almost doesn’t recognize them. Has Liam Fitzgerald ever been quiet and subdued in his life before? 

They all pat him carefully on the shoulder or the shin, or gently ruffle his gross unwashed hair. They say shit like Looking good, J Math (clearly a blatant lie) or We’ll miss you in Winnipeg (like he’s not going to be on IR for literal months) or Get well soon, buddy. Julius comes last, paired up with Morris, and both of them hug him, careful but tight. 

Jared almost starts to cry again. He hates it.

*

By the time Jared is discharged from Toronto General Hospital, his room has filled up with flowers and stuffed animals and gift baskets and all kinds of shit, most of it from Oilers and Oilers management and Oilers fans but also a truly surprising amount from Leafs players and fans.

Ethan Spitzer comes to visit him, looking scared and guilty, the day the Oilers fly out to Winnipeg. Jared’s still dopey from painkillers and pain, but he manages to tell Spitzer there’s no hard feelings, he knows it was an accident, it’s all good. After Bryce goes back to the Flames, Spitzer keeps coming back, and he turns out to be a really good guy, from what Jared can tell. He even takes Jared’s mom out to eat, and apparently insists on buying more food for her to bring back for Jared, which Jared appreciates because the hospital food is unsurprisingly terrible.

The nurses and doctors and physiotherapists are super nice, Jared has his mom with him, he has a little TV in his room, he gets non-shitty food at least once a day, Bryce and Chaz and Raf and Julius text him constantly, Erin sends him ridiculous memes: It could be much, much worse, is what he’s saying.

Jared still hates it.

VIII (Bryce)

Bryce isn’t glad Jared got hurt, obviously. Like, he wishes none of it had happened, and Jared was still working on that awesome point streak he had going, and didn’t have to watch someone else playing on Halla’s wing in his place. He hates that Jared got hurt, hates watching him cope with the pain of the injury and then the probably almost worse pain of rehabbing it, hates the frustration on Jared’s face when he struggles with something basic like brushing his teeth or opening a jar. 

But.

Because he’s injured, and is going to be doing rehab for a long time, Jared gets to spend a lot more time in Calgary than he normally would during the season, and Bryce … doesn’t hate that.

He doesn’t hate sleeping next to his husband, waking up next to him, watching him sit at their kitchen table awkwardly drinking his coffee left-handed from his Eeyore mug. Doesn’t hate watching TV with him on their couch, listening to his snarky commentary on Bryce’s choice of shows, kissing his hair as his head rests on Bryce’s shoulder. 

Doesn’t even hate helping him shower and dress and undress, making clumsy attempts to cook under Jared’s frankly bossy direction (should he tell Jared how much he enjoys being ordered around? Is that like … a sex thing? It seems like it might be a sex thing, and like, is that appropriate to talk about when Jared’s not technically supposed to?), doing all the stuff around the house that Jared would normally do when they’re both living here.

It seems like maybe a glimpse into their future, like maybe one day they’ll live together like this all the time, and Jared will be teaching Bryce to do stuff …

Occasionally, when Bryce lets his mind wander, it wanders to a hazy future where Jared is a little cranky from lack of sleep, and is sitting on the couch ordering Bryce around not because he’s injured and can’t do housework shit, but because he’s holding a baby.

If Bryce is being totally honest? He likes those daydreams best of all.

“Ugh,” says Jared, rolling his eyes at the TV. “What the fuck was that penalty, Fitzy?”

“I love you,” Bryce says, and kisses Jared’s cranky expression right off his face.