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voted most likely to run away (with you)

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“Dude, could you stop sulking for a minute?”

“I’m not sulking,” Jared says, sulkily.

“Sure, you aren’t,” Julius says, and really, could he turn down the sass a little bit?

“Could you turn down the sass a little bit?” Jared asks.

“Sure, if you stop sulking,” Julius answers.

“I’m not—okay, fine, I am sulking. A little bit. But I think it’s justified, given that it is 11 in the morning on a Saturday and I am in a fucking skate rental booth for a school skating event. Like every Canadian person doesn’t own at least one pair of skates. Or five,” Jared complains.

“Did you forget that I’m also here? And do you see me sulking about it? No.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t assigned rental booth duty by Ms. Davis. You could go skating instead of standing here,” Jared reminds him.

Every year, on the first Saturday of December, Jared’s high school organizes a skating event at the Outdoor Rink that is open to all school members and their families. (This year, the first Saturday of December coincided with the 1st of December which was a ‘lovely coincidence’ as it was written on all the flyers advertising the school skate.)

But in order to make sure the entry fee is as low as possible, Ms. Davis, the head of the School Event Organizers – yes, it is an existing title and yes, Jared thinks it’s stupid, too – appoints different students to different posts that aid these events, instead of hiring people that would need to be paid. This time she picked from grade 10, and Jared was the unlucky winner. She calls it ‘participation in the running of school life’, Jared calls it child labor. No, not even labor, he doesn’t get paid. Child slavery. That’s what it is. And Jared is pretty sure child slavery is considered a criminal offence.

“I’m not sure that is true,” Julius muses when Jared tells him just as much. “Not about child slavery being a criminal offence – that one is true – but about this qualifying as child slavery. You’re just whining.”

“Why am I friends with you again?” Jared asks.

“Because of my winning personality?” Julius grins.

Jared have been friends with Julius Halla since they were six, when Julius’s family moved to Calgary from Finland. They met at the skating rink and bonded over annoying little sisters – whoever said three-year-olds were cute, was obviously lying through their teeth as Erin and Anni had been irritating even back then – and their love for skating. Since then, they stuck together, so much so, that their parents started to refer to them as JJ, even though Julius’s name is pronounced with a ‘y’ and not a ‘j’. So it was natural, that even though Julius hasn’t been assigned to booth duty, he would sit there with Jared and listen to him sulk. Not that Jared is sulking. Maybe only a little bit.

Jared’s parents of course were delighted by this turn of events. They could take Erin – Jared’s annoying, 12-year-old little sister – to skate without wondering what Jared was up to in the meantime. Because sure, Jared adores skating, has been a figure skater since he was like five, but if he had a choice, he would rather stay at home than go skating with his family, because they are the worst. But now that he was forced out of his room – where he has been spending more and more time lately – he would rather be on the ice, than sit in the freaking rental booth, when no-one even needs to rent any skates.

“Of course, how could I forget?” Jared replies. Erin and Anni are on the ice, chasing each other around, laughing loudly. Or at least Jared guesses they are laughing loudly. He only sees their mouth move but he can’t hear them even though they are close to the booth. And the reason why he can’t hear his own sister whose laugh is usually similar to the neigh of a horse (Jared never claimed he was a nice person) is because of the hockey team. The fucking hockey team that treats the rink as if it was theirs with no parents and little, even toddler siblings on it. It’s mainly the 12th graders that are chasing each other around, snowplowing the underclassmen as they stop centimeters away from them, then laughing loudly at their frightened faces. Jared hates them so much.

He spots Bryce Marcus – the captain of the team and headed for the NHL draft – among them, weaving around the other skaters with ease, with his stupid brown hair falling into his eyes, cheeks pink from the cold or the exertion, or from both. Marcus is actually in Jared’s history class this year, but they have never acknowledged each other. Jared’s pretty sure Marcus doesn’t even know others exists apart from him and his hockey buddies. He’s grinning stupidly as he rounds a group of freshmen, chasing after one of his teammates.

Marcus whips around and shouts something to one of his teammates – Jackson, Jared thinks – and Jared can see how the morning sunshine reflects for a second on his blue eyes as he throws back his hair—

“Jared!” he suddenly hears Julius call out his name in a way that indicates it isn’t the first time he tried to get his attention.

“What?” he asks Julius.

“What were you looking at?” Julius asks back.

“Our little sisters.”

“They’re on the other side of the rink, Jared. And I really hope that the look on your face you had just now wasn’t caused by Anni, because that’s my little sister, man. Who is a child. And the last time I checked, you were pretty sure you were gay. You know I support you in everything, but I would appreciate if your second sexual awakening wasn’t caused by my little sister. Who is literally 12,” Julius replies.

“I didn’t have any kind of look on my face! I just wanted to make sure the hockey guys don’t knock them over,” Jared says defensively. “And I am gay, no second sexual awakenings happening.” Jared has known he was gay for a couple of years. He even came out to his parents last summer and to Julius the year before.

“You can admit if you were staring at hockey butts, Jared. It’s okay, I understand. They are good looking butts,” Julius says placatingly.

99% of the time, Jared is so very grateful that both his family and his best friend were so accepting when he came out to them. Or like he’s grateful for that 100% of the time, he knows he is lucky. But right now? Right now, he kind of wishes Julius wasn’t this comfortable with the topic.

“Aren’t you supposed to say #nohomo, after that statement?” Jared asks him half-jokingly.

“You wound me Jared Bradley, I would never,” Julius replies, feigning offence. “I can admit they are good looking butts without wanting to touch them, it’s not a big deal. But seriously though, no homo,” he adds seriously, and it startles a laugh out of Jared. Marcus, who was standing almost right in front of the booth, resting against the boards, turns around and Jared immediately stops laughing as he accidentally locks eyes with him. It only lasts for a second, but Jared swears he sees something in Marcus’s expression shift, but he skates away before Jared could figure out what it is exactly.

“Earth to Jared Matheson! Did I lose you again?” he hears Julius ask.

“No, I’m here, sorry,” Jared says as he looks back at him, feeling weirdly a little disoriented. “Did you say something?”

Julius looks at him for a few seconds, with a strange look on his face, then shakes his head minutely. “Just that there’s less than an hour left from your slave work. You can get through that easily. Then Amy will take over and we can go skating.”

“Yeah, you’re right, that’s not so long at least.” He looks back at the ice, and his eyes catch Marcus as he’s chasing after the other guys, laughing freely, rounding groups of teens and parents, using them as an obstacle course.

“I don’t understand why Marcus and the hockey team have to treat school and family skate as if it was their private rink time,” he tells Julius grumbly. “I’m sure their ego could take it if they didn’t show-off for half a day.”

“Like you wouldn’t be doing spins and jumps if you could be on the ice,” Julius says.

“I wouldn’t. Not when the ice is packed with people,” Jared says, broodingly. “And even if I did, I would stay in the middle, not bothering the other skaters.”

“Sure you would, buddy. Besides, Sánchez and Rossi are not too bad.”

“I still don’t understand how you became friends with them.”

“My personality, Jared. My adorable personality,” Julius says.

“Maybe you should work on that a little more.”

“I’m going to leave your sorry ass sulking here in this booth alone, don’t think I won’t, smartass.”

“So is my ass sorry or smart?” Jared asks, grinning.

“That’s it, you lost your Julius privileges,” Julius says, as he turns away. “Have fun sulking,” he shouts above his shoulder.

“I am not sulking!” Jared shouts back, then, “Okay, fine, please don’t leave me here alone, Halla.” Julius stops but doesn’t turn around and Jared just knows he’s smirking that self-satisfied smirk of his.

“You should’ve thought about that before insulting me and my personality,” Julius calls back over his shoulder.

Jared successfully bites back an ‘are you and your personality two different entities?’ but it’s a near thing. He supposes it wouldn’t help him earn back his Julius privileges.

“I’m sorry, I love your personality. That’s why I’ve been friends with you for almost 10 years, after all.”

Seemingly satisfied, Julius turns back around and goes to sit down next to Jared on the small bench inside the booth. They sit and talk until Jared’s shift is over – only two people coming to rent or bring back skates. Jared would feel vindicated in his opinion that it’s entirely pointless to have a rental booth, if it didn’t mean that he was suffering for. Then Amy arrives at seven to noon, and takes over, freeing Jared from the clutches of slavery. But by that time, Jared is cold and hangry and there are more people on the ice than there were the whole morning. So he asks his parents if they could go have lunch then go home, and they agree, Erin being hangry as well apparently.

He says goodbye to Julius who stays for a little while with his family. They hug each other quickly, and when Jared pulls away he catches Marcus looking at them from further away on the ice – which is mostly odd, and a tiny bit terrifying – before he whips his head away, and skates away as if chasing a puck.

On the way home, Jared listens to Erin complaining loudly that her ankle and toes hurt, and that she’s cold, and hungry, and Jared kinda wishes he were an only child, because he’s hungry and he’s cold as well, but do they hear him whining about it? No.

Apparently, Jared’s parents had enough of Erin’s complaining as well, because they pull into a McDonald’s drive-through and order a horrendous amount of chicken nuggets that promptly shuts Erin – and Jared’s thoughts – up.

The rest of the weekend goes by as it usually does, with homework and chilling with Julius and Jared is just a little morose that he lost a quarter of his weekend to that stupid booth.

*

On Tuesday morning, Jared wakes up to a snowfall, which is not really unusual in Calgary – they get the first snow of the year in September usually – but the previous week has been mild with no snow, so Jared feels like a little kid as he watches it fall, on the first week of December. He takes the bus to school (“You’re big enough now, Jared, to go alone and anyways, we can’t take you because Erin’s school is in the opposite direction.”) and he notes that each and every schoolmate of his has gone crazy because of a few centimeters of snow, as if they hadn’t seen enough of it. Some are sliding on the ice that grew on the few left-behind puddles, some are having a snow ball fight, there are a few minuscule snowmen on the grass, and there’s one student who is trying to make a snow angel, but it’s more muddy than snowy. He meets Julius in front of the gates and they wordlessly judge the others around them.

The day goes by as a general school day does – slowly and mind-numbingly. The snow continues to fall the whole day, so by the time school’s out at 3pm, there’s a good 10-15 centimeters of it on the ground. Students all around Jared are playing in the snow – he’s pretty sure he can even see a fucking igloo being built next to the gym building. He draws his hood further down on his face as he makes his way to the bus stop. Practice doesn’t start until 5, but he prefers spending his free time there in the lounge, doing homework or studying, to staying at school in the library. So he’s walking purposefully, bundled up in his winter clothes, when something hits his back. Something that’s initially hard but then falls into small, soft pieces. Jared turns around and sees Julius standing a few meters away, with a shit-eating grin on his face and another snowball in his hand.

“Et tu, Julius?” Jared shouts at him, and chuckles internally at the irony of using Julius’s name in this sentence. Jared never claimed he had a great sense of humor, okay? “I’m gonna make you eat snow, Halla.”

“All talk, no action, Matheson,” Julius calls with a smirk and chucks the snowball in his hand at Jared for good measure, which hits him right in the middle of his chest.

“Oh, it’s on now, Halla,” Jared warns, scoops up some snow and throws it at Julius’s head. But Julius ducks in the last second so the snowball flies above him right into the beanie on the head of a boy walking down the pavement with two of his friends.

The boy freezes. The friends stop after a few steps and look back at him. Julius turns around to see where the snowball landed and freezes as well. Jared has been frozen on the spot since the second Julius ducked his head.

Because he saw it making its way towards Bryce fucking Marcus and hitting him on the fucking head before it even happened. And now Marcus is looking at Jared in a way that doesn’t bode well for Jared’s survival chances for the next few seconds. And there might be something seriously wrong with Jared, because even though he knows he’s a dead man walking, he can’t stop zoning in on the way the melting snow makes Marcus’s skin red and the hair poking out from under his beanie curl up.

Marcus is still looking at Jared as he slowly bends down, shapes a little snow into a ball, stands back up and raises his hand, aiming in Jared’s direction. But before he could throw it, another snowball smashes into him, catches him on his arm this time. Jared looks in the direction where the snowball came from, and yes, that is indeed Julius who just intentionally threw a snowball at Marcus and is now laughing and running like a madman in Jared’s direction. Marcus is startled and before he could act, his two friends – that Jared can see now are Sánchez and Rossi – start shooting snowballs at Julius.

Julius just laughs louder then ducks behind Jared who is still having trouble processing what the fuck is happening. It’s not like they’re one group of friends. At least it looks like Marcus has the same problem.

Rossi and Sánchez start running in Julius’s direction who’s now running away in the other direction, so Jared does the only thing he can, and starts shooting snowballs at the two hockey players. Because sure, Julius is friends with them, so they won’t hurt him, not really, but only Jared is allowed to bathe Julius in the snow. That’s a best friend privilege. Jared feels like an amazing friend, right until Julius turns around and nails him in the chest with another snowball. Sánchez and Rossi follow his lead.

“Hey, what the fuck?” Jared cries and tries to protect himself as Julius just cackles at him.

“Oh, you’re dead,” comes from behind Jared and he is momentarily scared for his life, but then he sees that Marcus is looking at his friends who are targeting him as well with snowballs. They have formed a trio with Julius which means it’s Jared and Marcus against them. Jared still has no idea how he ended up in this situation, but this is a serious snowball fight now, there’s no time for unimportant details. He and Marcus are a team now, and the others are going down.

“They are going down,” he tells Marcus who is now beside him, with a snowball in each hand.

“They so are,” Marcus agrees with a solemn look on his face.

Julius, Rossi, and Sánchez look at each other, grinning, like they are communicating wordlessly with their eyes – and honestly, Jared has no idea they were this close of friends. He feels a little betrayed and a little jealous. But then everyone has at least two snowballs in their hands and the fight breaks out properly.

They are running around, trying to hit the other when they are not looking. Jared has to admit that he and Marcus make a great team, watching each other’s back, calling out warnings and Marcus has some crazy good hand-eye coordination. Unfortunately, Sánchez and Rossi do as well – fucking hockey players – so soon everyone is covered in snow from head to toe. Jared’s pants and gloves are soaked, and his fingers are freezing, but he is simultaneously having the time of his life. At the end, there are no clear winners – are there ever any clean winners of a snowball fight when no one is playing dirty? – but everyone is sufficiently cold and wet, so they decide to form a truce and call it a draw. Jared takes of his gloves and shakes Marcus’s hand.

“Good game, Marcus,” he says mock-seriously and the way his hand tingles where Marcus’s is wrapped around it. It’s probably because of the cold.

“Good game, Matheson,” Marcus replies and smiles at Jared. Then he runs to his friends and Jared can hear a ‘you fucking assholes’ as he wraps his arms around their shoulders from behind. Jared can only stare after him helplessly, not sure if everything that has just happened was a fever dream or a real thing.

Julius walks up to Jared and wraps his arms around Jared’s shoulder.

“You okay, bud?” he asks.

“Not thanks to you,” Jared grumbles. “What the fuck was that, man?”

“You’re welcome,” Julius says enigmatically, not even bothering with trying to look at least a little bit bashful for stabbing Jared in the back.

“For what?” Jared asks but Julius just starts to walk away. Then when Julius doesn’t reply, doesn’t even stop or turn around, “For fucking what, Halla?”

Julius is a good few steps ahead of him now, so Jared runs after him.

Julius.”

“You’re gonna be late for practice, you should hurry,” Julius says, and shit, yes, this snowball fight took longer than Jared had thought. He has less than an hour to haul his ass across the city to practice.

“I hate you so much,” Jared tells Julius for good measure.

“Nah, you love me,” Julius replies.

“Less and less every second,” Jared says but hugs him goodbye and runs to the bus stop. “We’re gonna talk about this, Julius. Don’t think we won’t.”

*

“I don’t understand why we had to come,” Jared complains as they’re making their way with Julius towards the stands before the hockey game on Thursday.

“Because Chaz and Raf are my friends and I’m here to support them,” Julius replies.

“And why am I here?” Jared asks.

“Because you’re my friend and you’re here to support me.”

“In what? Watching a hockey game?” Jared asks, laughing incredulously.

“I need someone to talk to during the intermissions.”

“Oh, so I’m only of secondary entertainment value?” Jared asks, half-offendedly.

“Yupp,” Julius replies cheerfully as they settle into their seats, but then gives half of his pretzel to Jared, so Jared thinks he’ll forgive him. Just this once.

They bicker back and forth for a little while, but then the game is starting. And while Jared might not be a big fan of the high school hockey team, or its members, he is a fan of hockey. Hockey is hockey, even if it’s only a high school game, so Jared is paying attention.

Eight minutes in, Jared is on his feet as Marcus steals the puck from the other team and charges at goal, darting between the D-men, and with a tear-jerkingly beautiful slapshot, lands it in the goal. The goal horn goes off, and Jared feels they’re barely louder than his own scream. Because that was a fucking beautiful goal. Times like this, it is obvious why Marcus is predicted to go first round in the draft. Jared feels ecstatic as their team is celebrating on the ice and tells himself that what he feels is nothing more than school patriotism. But fuck, in his one and a half years in this school, he never really watched a hockey game they hosted, never seen the way Marcus moves on the ice or handles the puck. And damn, Jared has always been attracted to competency – not necessarily in a sexual way – and Marcus is pretty fucking competent if Jared can say so himself. Too bad he’s a douche.

Or at least Jared thought he was. He’s loud and arrogant, and in the History class they shared, he doesn’t really excel either. Which fact doesn’t affect his doucheyness, but it doesn’t even seem like that he’s trying at least. Well sure, he’s probably focusing on hockey more than on his studies, but still. History is important. And then there were the stories of drunk Bryce Marcus at house parties, not once managing to get himself into a fight.

But he didn’t feel douchey on Tuesday, when he wordlessly teamed up with Jared against their respective friends. Jared was ready to be bathed in snow by the three hockey players with Marcus in the lead, but instead he and Marcus worked together seamlessly as a team to destroy the Traitorous Trio – capitalized, so it’s true. When Marcus yelled at him to duck, and Jared did so, right before a snowball came flying where his head had been a few seconds ago. How he looked at Marcus to thank him and saw the pure enjoyment of the game on his face. How his eyes shined as he laughed even when he got hit.

A goal horn shakes Jared out of his reverie, and he realizes that he was so deep in his thoughts that he missed the goal Rossi has just scored and Julius is on his feet, shouting.

“You okay there, bud?” Julius asks him once he’s back in his seat.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because we just scored, and you didn’t even move a muscle in celebration,” Julius answers in a way that shows he thinks Jared is being stupid.

“Yeah, sorry. Just got lost in my thoughts,” Jared mumbles.

Julius looks at him scrutinizingly for a few seconds, but then he turns his attention back towards the game.

At the end of the first period, their school is leading 2-0 so there is a general excited buzz in the building as people are heading to the snack bar or to the toilet. He and Julius head to the snack bar themselves to buy pretzels and some hot tea. Initially, Jared wanted to stay in his seat and ask Julius to bring him his order, but then Julius reminded him that the sole reason Jared is here is to entertain him during intermissions. That earned him a shove from Jared – the asshole just laughed – but then Jared got up and went with him. The line is enormous so by the time they get back to their seats, the second period is already starting.

The second period is brutal, one would think it’s the Stanley Cup Finals by the way the opposing team throw themselves into the offence, with some borderline hard checks and numerous high stickings, and they go into the second intermission with the away team having pulled even.

The third period is not much better. The opposing team doesn’t score, but neither does theirs and it’s not for a lack of trying. In the final seconds, Marcus snatches the puck once again and is racing towards the goal, threatening to score a game winner. Everyone is on their feet, screaming. That is until one of the D-men runs him into the board – nothing that’s worth a penalty, but still pretty heavily – he loses the puck, and the opposing team scores on the turnover, and with that win the game as the timer runs out.

Jared can see Marcus moving carefully, rubbing his shoulders and he’s clearly – and rightfully – pissed and disappointed, as he joins the handshake line then goes to hug Rossi and Sánchez. When he lets go of them, he looks up, noticing Jared, and smiles as he quickly looks away, looking much happier than he did before. Jared doesn’t know how to interpret that, so he doesn’t. He ignores the faint buzz he feels in his body, as well, and follows Julius out of the building.

*

“Okay guys. For next week, each one of you, with a partner, has to submit a paper on residential schools in Canada, as well as give a presentation,” Mr. Pelletier says at the end of the class, and every student unanimously moans. It’s 10:30am on Monday and Jared is not prepared emotionally to deal with the concept of a homework assignment. In pairs. He doesn’t have friends in this class, or even good acquaintances. Is he gonna have to be that lame kid, who has to walk around the class, trying to find someone who’s in the same situation as Jared? Fucking hell.

“Before you ruin friendships over trying to find a partner, I’ll tell you that I will be the one who assigns one for you,” Mr. Pelletier continues, effectively nipping the teaming up process that has started in the bud. “We’re going to go by surnames in alphabetical order,” he says and starts listing the pairs, and Jared has stopped listening He’s trying to figure out in advance who his partner might be. Before he arrives at anything, though, he hears the teacher say, “Marcus and Matheson” and he stops thinking. Marcus turns to look at him and smiles before turning back. Yeah, he’s probably happy he’s paired with Jared, knowing that Jared actually puts effort in his studies, unlike some other people. If Marcus thinks Jared is going to write this whole thing alone, well, he’s in for a big disappointment. Jared has a competition on Sunday, he doesn’t have the time to do the work for two people. He’s still thinking about that when he walks up to Marcus after the bell.

“I hope you’re not counting on me writing the whole paper, Marcus. You can’t play your hot shot NHL prospect card here,” he says to Marcus’s startled face.

“Uhm, I wasn’t counting on that. And definitely wasn’t going to play my ‘hot shot NHL prospect’ card, whatever that means,” he replies and looks kind of genuinely offended. Great.

“Okay, then we should get together sometime to discuss what we’re planning on writing. How about Friday afternoon?”

“Can’t do. I have game that day, but maybe Thursday?”

“Thursday’s not good. I have practice I can’t miss because I have a competition this Sunday,” Jared replies.

“What kind of practice?” Marcus asks, curious. That’s fair, Jared thinks, he doesn’t know anything about Jared’s life.

“Figure skating,” he says, looking right into Marcus’s eyes, daring him to say anything bad. Jared used to be—not ashamed or embarrassed, but something close to that, when he had to tell other guys about the sport he does. Because it’s not ‘manly enough’ or whatever. But those days are behind him now, he refuses to be intimidated. Not about this.

As he’s looking Marcus right in the face, he doesn’t miss the way his eyes widen for a second then his whole face is morphed into an expression Jared cannot quite decipher. But it’s definitely not mockery, so Jared feels a little relieved.

“You figure skate?” Marcus asks, that strange expression still on his face.

“Yeah. I have been for 10 years,” Jared replies, feigning nonchalance, but really he’s—not worried per se, but he’s a bit apprehensive about the turn this conversation seems to have taken.

“That’s—uhm, that’s cool,” Marcus says and swallows. “How come I didn’t know this?” he asks presumably Jared, but it honestly sounds more like he’s talking to himself.

“Well, if you haven’t noticed before, we aren’t exactly friends. We never talked before,” Jared points out the obvious. “Well, apart from that impromptu snowball fight last week.” Jared still hasn’t forgiven Julius for it.

“That’s—that’s true,” Marcus says, and he actually sounds a bit—regretful about that? What the hell.

“Yeah. So what about Wednesday?”

“What?” Marcus asks.

“You know, the point of this whole conversation,” Jared gestures with his hands. “Would Wednesday afternoon be good for you to discuss and maybe research this paper?”

“Oh, uhm…yeah, I guess,” Marcus replies, but it’s clear to Jared that he’s not really focusing on this conversation anymore, which is just rude.

“That’s exactly the enthusiasm I was looking for. Good job, dude,” Jared says and Marcus just laughs, a clear, carefree laugh, like it was surprised out if him. And honestly Jared isn’t comfortable with the warm feeling that spreads through him at the sound of it. He refuses to have a crush on Bryce fucking Marcus, not matter his bright blue eyes, or the way his hair falls into his face, or his broad shoulders, or how nice his laugh sounds. Jared is not that stupid. Also, he really didn’t say anything that funny.

“So meet you in the library at fifteen past three on Wednesday?” he asks Marcus, anxious to move the conversation forward.

“Works for me,” Marcus replies.

“Cool. See you there then. Bye.” Jared says and leaves for the second period.

They meet up with Julius after school like they always do, and Jared practically ambushes him when he sees him.

“You have no fucking idea who have to write a paper with for next week,” he tells Julius.

“Who?”

“Bryce fucking Marcus!” he groans.

“Oh. OH! That’s splendid,” Julius says and grins wildly, with a kind of evil look in his eyes.

“Why, pray tell, are you looking like that?” Jared narrows his eyes. He really doesn’t like this.

“Oh, nothing, nothing, don’t worry about it, my dude,” Julius says and claps him on the shoulder. “So how are you going to go about it? Do you go to his place, or does he go to yours to study?” he asks, still grinning suspiciously.

“Are you enjoying this or something?” Jared asks.

“Only a lot.”

“I’m glad I’m entertaining you,” Jared grumbles.

“Others’ sufferings fill me with energy.” Julius sounds outright wicked. “Especially yours.”

Jared punches him in the arm at that. “Oh wow, who needs enemies with a best-friend-of-10-years like this.”

“What can I say? I exist to impress,” Julius says, still fucking grinning.

“Impress by what? The level your villainy can reach?”

“You know me so well,” Julius says, and Jared rolls his eyes.

“We’re not going to either of our places. We’re actually meeting in the library on Wednesday, after school.”

“Oh, so it’s gonna be a library date?”

“Oh yes, an epic date. We’re going to narrow down the topic, outline the paper, and maybe we if we’re lucky, can get some research done before the afternoon ends. The most romantic date that will have ever been. That’s what it’s going to be,” Jared says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I would also appreciate it, if you didn’t try to get me together with every boy I talk to.”

“I hope your study session will be more fun than you are being right now,” Julius tells him. Jared gives him the finger and walks away.

*

On Wednesday, Jared is not in a good mood. He couldn’t sleep the night before and he has been distracted and jittery all day. Julius asked him a few times if he was okay. It’s not Jared’s fault that the school buildings are overheated, and when he gets hot, his face becomes all blotchy.

After classes he buys a sandwich and eats it as he heads to the library. He’s a few minutes early, so he decides to browse the history section, looking for books that might be of use. Of course, he’s not a zillenial kid for nothing, he already has a few sites bookmarked on his laptop that’s in his bag. But Mr. Pelletier is old-school, so he requires actual books to be used for every paper written for his class. Jared has two seemingly promising books in his hand when he heads towards the tables a few minutes after half past. He’s still behind a bookshelf when he hears Marcus’s voice coming from the other side.

“Could you guys just chill?” he says, sounding exasperated. “We’re just going to discuss the paper we have to write. I can get through working with him for a few hours, without losing my goddamn mind, you can stop now.”

Jared grits his teeth. Good to know the friendly smiles of the past week were all just a farce from Marcus’s side. Jared is also capable of getting through a few hours of working with Marcus without losing his mind.

“If you say so,” someone—Rossi, replies. “We’re gonna go now.”

“Have fun on your date!” comes from Sánchez, a smirk audible in his voice.

It’s a pity Marcus is a fucking douche; he and Jared could have bonded over asshole friends. Jared takes a deep breath and rounds the bookshelf. Marcus is sitting with his back to Jared, his phone in his hand, but he’s not actively looking at it just as if he was using it to check the time. He has his laptop and a notebook – presumably his History notes – in front of him on the table.

Jared walks up to him and slides into the chair on the other side of the table and puts the two books down. Marcus looks up, startled. Good.

“Hi! Arrived too early, found some books that could be useful,” Jared says.

“Oh, uhm…that’s good,” Marcus replies.

“Eloquent as always, Marcus,” Jared says, because how could he not?

“Shut up,” Marcus mumbles.

Jared decides to be the bigger person and ignore that retort. If it could be called that. “So I was thinking we should talk about one specific residential school to like illustrate the general stuff and shit,” Jared says, eager to get to the point of their meeting. The sooner they start, the sooner Jared can go.

“Oh, I was thinking the same thing. I did some research – okay I searched for one that had a lot of sources on it but also wasn’t the most well-known one?” Marcus says, as he’s opening his laptop and clicking a few times. “And I picked File Hills Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan?” He turns the screen towards Jared. “If you’re okay with that.”

Jared is honestly a little – okay a lot surprised. He fully expected Marcus to slack of and be here only as an alibi, but not do any real work.

“Okay, I’m fine with that. I don’t have any strong feelings towards any of them,” he says. “Of course apart from the all-encompassing hatred and disgust I feel about their existence. But like that’s not specific for one school.”

“Yeah,” Marcus agrees. He shifts a little and knocks his ankle against Jared’s, just for a second before he moves it away, murmuring a ‘sorry’, but all of Jared’s attention is focused on the spot where he can still feel the heat of Marcus’ skin against his.

He tucks his feet firmly under his chair as Marcus goes on about what he found out about the File Hills, and he’s actually listing a few good ideas about how they could structure their paper, so in an hour, they have a complete outline, a few points for every subsection which they have divided among them. Jared is kind of impressed. They agree to get together on Saturday – as Jared’s Sunday is booked – to create their presentation, but before Jared could pack his stuff and bid adieu, Marcus speaks up.

“I’m hungry,” he says. Jared is confused as of why that is supposed to be of any interest to him.

“Well, buddy, I don’t know if you heard about this amazing thing that can help with your hunger. It’s called food. You put it in your mouth, chew it, then swallow it, and if you do this sequence enough times in a row, you no longer will be hungry,” Jared replies.

Marcus makes an offended face. Good.

“I know what food is, asshole,” Marcus mumbles.

“Takes one to know one, man.”

“Are you hungry?” Marcus blurts out and what?

“What?”

“Well, I—I didn’t have time to eat after classes and between our study session so I’m hungry, and...uh… if you’re in the same situation, I—I thought maybe we could grab something to eat?”

Jared is so confused.

“I thought you hated me.” And shit, Jared did not want to say that.

“What? Why would you think I hated you?” Marcus asks.

“I heard you, bud, before I came over here. Talking with Rossi and Sánchez about how you’ll be able to work with me for a few hours without going crazy,” Jared says and he can’t stop the hurt slipping into his voice.

“That’s—that’s not what I meant. I don’t hate you, Jared,” Marcus says, looking into Jared’s eyes so earnestly that he has no choice but to believe him. He also didn’t miss that this was probably the first time Marcus has used Jared’s name, and why is he saying Jared’s name? Jared didn’t tell him he could say his name.

“Oh, okay. What did you mean then, Bryce?” he asks because he has no idea.

“That’s—it’s not important,” Marcus says, which doesn’t exactly clear that up.

“That really clears things up.”

Bryce just shrugs. “So would you like to grab something to eat with me?”

Jared is not really hungry, actually. He had that sandwich before coming here, and it was a big fucking sandwich.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s go eat,” he says instead of any of that.

*

They find a nice looking kebab place – well, nice meaning it looks like they probably won’t get salmonella if they eat there, but it’s not as if their budget allowed anything fancier (and sometimes you just have to risk getting food poisoning in order to eat some cheap but delicious kebab, that’s just how it is) – and settle down at one of the tables.

This was a really bad idea, Jared thinks, because now they’re sitting in front of each other and there’s no nice way to eat a kebab – or if there is, Jared hasn’t learnt it yet – so his whole face will be covered in sauce and his kebab is going to fall apart and—the point is that Jared didn’t think this through.

Reason number two why Jared didn’t think this through is because they no longer have the school project to talk about and Jared no idea what they should talk about. He has never been a sociable person, he doesn’t know how to talk to people. He has no idea how he became friends with Julius. Being 6 with absolutely no filter must have helped. But it’s not like there’s a filter on him now that stops him from saying things. He literally has nothing in his brain that he could say. No thoughts, head empty.

“So, uh…” Marcus starts, and it seems he’s in a similar situation to Jared’s. “You figure skate?” he asks finally.

“Uhm, yeah. Since I was five,” Jared replies, because this is something he can talk about.

“And are you planning on doing that professionally?” Marcus asks, as he takes another bite of his kebab. Way to be civilized Marcus.

“Yeah, would be awesome if I could go to the Olympics, or even win,” Jared answers when his mouth is empty, because he’s not an uncultured swine. “Although, as a future NHLer, you probably don’t care about the Olympics, do you?”

“It’s not that I don’t care about the Olympics, it’s just that I care about the Cup more,” Marcus answers. “But it would be awesome to win a gold for Team Canada, I’m not gonna lie,” he says with a grin that Jared can’t help but find endearing. What the hell?

“Who knows, one year we might both represent Canada at the Olympics then.”

Marcus smiles at that, a little sheepish, and takes another bite. He shifts a little on his chair and ends up with his knee pressed slightly against Jared’s and doesn’t move it away. But neither does Jared.

Neither of them could be considered a small person – Jared is probably ahead of a major growth spurt, bit he’s already not small, and Marcus, well, he has a hockey player’s body – and the table is tiny, so it’s natural their legs should bump into each other from time to time, but why isn’t Marcus moving his leg away? Jared guesses it’s probably because of the hockey player thing, they are known for not caring about personal space. But Jared cares so much. He cannot focus on anything else apart from the spot where he can feel the heat coming from Marcus’ skin even through two layers of clothing. Because apparently, he does have a crush on Marcus because of his adorable grin and piercing blue eyes. Fucking good job, Matheson.

He tries to concentrate on what Marcus is saying, because he’s talking about how he got into hockey and since when he knew he wanted to do it professionally, and Jared only succeeds because he’s actually interested. Some would consider Marcus talking about himself – well, hockey, but that’s kind of related to him – arrogant but Jared doesn’t. He loves hockey and loves talking about it.

He even manages to ask a few questions about the upcoming draft, or if Marcus is nervous about the Combine (“I wasn’t until now, thanks for bringing that up, Jared.”) and Marcus asks him about figure skating, what made him try it in the first place, and if he ever thought about playing hockey instead (“Like those two are in any way related, apart from the ice. Have you ever thought about trying figure skating instead of hockey, Bryce?” “I actually have, but I have the grace of a newborn deer.”). Marcus talks about his dad who he lost when he was four, and it’s obvious he’s still hurting because he never got to really know him. But he loves his mother more than anyone in the word, no teenage angst or shame about it. And Jared suddenly gets the desire to try to protect Marcus from anything bad in the word, because he’s a 6’ dude, who so doesn’t need Jared’s protection, what the hell?

Their kebab is long gone by the time they reach a natural pause in their conversation, and Jared belatedly realizes that their knees are still pressed together under the table, somehow even more snuggly than it was at the beginning. It feels—comfortable, and even familiar? Which is stupid, Jared barely knows the guy, they have only spent one afternoon together.

“So, uh… I should probably head home,” Jared says. “It’s a school night after all, so my parents probably wouldn’t want me staying out too late.”

“Oh yeah, I get you, dude,” Marcus says. Then, looking at his watch, “Shit—my mum will kill me if I get home after dinner.”

“Here,” Marcus says to Jared’s confused face, holding out his phone to Jared once they have their clothes on and are ready to go. “Give me your number in case we hit any problems in our part of the paper that we’ll need to discuss.”

“Have you never heard about this thing called internet, where you can chat for free?” Jared asks, but he already has Marcus’ phone in his hands and is typing in his name and phone number before giving it back. He can see Marcus’ fingers moving across the screen and a few seconds later Jared’s phone alerts him about an incoming text message. Jared guesses he has Bryce Marcus’ phone number now. Whatever.

They say their goodbyes once they’re out on the sidewalk, which is a more than a little awkward – at least it feels like that for Jared. He never fucking knows the etiquette of saying goodbye to new people.  He settles for a simple wave and a ‘good night, see you later!’ that Marcus reluctantly reciprocates, although Jared can see a flash of disappointment in his eyes for a second. He decides not to think about that and starts walking home in the falling snow.