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Bryce is more nervous than Jared’s ever seen him.

Okay, maybe not like, as nervous as he was stepping out of the car and offering his hand to Jared’s dad after he caught them with Jared’s hand in his pants, or the wrung tight anxiety of the final days of trade negotiations — which, holy shit no wonder — but it’s close, Bryce practically vibrating out of his skin as they get ready for media day. If Bryce tries to fix his hair one more time —

“Media’s going to be nice to you,” Jared says.

It’s going to all be ‘how does it feel to come home?’ and nice pictures of Bryce in a Canucks jersey as a kid. The Canucks already tweeted one provided by Elaine, Bryce and his dad at a game when he was a toddler. Bryce was a very cute kid, unsurprisingly. He’s the spitting image of his dad. It made Jared ache, in a dim way, but the reaction from Canucks fans, excitement to have him and an avalanche of ‘aww he was adorable’ was nice to see. They’re leaning in hard to the ‘hometown boy finally lives his dream’ narrative. It’s a good one. Reporters are a fan of it. Jared’s just grateful they have it to lean on instead of looking his way, though he’s shown up a few times, though just in a ‘reunited with a good friend’ way, thankfully.

“I’m not worried about the media,” Bryce says.

Jared gives him a sceptical look.

“Well, like, yeah,” Bryce says. “But it’s — I dunno, I want to make a good first impression.”

“You already have,” Jared says.

“With the team, though,” Bryce says.

“You will,” Jared says.

“I want this to be my team, you know?” Bryce says. “Like, we’re going to be here for awhile, and—”

Jared kisses his scrunched up forehead. “They’ll like you. Just like. Be Bryce. Real Bryce. Real Bryce is great.”

He kisses the slight uptick of Bryce’s mouth for good measure.

“You go in first?” Jared asks.

“Okay,” Bryce says.

They’ve made ground rules: they’re going to go to team stuff separately, at least to start. Revisit later, but right now Bryce will go in alone and Gabe will pick Jared up, which he started doing last season for Environment Reasons, like they aren’t flying in chartered planes on the regular. They’re not going to sit together on the plane either, Jared back in the rotation with Gabe, who goes between him and Dmitry depending on if he wants chill company or not.

Eating together at dinners, that’s fine, because it’s not like, a partner thing, so Jared will continue to eat with Gabe and Bryce will join. They’re not going to lean into any media about a bromance. They don’t need to like, stick together twenty four hours a day, they get to spend more time together than they ever have, so team time’s like, different. Will some teammates figure out they’re together anyway? Probably, judging by the past, but they’re going to do their best to avoid it, and just take it as it comes.

And no sleepovers on the road, Jared doesn’t care how much Bryce pouts about it.

“You’re going to do fine,” Jared says. “Stop fucking with your hair.”

Bryce guiltily lowers his hand.

“See you there?” Jared asks.

“See you there,” Bryce says.

Gabe picks Jared up about ten minutes after Bryce heads out, but when Jared goes to get into the front seat, it’s already occupied.

“Who said Stephen was allowed?” Jared says, grumpily getting in the back.

“The owner of this motor vehicle,” Stephen says.

“Is that you or Gabe?” Jared asks.

“What’s his is mine, etc,” Gabe says. “Where’s Bryce?”

“He went ahead,” Jared says. “We figured we’d like, come in separately for a bit, be like, subtle.”

Gabe and Stephen exchange a look. Jared’s not sure what it’s meant to convey, but it succeeds at annoying him.

“I told you that was our plan,” Jared says.

“I know,” Gabe says. “Just — don’t get your hopes up about not getting caught? The guys aren’t dumb.”

“I know,” Jared says.

“And you’re kind of obvious,” Gabe says.

“I know,” Jared mutters.

“I worry if you’re feeling particularly confident about hiding certain things you’re going to let other things slip,” Gabe says. “And like, obviously the guys will have your backs, but I know you and Bryce don’t want to come out, and you’re going to have to focus on the little things here.”

“Oh my god, are you like, momming and dadding me right now?” Jared says.

“Are you the mom?” Stephen asks.

“I think I’m the mom,” Gabe says.

“You’re both the mom,” Jared mutters.

“Gay,” Stephen says, and Gabe snorts.

“Real talk,” Stephen says.

Jared braces himself. Stephen’s mean enough without a disclaimer at the beginning.

“You guys fucking suck at hiding your relationship,” Stephen says. “And yeah, yeah, that’s at me and Gabe’s, safe space, but it took Gabe, what, thirty seconds?”

“At least a minute,” Gabe says.

“It took Gabe fifteen seconds to figure out you guys were together the first time he met Bryce,” Stephen says. “And even though Gabe is a) part of the community and b) an exceptionally clever person, we can reasonably assume something that can be put together by him in fifteen seconds will be put together by the Canucks within the next two years. So we’re concerned you’ve decided that these ground rules mean you’re not going to get figured out. Because that is exceedingly unlikely.”

“I know we are,” Jared says. “We’re just trying to like — minimize.”

“You’re definitely the dad,” Gabe tells Stephen. “But like, my dad, not yours.”

“Seems fair,” Stephen says.

“So you’re saying we’re fucked,” Jared says.

“We wouldn’t put it—” Gabe starts.

“You’re fucked,” Stephen says.

“Thanks for that,” Jared says.

“It’s best not to lie to the children,” Stephen says. “Santa’s not real, neither is the Easter Bunny, you two are going to get caught.”

Jared rolls his eyes.

“The hockey gods probably exist though,” Gabe says.

“Oh, absolutely,” Stephen agrees.

“The hockey gods do not exist,” Jared says.

“Do you want to walk?” Stephen says. “You sound like you want to walk.”

“They don’t,” Jared mutters.

“If they didn’t you wouldn’t be on the same team as your husband,” Stephen says.

Jared cannot retort, because ‘no that’s because his agent and him did some pretty unethical shit to make it happen’. Sworn to secrecy, and even if he wasn’t? That is not something you tell someone who works for another agency, liney’s boyfriend or not.

He looks out the window.

“He’s sulking, Gabriel,” Stephen says.

“Yeah, he does that,” Gabe says.

Jared scowls out the window.

“Chin up, Math,” Gabe says. “You’re about to see your husband.”

Jared bites his lip hard so he doesn’t smile. He doesn’t think it works.

“I wonder what his nickname’s going to be,” Stephen muses. “Since they’ve already got a Marksy.”

“Probably something skill related,” Gabe says. Clearly he is uninterested in ceding the Marksy name. “Maybe military? Snipeshow, Gunner. Or something tactical if they figure out early that he’s got a killer hockey IQ.”

Jared gives into the inevitable smile.

“What’s his middle name?” Stephen asks.

“Justin,” Jared says.

“BJ?” Stephen says. “Yeah, you two keep that to yourselves.”

“No kidding,” Jared says.

“BJ,” Stephen snickers, and Jared has the sinking feeling that Stephen is exclusively going to refer to Bryce as BJ from now on.

*

Bryce is already in front of cameras when they arrive, which Jared doesn’t find surprising. He’s not just a new Canuck, which is always going to get media, but he’s slotting right up into first line centre, who is always going to get media. He looks good in front of the cameras, more comfortable than he usually does, probably because it’s not a hostile group, and he’s getting the easy questions. Jared distinctly hears a ‘as a Canucks fan growing up—’ as him and Gabe pass by.

Jared puts on his jersey and his dumb game face in front of a photographer for his head shot. Deals with a little bit of media — not nearly as much as Bryce, obviously, though he does get a question about Bryce from a reporter who clearly read the fluff piece from last season, a ‘how does it feel to have Bryce Marcus on your team?’ that Jared deflects, mostly just talking about how talented he is and how he makes their team better. All true things, much safer than ‘fucking elated’.

He keeps his distance from Bryce all day, which isn’t hard when he’s done like, way before Bryce, even though Bryce got there first. Done before Gabe too, because the A is increased responsibility, and he fiddles around on his phone and waits, enduring a crushing hug from Dmitry Kurmazov and an even more irritating hair ruffle before Dmitry unceremoniously crashes Gabe’s interview to do the same thing to him in front of laughing reporters. Gabe endures it with much more grace than Jared. Jared supposes he’s used to it after a decade on the same team.

Bryce raises his eyebrows at the end of the day, and Jared raises them back, then meets him at the car. No one’s paying attention, and Stephen picked up Gabe and nobody invited him, which is rude. So Jared kind of needs a ride. Probably makes sense to catch it with his husband.

“Media go okay?” Jared asks as Bryce pulls out.

“It was good,” Bryce says. “You were right, it was all like ‘how’s it feel living the dream, Bryce?’. Which is pretty easy to answer, because it’s like, awesome, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Jared says.

“Probably going to feel less awesome by the end of training camp, but that sucks no matter what team you’re on, so,” Bryce says.

They have an early night — training camp is not a joke — go in separately the next morning, Gabe picking him up sans Stephen this time. By the time they get there Bryce is firmly in the middle of introductions, and Jared leaves him to it, endures another hug from Dmitry — he just saw him — asks about guys’ summers, their training plans, echoes Gabe’s ‘good to see you again, Bryce’ when Bryce’s introductions land in their corner.

Gabe rolls his eyes at Jared.

“What,” Jared.

“‘Good to see you again’,” Gabe says.

“What,” Jared says. “You said it.”

“I didn’t eat breakfast with him,” Gabe says, low.

“You has us over for dinner like three days ago, fuck off,” Jared says.

It’s all of twenty minutes into training camp before Bryce has made a friend.

Jared eyes him.

Dmitry says something, and Bryce dissolves into giggles.

Jared’s eyes grow narrower.

“Glaring at your liney because he’s making your boy laugh is not being subtle, Math,” Gabe murmurs right into his ear.

Jared gives him the finger but looks away.

It’s off ice stuff in the morning — Coach is big on team-building, and Jared would roll his eyes but the Canucks are a close-knit team, so it seems to work — ice time in the afternoon. Jared’s half into his gear when he takes an elbow to the back.

“What,” Jared says.

Gabe elbows him again. “Math,” he says.

“Hm?” Jared says.

“Please don’t tell me that’s your handwriting over his heart,” Gabe says, low, and Jared’s ears go red. It still gets to him, a low punch in the gut when he sees it, but then, it’s only been a few weeks since Bryce snuck out and got the tattoo. Would Jared have vetoed it if Bryce asked first? Absolutely. Is Jared kind of stupidly obsessed with it? Also the case.

“Don’t tell Stephen,” Jared says.

“No way Stephen doesn’t watch an interview and put two and two together,” Gabe says. “Sorry.”

Jared is going to sternly remind Bryce to wear a shirt in any and all interviews in the future. Because Stephen will be intolerable. Or, oh god. Erin. Bryce is never allowed to be shirtless in Erin’s vicinity. First time that happened it became a ridiculous media clusterfuck. Next time it happens Erin will chirp Jared into the ground.

“Maybe don’t sign anything near the guys,” Gabe says.

“It’s not my autograph signature,” Jared says. “I’m not crazy.”

“He tattooed your name on his chest and you two think you aren’t going to be caught,” Gabe mumbles, more to himself than Jared.

“Shut up,” Jared hisses anyway.

*

Jared gets a ride back with Gabe after training camp, starts making them dinner, because if he doesn’t start now it’s not going to happen. They got bag skated at the end of the day. Bag skating’s always hell, but at least when it’s a punishment you feel like you’re atoning for something. Bag skating at the start of training camp’s a fitness gauge, nothing more, but it still feels like a punishment.

Jared wasn’t dead last. He wasn’t among the first — fuck you Bryce — but he was firmly middle of the pack, at least. And he didn’t throw up after, which isn’t true of all of his teammates.

Dinner’s simple, pasta, sauce from a bottle, pre-cooked chicken, frozen veg. It still feels like way too much work. They’ve got a meal service starting next week and it can’t come soon enough.

Jared’s legs feel like lead. He wonders if he can just — drag a chair from the dining room and sit. Stove’s probably a little high for that.

Bryce gets in as Jared’s debating, curves a hand around his hip, presses a kiss to the back of his neck.

“Good first day?” he asks.

“My legs feel like lead,” Jared says.

“Sit, I’ll take over,” Bryce offers, and Jared takes him up on it, though he does drag the chair closer, half to keep Bryce company, half to backseat cook because he doesn’t trust him. He hasn’t earned it.

“I can make pasta,” Bryce huffs.

“Remains to be seen,” Jared says. “How’d it go on your end?”

“Good,” Bryce says. “I feel good about it.”

“What were you and Dmitry all cozy about anyway?” Jared asks.

“Dima was telling me about his kids,” Bryce says.

“They’re cute kids,” Jared says. Though he’s sure they’re being raised for evil. “Dima?”

“Yeah he told me to call him that,” Bryce says, all happy about it. He’s Dima to Gabe and Stephen too, so it’s not like it’s completely novel, but big step for day one.

“You couldn’t befriend someone less annoying?” Jared asks plaintively.

“Dima’s not annoying,” Bryce protests.

Jared suspects there is going to be too much Dmitry Kurmazov in his immediate future. And there already was too much Dmitry Kurmazov.

“I said I’d babysit,” Bryce says.

Jared pinches his nose. Way too much Dmitry Kurmazov.

“I can’t believe he manipulated you into free babysitting within one day of meeting you,” Jared says.

“I love kids,” Bryce protests.

Jared sighs. He suspects he has also now been manipulated into free babysitting, because someone’s got to be the responsible person who won’t like, give into their every demand. Because he suspects that is not going to be Bryce; Dmitry and Oksana would probably get home to two kids wired on sugar well past their bedtime. Not that they would deserve otherwise.

After dinner, which is fine — Bryce beams when Jared tells him that like he just said it was the best thing he’s ever eaten — they hit the couch. And truly hit it in Jared’s case, because he’s slumping within a minute, right into Bryce, who is irritatingly upright.

“You aren’t tired,” Jared accuses.

“I’m tired,” Bryce says.

“You don’t look tired,” Jared mutters.

Bryce kisses the top of his head.

“Gabe noticed the tattoo,” Jared says. “You should probably like, wear a shirt in every interview just in case.”

“Okay,” Bryce says.

“I’m not going to babysit Dmitry’s kids with you,” Jared says, without much resolve.

“That’s fine,” Bryce says. “Totally cool doing it on my own.”

“I’m gonna take a nap now,” Jared murmurs.

“Nap away, babe,” Bryce says, turning on something low, heartbeat steady under Jared’s cheek. Jared’s not sure if he does nap, just kind of drifts for a long time until Bryce pokes him up and Jared brushes his teeth with his eyes half shut before crawling right into bed.

“Went pretty well for a first day,” Bryce says.

“Shh, sleeping,” Jared mumbles.

“You’re kind of mean when you’re exhausted,” Bryce says, but like, fondly.

“Shh,” Jared repeats. “Sleeping.”

The alarm comes way too fucking soon, and Jared’s legs firmly protest standing up, while Bryce hums to himself in the kitchen, making coffee and looking like, early morning chirpy.

“I hate you,” Jared tells his irritatingly un-tired looking back.

“Good morning, babe,” Bryce says cheerfully. “I love you too.”

Jared gives him the finger and then hops in the shower, hoping it makes him feel more human.

“We hate Bryce,” Jared informs Gabe on the drive in. Bryce already left, still bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited for another day that will only contain pain. But not for him. No pain for Bryce.

“Oh, do we now?” Gabe says. “Trouble in paradise came quick.”

“He wasn’t tired after the bag skate,” Jared says.

Gabe gives him an incredulous look.

“I know,” Jared says.

“Maybe he’s just better at pretending?” Gabe asks.

“He isn’t,” Jared says. “We hate him.”

“We absolutely hate him,” Gabe agrees.

Bryce and Dmitry are giggling about something when they get in.

Jared glares at them and then slowly gets into his gear.