Okay, so none of the ‘languages’ worked. But he can tell Ransom. He can do it. He needs to do it.
He rides the wave of that determination for approximately two minutes, striding down the path back to the Haus with one thing on his mind. That’s until he realises what telling Ransom means. It means actually telling Ransom. Like, with his words. His confidence drains out the bottom of his runners step by step as all those old insecurities expand to fill the space.
In an attempt to regain a little energy, Holster stops by the little independent coffee shop that’s right in the middle of campus, and grabs a triple shot. Then he remembers that it’s like, ten pm and that much caffeine is not a good idea if he wants to sleep tonight, so he ends up just carrying it home without taking a sip. By the time he gets back, it’s almost cold, so he scrawls his name on it with Bitty’s pie-labeling Sharpie from the junk drawer and shoves it into the refrigerator for tomorrow morning. If he doesn’t want to drink it with his breakfast, someone else will. Nothing is sacred in the Haus.
Once the smallfry business of the coffee is dealt with, though, his mind is free to dwell on what he’s about to do. The stairs to the attic feel sort of like he’s walking to his execution, or a game that he knows he’s not prepared for. But Holster’s used to forcing himself to persevere through discomfort, and he does eventually make it to the top. He takes a moment to breathe and school his face into a normal expression before he opens the door. Ransom shoots him a concerned look when he walks into the room, though, so he’s obviously not acting one hundred percent normal.
“You alright, bro?”
“Yeah,” Holster says, and loses his nerve. G-d, he can’t do it. Not in the face of Ransom’s furrowed brow, not with all that attention focused on him. The last scrap of confidence his heart was clinging onto fizzes away, the final tendril of smoke from an extinguished fire. “What episode are you on?”
Holster can’t find a good time, the next day. But maybe he’s just making excuses.
(It makes him feel like a coward, but he can stand that. What he can’t stand is the thought of this changing things between them.)
Unfortunately, Ransom is practised at recognising Holster’s moods. And he definitely knows something is up, he’s just too polite to ask outright. The constant concerned looks are beginning to get on Holster’s nerves, but he knows that’s not fair. Ransom is just worried, and he’s not wrong: after all, Holster is going through something.
The day ends without him being able to gather the courage to say anything, though. He keeps thinking about what he tried to do, with those love languages, how he tried his hardest to make Ransom see, and none of them worked. He had expected to find the one that Rans recognised; that damn website said that everyone had one that they responded to more than the others, and with each one that failed he had held onto the belief that he’d eventually find Ransom’s. But he’s gone through all five now, and nothing. Nilch. Nada.
There’s no way in hell he’ll call it a waste of time, given what he learnt from it, how he’s been able to make huge improvements in the way he treats his best friend, romantic progress notwithstanding. But it is damn frustrating.
In the end, though, the frustration is just misplaced fear, isn’t it. Because now he has to face up to it. Has to look that wonderful guy in the eyes and say something that he can’t take back, something that could irreparably change their friendship. There’s no more hovering around the subject, no more delaying it with fun little tasks, no more avoiding it. That’s the scary part.
Ransom is sitting in the den when Holster gets back from his midday Business class. Which is a surprise, because Ransom only has morning classes and he almost always uses this free time to get lunch with his pre-med buddies, just so he doesn’t spend all of his free time with the hockey team (most of whom don’t understand the first thing about any of his many weird classes).
But instead, today, Ransom isn’t going out for lunch. There’s an empty bowl on the coffee table that is proof he made his own lunch and has already eaten it, and from the little chiming noises, all he’s doing on his phone is playing Candy Crush. Something niggles in the back of Holster’s brain.
He realises it when Ransom turns to look at him, and smiles, and stands up. Rans was waiting for him, for some reason.
“Hey,” he says cautiously as he closes the front door behind him.
All Ransom says is, “Don’t take off your shoes.”
And like, Holster already had one shoe off, so that was a bit late, Rans. He hops around trying to undo the laces enough that he can fit his foot back inside it, and Ransom spends the time laughing at him. He comes up to the entranceway and he’s holding two duffel bags, that look suspiciously like—
“Are those our kit bags?”
Ransom is sliding his own feet into his sliders and barging past Holster out the door. “Pssh, no, of course not, bro.”
“That sounds fake.”
Holster knows the way to Faber, okay. So he’s not surprised when they eventually end up there, and Ransom heads inside. It just kind of hits him that this isn’t practice time, that something unusual is going on, something out of Ransom’s routine. He wonders, vaguely, if this is Ransom’s way of punishing him for that giveaway in their last game. If it’s a hint that he needs to work harder.
No, that’s stupid, because Ransom’s laughing as he turns and sees Holster stock still on the sidewalk. “C’mon, bro. Quit just standing there.”
Holster shakes his head and follows his d-partner into the rink.
Ransom makes Holster put his pads on, but lets him wear his hoodie over the top rather than a proper jersey. He fetches Holster’s stick from the rack himself, and Holster follows his lead in putting on gloves as well, because he honestly doesn’t know what’s going on.
“Wait, how’d you even get a key?” he asks, and Ransom just shrugs.
“Guess the caretaker likes me.”
“Bullshit. The caretaker doesn’t like any of us.”
Ransom doesn’t answer, which obviously means Holster is right. Did he steal the key from Jack? That’s brave. It doesn’t really matter, though, because when they get to centre ice, Ransom spins around and pulls a puck out of his pocket. Holster is too confused to react immediately, which Ransom takes advantage of. A second later, he’s ten feet down the ice with the puck on his stick.
Okay, they’re doing this. Holster digs in and sprints after Ransom.
After Ransom scores, which was honestly pretty inevitable given the speed he set off at, Holster drags him back to centre ice and asks what the hell is going on.
“Bonding time,” Ransom pants. That sprint was obviously not effortless, which makes Holster feel a little better for allowing the goal. “You’ve been pretty down recently.”
Holster takes a breath to say, well, something, an explanation, probably. But Ransom holds up his hand. “I don’t need to know why. You obviously don’t want to talk about it, and that’s cool. But skating always makes you feel better, so.”
He shrugs, and looks down at his skates as if he’s embarrassed, or like he thinks it’s too much. Holster pushes at his shoulder, because his affection is always physical, love languages or no.
“Dude, that’s so thoughtful,” he grins. “Thanks.”
And then, while Ransom is beaming back at him, he scoops the puck away with the toe of his stick and takes off toward his goal. Ransom’s reaction is quicker than Holster’s was earlier, though, and he’s shouldering Holster off the puck when he’s barely got over the blue line.
“Ooh, what a steal by Oluransi!” Holster calls. “And look at that acceleration! That man has legs, folks! He’s got a breakaway!”
Ransom laughs, and spins to skate backward, facing Holster but still moving with some speed and keeping the puck neatly on his stick. It’s pretty impressive, honestly. “Birkholtz has no hope of catching him! It’s just the goaltender between the Leafs and a goal!” he calls back, playing along.
And Holster can’t have that. The Sabres need him.
Holster’s sweating through his hoodie by the time they come to centre ice for one last faceoff. He’s a bit tired, honestly, a bit battered (Ransom had smiled when Holster asked why he had to wear pads, and swiftly slammed him into the boards, leaving him breathless for more than one reason. Casual displays of strength do it for him, he’s not going to apologise. But it does mean that he’s gotten a few new bruises that ache when he stands still, and his legs are starting to get a bit achy with built-up lactic acid. From the way Ransom winces as he crouches for the faceoff, he’s feeling it too.)
Mentally, though, Holster feels great. There’s the usual endorphins of exercise, sure, and the hockey without a purpose, the messing around, the having fun, has been awesome. But on top of that, his chest feels light and airy, buoyed by the way Ransom is smiling at him and the fact that he’d give up his free time to try and make Holster feel better without even asking for an explanation for what the problem is.
So light and airy, in fact, and maybe a bit lightheaded from that last sprint he did, (definitely lightheaded from the affection in Ransom’s beaming face), that he just—says it. As if he hasn’t spent the last whoever-knows-how-long agonising over it. As if it’s easy. But maybe it is, because everything is easy with Ransom, and always has been. And this has been a long time coming. Maybe it just wanted out.
“I’m in love with you,” he says.
Ransom, for his part, looks incredibly surprised. He straightens up, his stick falling out of his hands as if he’s forgotten how to hold things. It makes a loud clattering noise on the ice, and Holster winces.
“You—” he starts. “What?”
“I’m in love with you, Rans.”
It’s easier, now that it’s out there, to say it again. Ransom’s eyes are wide, though, and Holster can’t decipher the emotions flickering across his face.
The moment hangs in the air. The only sound is their breathing, echoing in the cold air of the rink. Holster thinks he can hear his heartbeat echoing around the boards, too, but that might just be his imagination.
G-d, he wishes Ransom would say something.
He wishes he hadn’t blurted that out. This is the whole problem, the whole reason he tried to avoid a conversation. Because he has to stand here and watch Ransom figure out how to let him down gently. It hurts.
“Anyway, uh,” Holster says, starting to drift away from centre ice, some half-formed plan in his head of running away to lick his wounds in a random toilet stall.
But then Ransom lurches forward, and wraps a gloved hand around his left arm. “Hold up, don’t—”
Holster tries to rip free—he actually succeeds, but doesn’t take advantage of it because he’s kind of shocked that he managed it, that Ransom just let him go. He barely gets a couple feet away, and that’s only from his momentum. Something’s wrong with the way Ransom is looking at him, but he’s not sure he wants to stay long enough to find out what it is.
“Holtzy,” Ransom says, all pleading, and Holster doesn’t want to hear his apologies, or his pity.
He’s turned his back, is starting to stride shakily off the ice, when Ransom speaks again.
“Adam,” he says, and it shocks through Holster like ice water, the name and the emotion behind it. When he turns around again, Ransom’s face is concerned and earnest and distressed all at once. “Shit, you gotta know how much I love you, man.”
Oh, fuck no, Holster can’t deal with this. “Rans, it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same, don’t—”
“What if it is the same?” Ransom says to the ice, so quiet Holster’s sure he can’t be hearing him correctly.
“I said, what if it is the same.” Ransom looks right at Holster, his jaw squared. His eyes are a little wild, a little terrified. “I—I think I’m bisexual. And you mean so much to me, dude, I wouldn’t be surprised—I’ve never been in love before, but—”
“You like guys?” Holster says, which maybe isn’t the key part of what Ransom just said, but is definitely the part he feels most able to address right now.
Ransom shrugs. “Yeah, I guess. Mostly just you, though.”
“You’re sure?” Holster asks. Rans sort of winces, and he realises what he said. “No, sorry, that’s a shitty thing to ask. But, like—” he takes a laboured breath. “Me?”
“Not sure if you’ve noticed,” Ransom says wryly. “But you’re kind of super hot, bro.”
Holster barely manages a shaky inhale before Ransom continues. “And you’re—you’re awesome, man, you’re my best fucking friend, I want to be around you the whole time, I want to do everything with you—fuck, for as long as you’ll let me. It’s only recently that I—that I started to realise that maybe that wasn’t totally platonic.”
Holster feels like he’s watching this in third person, floating outside his head watching himself gawp at his best friend. “Why didn’t you say something?” he hears himself say.
“I was tryna figure it out, Holtzy. And I thought you were, I don’t know, struggling with other stuff. I didn’t want to be another stress for you.”
Holster almost wants to laugh. “Dude, I was struggling because I was trying to figure out how to tell you how I felt without actually having to have a conversation.”
Ransom grins so damn wide. “Not gonna lie, we’re pretty stupid, bro.”
The sound of his laugh, the look in his eyes, the little disbelieving shake of his head—Holster loves him. So fucking much. And he doesn’t have to hide it anymore. Doesn’t have to bite his tongue, so he just says it.
The way Ransom’s eyes crinkle up in the corners makes it impossible not to reach for him, pull him closer, close as he can get. Holster was only really going for a hug, but that doesn’t mean he’s complaining at all when Ransom puts one hand on his jaw and guides him in. He stops just before their lips meet, and Holster is almost too dizzy from the feeling of hot breath and gentle fingers and the other hand, coming up to pull at his waist, that he barely manages a little nod of consent.
And then they’re kissing—and Holster is actually, totally, kissing his best friend, and there’s only one thought in his head.
Holy fucking shit.