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langues de l'amour, langue des idiots

Chapter Text

Holster's in love with Ransom. By now that thought barely makes him blink. It doesn't shake him down to his soul like it did the first time he realised, in sophomore year, sat across from his best friend in Annie's at five am, when the morning light was illuminating Ransom's face in some way that made Holster's heart just—stop. That had been earth-shattering, then. It had seemed like it must change everything he thought he was, everything he would do. In the end it had become obvious that it didn't change a thing, that Ransom had been his favourite person since that first hockey practice, and he had always loved him, platonically or else.

It doesn't even hurt as much as he thought it would, being in love your best friend. Of course there's the odd moment of burning jealousy that catches him unawares and every now and then he'll feel like crying because he knows Ransom loves him but he's not in love with him and that little word makes all the difference.

But most of the time he's fine.

Yeah, he's fine.

 

 

---

 

 

Sometimes Holster feels like telling Ransom. Like, he really wants to. They share everything and it's so weird to have this one thing to himself. But he's never had a way with words. He just knows that he'll freeze up or it'll come out wrong and someone would get hurt.

And then on top of that—it's not that he's worried about Ransom taking it badly, exactly, because they're best bros and he's not a homophobic asshole, but he is, sort of, worried that something would change and he'd never get the same Ransom back.

So he's pretty much settled into not saying anything and just waiting for it to die down, and that would be great if he thought it was the kind of thing that could, like, die down.

Ah well. C'est la vie, as Jack might say.

Or, y'know, he might not.

 

 

---

 

 

It's Bitty who changes Holster's mind, eventually. He's hanging out in the kitchen supervising the baking of matzah for the Haus Seder that's happening this year because Easter break is too late for him and Jack to go home for Passover.

(He's not sure it'll be totally by-the-book and of course nothing beats family Seder but he loves this team so much for trying to make him feel at home when college admin screws him over.)

And Bitty just casually mentions this thing he heard of in one of his random humanities electives, this theory of the love languages.

"—so there’s five, but we all have one we recognise best,'' he's saying, but Holster's stuck on the whole 'showing you love someone without having to actually tell them' bit. Because that's like, the genius solution he's been looking for. No chance of fucking up his words if he doesn't use words. It’s perfect.

Plus, Ransom's smart. Holster's sure he'll be able to put it together.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster has to go and look it up just to be sure he heard Bitty right, but the first on the list is just what the little guy said: gifts.

Which is perfect, because Passover. Holster's already mailed his family their presents. It's not as big a deal as Christmas is for Christians but it's nice to celebrate the festival together and show your loved ones that they're appreciated. So like, it's totally not weird to give Random a little gift, but it might stand out enough for him to realise what Holster's trying to say.

Holster spends maybe a bit too long online. He eventually rolls his eyes at himself where he's lying on his bunk, laptop on his chest, neck certainly developing a crick, and goes to order what his original idea had been.

 

Ransom’s smile when he opens it is nothing short of blinding.

Of course Shitty can’t let the moment be private for long because he leans over Ransom’s shoulder and bursts into laughter.

“A Toronto Maple Leafs egg timer? Damn, brah. You’ve outdone yourself.”

And Holster can hardly explain to Shitty that it’s because Ransom always lets time escape him when he’s buried in work and he wants there to be something stupid for him to smile at when everything else is stressing him out. That’s a bit—well, he’s well aware of how ridiculous he is about Ransom. Even as it is, the look Shitty gives him before heading back into the kitchen is definitely on the wrong side of the line between confused and suspicious.

The problem is, even if Shitty has got it figured out (and Holster has no clue how, honestly), Ransom himself seems oblivious to the reason behind his gift. He might be slightly surprised, because it’s not really a thing they do, but he certainly hasn’t clocked that Holster means anything by it.

Holster tries to keeps an eye on him throughout the Seder but it morphs from waiting for Ransom to realise that I'm in love with him to appreciating how g-ddamn perfect Rans is. Holster's barely gotten over Ransom virtually memorising a book he read about 'how to accommodate your Jewish friend' two summers ago after accidentally forcing Holster to break Shabbat or Kosher one too many times in freshman year. It was overwhelming to come back to college to his best friend knowing almost as much as he did about Jewish dietary law and although Ransom had held himself back from learning all 613 mitzvot it was obvious that he'd done some serious self-education.

And Holster is pretty sure this is the same thing. Like Ransom's gone away even through the panic of finals and learnt everything he needed to help Holster (and Jack, he supposes) with the Seder meal. Which is—well, it makes Holster realise how much he actually does love this guy. He's not overriding their judgement and he's obviously steering well clear of the Hebrew involved but it's impossible to quantify the quiet support he's offering and the light reminders he keeps sending the rest of the team.

 

It's enough to let Holster relax and enjoy the familiar-but-different celebrations. Enjoy the wonky circles of Bitty's homemade matzah. The thrift store menorah Shitty bought before realising that he'd got the festivals mixed up. (Jack had let him apologise for maybe too long before just grinning and putting the thing on the table with an offhand comment that it was 'still a candle, right?')

The way this wonderful team is paying attention to his somewhat muddled instructions and eagerly getting involved even though most of them have never so much as heard the Passover story.

Jack's family is way less observant than Holster's so he's not exactly helping as much as occasionally going, oh yeah, we always skip that bit or I didn't know that was what that was for. His presence is crucial for the whole thing to work, though, because Holster's framing it as him and Jack holding Seder with everyone else being non-Jewish guests. That's always been a bit of a point of contention, whether you can invite non-Jews, but in his family they've always invited spouses and anyway, it would be pretty sad if it was just the two of them.

Holster's favourite thing about the Seder at home is the long winded discussion and explanation and of course he's a natural storyteller so he doesn't let the fact that his team are not at all Jewish detract him from his performance. Technically you’re not meant to teach the Torah to non-Jews but according to quite a few rabbis, actually, it’s not your fault if you’re teaching it to another Jew and the non-Jews just happen to hear it. Since the Seder incorporates quite a lot of scripture, it’s great that Jack’s here so the rest of the team can be subjected to the full Adam Birkholtz Passover Story Experience by proxy.

By the conclusion of the Seder most of the team are looking bored as hell, though. Holster tries not to be offended. He remembers what it was like as a child, when none of it made sense and he didn't understand the symbolism of it all. The team have already done enough just by organising this so he can't hold that against them.

They've got a game tomorrow so Jack makes them all go to bed early, pretty much as soon as the meal is over. Holster stays up a bit later, helping Bitty clean up under some sort of obligation he can’t explain, but Ransom’s still awake when he gets to the attic, watching Netflix in bed. Holster spots the Leafs egg timer pride of place on his desk and grins stupidly to himself as he gets changed.

 

 

---

 

 

Since one gift didn’t get the right message across, Holster decides to keep going and maybe make it a bit more obvious.

The problem is, there’s not really much room for improvement. He already brings Ransom coffee and snacks while he’s studying, he already, at huge expense, orders proper imported maple syrup to take with them to Annie’s, he already buys random things he sees in Target that he thinks Ransom needs or would put a smile on his face.

Holster buys him Hanukkah presents and Christmas presents and birthday presents and even, as part of a running joke, Fourth of July presents. And Ransom does the same—it’s just part of their relationship.

So, like, there’s no feasible way Holster could increase his gift-giving without literally bankrupting himself.

That’s that, then. Holster boots up his laptop and opens up the tab that he’d used to look up the love languages. ‘Gifts’ is evidently not the one he’s looking for.

Chapter Text

According to Wikipedia the next 'language' is quality time. Shitty looks at Holster a bit suspiciously when he asks about it, but he tells him what it means: doing things together, or even just being with the person when you’re not forced to, or when you have to give something else up or whatever.

 

“Like eating together.”

 

And, well, Holster already eats most of his meals with Ransom, at least when neither of them are in class.

 

“Or dates, like stay-in movie nights.”

 

Which they do on the regular, just without the romantic subtext.

 

“It doesn’t even need to be interactive, you can just do things at the same time like exercising, or studying.”

 

Well, now Shitty’s just listing activities that Ransom and Holster do together. This is a joke.

 

Shitty pulls a considering face as Holster stands sort of dumbly next to the couch. “Y’know, he’s got that late Ecology test, I’m sure he’d appreciate you just being there even if you’ve got nothing to study for.”

 

Holster feels like he’s been doused in an ice bath without permission.

 

“What,” he says, intelligently.

 

“Well, I assumed you were talking about Ransom, unless you’re hiding a girlfriend from us—which is totally not cool, brah.”

 

“I’m not dating Ransom?” Holster says. He thinks his voice has climbed a couple octaves.

 

“Nah, but you’re not saying that close friendships can’t be as important to someone as romantic relationships, are ya? You’re allowed to love your friends and want your platonic relationships to be strong and fulfilling, Birkholtz.”

 

“Of course,” Holster breathes. “Platonic relationships, right.”

 

That definitely gets him a weird look, but Holster’s too busy thundering up the stairs to the attic. He can’t believe that Ecology test slipped his mind. With all the Passover stuff and his own introspective focus recently he just totally forgot. He feels terrible.

 

Ransom’s sat on his bed, hunched over and frowning at his laptop, notecards and random sheets of paper spread around him in a way that makes him look like that FBI woman in Homeland who solved crimes by throwing all of the documents on the floor and sitting in the middle of them or something. Holster’s only seen a tiny bit of that show. But that’s what his brain comes up with as a description of Ransom at the moment.

 

It’s irrelevant, really. There’s a worrying look in his d-partner’s eyes and Holster knows that nothing about this current set-up is healthy.

 

“Hey, Rans," he says cautiously. “D’you wanna go to the library?”

 

“I don’t have any books due back,” Ransom says absently, and Holster frowns.

 

“Well I need to go,” he lies. “I just thought you might want to come with me. You always get more work done there.”

 

Ransom looks up, finally. Holster almost cheers. And then he almost falls over because this beautiful little smile breaks across the guy’s face.

 

“I guess.” Ransom starts collecting the mess of paper up into a more transportable pile. “Thanks for looking out for me, bro.”

 

“Always,” Holster replies, then he has to clear his throat and turn away because that sounded way more like a confession than he meant it to.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster figures it can’t hurt to do the gift thing as well and buy Ransom a coffee on the way to the library, so he goes into the shop on the pretense of buying one for himself and just gets two of Ransom’s favourite, fully intending to give 'his' one to Ransom later.

 

(Ransom’s smile is totally worth the price of two Timmies-style double doubles. Even if Holster had to argue with the barista about what he meant by ‘double-double’ and got charged like an extra 50¢ per cup because apparently the woman hates Canadians.)

 

Once they get to the library and settle down at a table, they both seem to realise at the exact same time that Holster doesn’t actually have anything to study with, while Ransom has a whole backpack full of notes, plus textbooks and his laptop. Holster guesses the game is up when Ransom levels him a no-nonsense, its-physically-impossible-for-you-to-lie-to-me-so-dont-even-try squint. Damn, he's got that expression down.

 

“You don’t have your notes,” he says, sounding tired and confused, like he thinks Holster might have left his stuff at the Haus accidentally. Which has happened before, to be fair.

 

“Uh…I’m moral support?” Holster says, and winces when Ransom’s eyes only narrow further.

 

“I want to hang out but you’ve got your test, and you’re probably not in the mood, so I’m just here to give you some company," he elaborates. “And scare off the people who come down this aisle making noise. Or the LAX bros. Whoever isn’t going to help you study, I guess.”

 

He’s rambling, and he’s fully aware of this. He wasn’t really expecting Ransom to call him out. And he can hardly say, yeah I’m trying to help you notice that I’m in love with you. That would be... less than ideal.

 

“Oh,” Ransom says, before Holster’s train of thought can get away from him, and he glances down at his hands. “You didn’t have to do that, bro.”

 

“I wanted to,” Holster says back, just stubborn enough to check any argument Ransom might have.

 

 

---

 

 

Ransom aces the Ecology test. Which Holster knew was gonna happen, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less happy to see Rans grinning about it. 

 

Then,

 

“It’s all thanks to you, bro,” Ransom says.

 

And Holster doesn’t know what to do with the look in his best friend’s eyes.

 

“Wha’d’ya mean?” he manages.

 

“You looked out for me,” Ransom says easily. “You made sure I was gonna be as productive as possible, even when that took up your own time.”

 

Well, that’s exactly what Holster was aiming for, but Ransom still seems to be taking this as a ‘bros’ thing. And that’s fine, because there’s still three love languages left to tey, but Holster thought that day had been more like a date than anything he’s done with Ransom before. Except maybe the Niagara Falls thing. But that’s something other bros do. Other bros don’t give up a comfortable afternoon of 30 Rock binging to sit with their bro as he studies just so he has company. 

 

At least Holster is pretty sure they don’t.

 

Maybe he and Ransom are just too codependent for all this slightly-unplatonic stuff to be noticed, in the context of all the rest of the routine they have. They do already spend a ridiculous amount of time with each other. Like, waking up early for practice, then breakfast, meeting up between classes, working out, chilling—Holster knows that some people would not be able to deal with one person for that long. But they’ve always been joined at the hip. 

 

(More so than some actual couples Holster knows, which makes something weird twist in his stomach.

 

He immediately feels bad for thinking that, because he knows that however much he might, Ransom will never mean it like that. They’re friends, great freaking friends but only friends. And it’s not fair on either of them to start reading too deeply into what Ransom says or does.)

 

 

---

 

 

As soon as classes start again after spring break Holster makes sure he gets a copy of Ransom’s exam schedule and learns the times of every single one, final and pop quiz alike. Since Rans always puts more study hours in anyway, Holster gets in the habit of dragging him out of the attic and to the library, via the coffee shop, and just sitting with him, sometimes studying but normally just doing whatever. He can tell that it’s appreciated and Ransom always seems less stressed when he’s got the space to organise everything and some low maintenance company and the resources in easy reach, at least far better than sitting hunched on his bed in panic mode.

 

Holster would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy it too. It’s got to the pathetic point where just being there with Ransom, no matter what they’re doing, is somehow calming. Easy. There’s no pressure and no awkwardness, only their trademark seamless coexistence. Holster loves it a little too much.

 

He loves it so much, in fact, that he sort of forgets he’s doing Bitty’s whole ‘love language’ thing. And then he promptly realises that the quality time isn’t working to convince Ransom of anything, because even Holster himself can’t distinguish it from something that’s completely normal for them.

 

So, like, maybe it’s time for him to move onto the next one.

Chapter Text

The words of affirmation, Holster thinks, is gonna be the most obvious one. It must be. Like, sure, they exchange compliments every now and then but he found a website with some examples of the things you have to say and he’s never said any of that to Ransom. It’s stuff like, ‘you mean the world to me’ and ‘I love being in love with you’. He even sees one that’s all, ‘you smell delicious’ which is totally creepy and not what he wants to be aiming for in any way.

 

Most of them are for when you’re already in a relationship, evidently, and those are not something he can easily segue into during normal bro conversations.

 

(He can’t say, ‘you are gorgeous’, even though Ransom definitely is. 

 

He can’t say, ‘I can’t get enough of you’ because that’s a bit too close to what he’s still too chicken to admit out loud.

 

And he definitely can’t say, ‘you’re the love of my life’ even though he thinks that might just be true.)

 

He still finds a few pointers and is able to adapt some of the examples into sentences which he thinks fit the way he feels without being too blatantly like a confession. They’re slightly on the edge of uncomfortable, of laying everything bare, but he supposes they’ll have to be if he wants to get his point across.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster is admittedly too scared to use those straight out the gate so he decides to start small. Just putting a bit more feeling into the ordinary stuff, the yells on the ice and the back slaps in the locker room. But as Ransom continues being oblivious, he has to up his game.

 

That was a damn beautiful pass, he says, gentler than normal, on the bench after Ransom got a lovely assist on one of Jack’s goals. His heart swells when Ransom smiles and ducks his head and shoves at his arm and responds, couldn’t have done it without your sweet takeaway, bro.

 

You make me smile, he says when Ransom asks why he’s grinning through his pancakes during their pre-game breakfast. He can feel the syrup dripping down his chin. Ransom rolls his eyes.

 

I don’t know what I’d do without you, he says, more serious than normal, after Ransom helps him figure out a problem with his skates that’s making his ankle twinge when he changes direction backwards. You’d probably die or something, Ransom replies, eyes twinkling, but he taps Holster’s pads with his stick as he heads for the locker room and Holster knows his meaning got across.

 

You look great, he says once he’s recovered himself from the sight of Ransom in a tight buttoned shirt and well-fitted slacks, and he manages to keep down the bile that rises when he realises that it’s one hundred percent a date outfit.

 

You always look great, he adds lamely as Ransom walks out the door and he can’t be sure whether it was loud enough to be heard. He can’t be sure whether he wanted it to be heard.

 

 

---

 

 

It’s during a totally routine study session (routine now that Holster’s realised it’s the best way for either of them to get any work done) that Holster realises something that sort of makes his love languages thing worth every cent even without reaching the original goal. He doesn’t know how he would have noticed otherwise.

 

He’s just doing what’s become almost habit at this point; complimenting his best friend.

 

“You’re the smartest person I know,” he says when Ransom starts second-guessing his choice of classes. “You’re, like, amazing. No way you don’t smash this paper.”

 

And sure, it’s a bit too much perhaps for their relationship, less bros than a lot of the stuff he’s said, even recently, but he doesn’t think it’s too out of character so he doesn’t get it when Ransom raises an—annoyingly attractive—eyebrow at him.

 

“What do you want, Holts?” he says, a resigned tone in his voice. And, like—that’s not what Holster intended at all.

 

“What?” he manages. When all Ransom does is raise his eyebrow even further, Holster figures it out.

 

“You think I’m complimenting you to like, butter you up?” he splutters. “To get something in return?”

 

“Uh, yeah?” Ransom says, like it’s obvious.

 

No, no, no, no, no. This is all wrong. He’s meant to realise that Holster loves him, not think he owes something for all the compliments. 

 

Not think that Holster is exaggerating, or, G-d forbid, lying, just to get something in return

 

Holster can’t believe he missed his best friend developing an insecurity like that. Does he really not tell Ransom how amazing he is often enough to get it through the guy’s skull? He certainly thinks it, that and an embarrassing amount more. Maybe he should start speaking his mind. Put it right, make it evident how far from lying he actually is. That he’s actually downsizing his overgrown feelings for fear of making Ransom uncomfortable.

 

He imagines waking Ransom up in the morning and telling him exactly how adorable he looks with his face smushed into the pillow. 

 

Sitting across from him at breakfast and waxing lyrical about his specialty blueberry pancakes and how his shoulders look in that apron he wears when he cooks.

 

Running into his arms after a win and just telling him how much he loves every single thing about him, his hockey and his brain and his beautiful face, every little detail, down to the way he twiddles his stick when they're waiting for puck drop or the way he taps his pen against Holster's nose if he zones out while they're studying—and laughs all bright and sunny when Holster startles.

 

Maybe he shouldn’t, actually, say everything he wants to. But he can at least say some of it.

 

So he does. The ‘words of affirmation’ gig is always in the back of his mind, but far from his goal, because he knows this isn’t going to be a temporary thing. This is a paradigm shift, a fundamental change, because Ransom’s apparently spent their entire friendship unaware of how awesome Holster thinks he is, and Holster can’t have that. Not at all.

 

He leaps back into the same shit with fervour, except his underlying motive has changed to the point where there’s far less of the awkward segues into half-formed love confessions, and far more of the standard bro compliments—only with extra meaning behind them.

 

He makes sure to pick up on every clever play and every slick pass, makes sure to yell himself hoarse about goals and good test results so that Ransom knows just how much he’s appreciated. It’s—well, it’s fun, actually. Seeing the pleased responses he gets in return once it’s been long enough to be obvious to Ransom that he’s not angling for favours. 

 

No way in hell is he gonna stop this, not even when he moves onto the next love language, not even when he didn’t gain any ground on the whole ‘telling Ransom he loves him’ thing. That takes a back seat to his best friend being appreciated the way he deserves. Which sounds sappy as hell, but Holster doesn’t care. It’s one of the things he always expected to come of being in love: the selfless desire for the person’s happiness, at the expense of literally anything else. 

 

 

---

 

 

His mom used to say loving someone is like an itch, the constant need to see them happy. Only soothed by the sound of their laugh or the sight of their smile. Holster gets that, he does. But he’s never understood it, not really, because he doesn’t think he had loved anyone like that, before Ransom; and with him it’s always been more—

 

       Well, he can hardly describe it.

 

—it’s like during winters, the ones that happen a lot in Buffalo, the ones that stretch out like they’ll never end. And Holster isn’t kidding anyone, he loves winter and first snowfall and skating on frozen lakes, but he's always hated the way the sun won’t come out for weeks, hated the feeling of waiting for the slightest drop of sunlight, a hunger that used to almost consume him. His mom likes to call him a child of the sun, addicted to it.

 

The feeling he gets when the sun is shining on him again, that’s what it’s like for him. That’s the feeling he gets when Ransom’s so happy it shows on the surface.

 

So Ransom’s smile is his light in the darkness, whatever. More like light in the dreariness of northern winters, but that’s hardly less cliché. Sometimes Holster feels like he should be embarrassed by what Ransom’s done to him, turned him into. 

 

But in the end he wouldn’t change it for the world, not with the way Ransom smiles at him when he brings out the compliments.

Chapter Text

The fourth language is going to provide some obstacles, mostly because Holster has no damn clue what it means and Shitty is getting a bit too suspicious to ask. Like, he did say all that schtick about solid platonic relationships but he also keeps sending Holster knowing glances whenever he lets his thing about Ransom slop over the edges of the like, vat or whatever he keeps it hidden away in. 

 

(That’s a catastrophically bad metaphor but it does sort of explain the spilling aspect pretty well. Sometimes Holster just like, looks at Ransom and he can tell he’s betraying everything. Like the emotion’s sloshing over the side of the vat. 

 

Look, it makes sense, alright.)

 

Anyway, Shitty might just put it together once and for all if Holster comes to him about this again, and Holster doesn’t really want to risk that. Not that he doesn’t think Shitty would be great about it, but it’s—it’s private. And Ransom needs to be the first to find out.

(At one point, he considers asking Bitty. But excluding one particular person who he's completely oblivious about, Bitty is way too perceptive for his own good.)

So Holster goes to Lardo. He figures she’s like, wise and everything. She’ll know.

 

 

---

 

 

Lardo doesn’t know.

 

“What the hell is a love language?” She asks, frowning not at Holster but at the painting she’s currently standing in front of. Holster thinks she might be analysing the colour balance instead of contemplating his question. 

 

“Like, French?”

 

“No,” Holster sighs. “Not French.”

 

 

---

 

 

Holster’s next port of call is the internet. He’s generally distrustful of any online relationship advice, as a general rule, but he thinks he’s going to have to risk it here because his real-life options are null and void (respectively).

 

Even when the stuff he found for ‘words of affirmation’ was pretty—well, terrible, to be totally honest, and not at all suited to his situation.

 

He gets a result this time; he realises, after the best part of an hour and a little bit of a tumble down a wikipedia rabbit hole, that ‘acts of service’ basically means ‘doing chores’. Like, cooking, cleaning, things like that. Most of it is kind of more applicable to married couples but he thinks there’s plenty of stuff he can come up with for him and Ransom.

 

He has a good feeling about this one.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster’s first idea isn’t straight from the internet.  

 

They’re at morning practice and Ransom’s got a Bio-Chem assessment almost directly after skate ends, which is already making him stressed out enough. 

 

Normally the routine and the feeling of ice under his feet is a pretty good way to calm Rans down, get his mind off the test. But today is just not his day. He’s fallen on his ass at least five times. And like, the first two times were funny but Holster can tell that Ransom is starting to get frustrated with the way his skates seem to have a life of their own today.

 

He’s a two-hundred-plus pound defensemen. No way he should be having this sort of trouble gripping the ice.

 

Holster is kinda annoyed that it takes him so long to realise the obvious, actually. He remembers Ransom taking his skates to the equipment guys after their last game when he crashed pretty brutally into the boards and the legs of this big centreman at the same time. Some idiot must have sharpened Rans’ blades wrong, like maybe their normal guy was on vacation or something and they let the intern loose on the machine, because Ransom has all the grip in one direction and absolutely none in the other.

 

Holster winces in sympathy as Ransom once again tries to turn left and goes flying when his feet slide out from under him. Damn, that’s rough. 

 

“Mis-aligned grinding wheel, eh?” he says as he helps Ransom stand. Then immediately frowns to himself—because apparently he says ‘eh’ now like an actual freaking Canadian.

 

Ransom’s such a bad influence.

 

“Looks like it.” Ransom grunts back. There’s a worrying crease between his eyebrows that hockey normally gets rid of. Holster hates it.

 

So when they get back into the locker room and Ransom is looking like all the frustration from the practice is just compounding onto the test anxiety and on top of that Holster knows he won’t have time to go and get his skates sharpened if he wants to, like, not be in a rush to get to his exam—

 

(G-d knows he can’t be rushing into the exam at the last minute. Even Holster gets stressed out by that.)

 

Holster barely thinks before tugging the skates out of the iron grip Ransom’s got on them and clanking them down on the bench.

 

“Rans, chill. I’ll go get them sharpened.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I know your specs, it’s no big deal. You focus on your test, bro.”

 

“Dude, thanks,” Ransom says, smiling as wide as could be expected before a Bio-Chem exam. It fills Holster with this frankly pathetic warm feeling. Rans leans in for a fist bump as he leaves to get his pre-exam Redbull and Holster wants to kiss him.

 

He doesn’t, obviously. But just for that second, it’s almost like he could.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster’s never claimed to have a good memory, alright. And he’s scrolling through this website that has like, a hundred ideas for acts of service. There’s no way he’s supposed to remember all the ones that are applicable to Ransom.

 

So he writes a list. On the back of a receipt from Annie's that he finds scrunched up in his jacket pocket when he and Ransom are studying at the library.

 

Well, Ransom is studying. Holster is sitting across from him and doing his usual thing of glaring at other students and occasionally offering distractions when the tension builds up a little too much in Ransom’s body language.

 

Holster doesn’t have any paper, and he’s not going to ask his best friend because that would bring questions, hence the receipt. It’s risky enough as it is, doing it literally in front of the guy; he feels like that man in Mission Impossible. Tom Cruise. Ethan Hunt. Or whatever.

 

He’s not humming the music under his breath, because that would be immature. (He’s not.)

 

The list slowly and messily takes shape on the receipt;

 

How to Convince Rans I Love Him: Chores Edition

  • Make Canadian Kraft Mac—he misses it
  • Put up a shelf for his textbooks
  • Let him choose next movie night
  • Call the Visa office about that question he had
  • Make him pie?? Ask Bitty
  • Watch a Leafs game with him
  • ...

 

By the time Ransom’s finished the references on his paper, Holster has got a good twenty things on the list. The words are scrawling and crammed into every spare bit of the space but he feels this weird mix of satisfaction and anticipation as he carefully folds it and slides it covertly into the pocket of his sweats. This feels like the one. These are all so obvious. Like, there’s things on there he’d never in a million years do for anyone else on the team, and Ransom’s gotta know that.

 

He’s gotta, right? 

 

 

---

 

 

Jack finds Holster hunched over his laptop on the green couch. His face must be super screwed up because it’s enough to earn a concerned glance.

 

“You okay?” Jack asks awkwardly. It sounds as unnatural as a 90+ day in Buffalo but Holster appreciates the effort. Bitty must have really had an effect on the guy, because during Holster’s freshman year he’s pretty sure Jack didn’t say more than five words to him that weren’t somehow related to hockey. He’s come a long way.

 

“I’m good,” Holster says back, not very truthfully, his focus still on the laptop where this stupid Canadian website is refusing to let him pay because it can’t recognise the Haus’s zip code.

 

Jack actually sits down next to him and peers at the screen, which probably surprises both of them. Holster tries to not raise his eyebrows; he doesn’t want to spook the guy.

 

Then the captain laughs, which is a complete curveball.

 

“You’re ordering KD online?” 

 

Holster shrugs. “Yeah? For Rans?” 

 

He’s not sure why it’s a question.

 

“From Superstore.”

 

“Um.”

 

Jack laughs again. Holster is kind of worried for him.

 

“They don’t deliver here.”

 

Oh. That makes sense.

 

That makes a ton of sense. Oops.

 

He must be pulling another face because Jack fixes him a look as he stands up.

 

“Just order it from Amazon,” Jack says, and Holster doesn’t know which revelation to be more surprised at—that you can get Canadian Kraft on Amazon or that Jack knows what Amazon is.

 

 

---

 

 

The KD arrives the next day (thanks to the shared Haus Prime account no-one knows who’s paying the subscription for). Holster finds the perfect time to cook it up when he’s at home and Ransom is out at one of his classes that Holster can’t pronounce the name of.

 

He always comes back from this specific  class in a foul mood. Hopefully the KD—and the fact Holster cooked it for him—might help with that.

 

Chowder pokes his head around the door of the kitchen. He must have smelled the cheesy goodness of the mac—Betsy really does have the weirdest power of spreading every smell of food throughout the entire Haus. 

 

Chowder doesn’t even live here.

 

His face is all kinds of hopeful and Holster feels bad when he tells the poor rookie that it’s special D-men mac.

 

He should’ve known that wording was a mistake, because two minutes after Chowder’s sad face disappears from the doorway, the two D-frogs turn up, shoving and chirping because they’re incapable of standing within a metre of each other without doing that.

 

“Heard there’s mac and cheese,” Nursey says, trying his best to look chill and being totally betrayed by the excited look in his eyes. Dex just looks angry, which is kind of his version of a neutral expression, but there might be a hint of hope in the way his eyebrows raise.

 

“Sorry, dudes,” Holster says, and he really is sorry. “It’s for Rans.”

 

“What?” Nursey says. “He’s not even here.”

 

Holster can tell the tips of his ears are going that red colour they always do when he’s put in sticky situations.

 

“Uh, it’s for when he gets back,” he says with as much confidence as he can muster. “I ordered the proper Canadian stuff, to cheer him up.”

 

“Is he depressed or something?” Dex asks, then scowls at Nursey when he receives an admonishing elbow in the side.

 

“Nah, it’s just this is like, his least favourite class,” Holster says, and he’s perfectly aware, thank you, of how bros don’t normally do stuff like this. He just has to hope Dex and Nursey will put it down to the RansomandHolster symbiosis and not the actual, far more embarrassing truth that he’s too chicken to admit his feelings like a normal human being.

 

Not like Dex or Nursey have any high ground over Holster in the whole emotional intelligence field, especially considering how they seem to have spontaneously begun an argument now and neither are paying attention to the mac and cheese anymore.

 

Frogs, eh.

 

 

---

 

 

Ransom comes home at like, the perfect time, when Holster’s got the KD keeping warm in its pan on the stovetop and has bowls set out for them to take it up to the attic and is standing there on his phone tapping his foot nervously. He’s just starting to worry that Ransom actually has another class or an extra project or has been delayed for some reason—just veering into the dangerous territory of what if he’s gotten hurt when the front door clicks open.

 

Exactly as planned, the glorious smell of mac and cheese lures Ransom to the kitchen and Holster.

 

He’s got a sceptical look on his face, like he thinks it might be a trap.

 

“Made you KD,” Holster says, as casually as he can manage.

 

“You mean Kraft Mac,” Ransom replies pretty much immediately. “Don’t try and call your substandard American stuff KD, Holtzy.”

 

“No, it actually is KD,” Holster grabs the box, which he left out for exactly this purpose. “Look.”

 

Ransom’s face does some interesting things.

 

“Bro, you made me Canadian KD?” he says, and his voice is quiet.

 

“Yeah, I got it online.” Holster waves his hand dismissively. Ransom’s still just kind of staring at the KD as Holster shares it between the bowls, so he elaborates.

 

“That class always puts you in a bad mood. I thought this might help.”

 

Holster hopes Ransom’s silence is because he’s overcome with emotion and not because he’s passed out. He sneaks a look, just to check. Rans is standing, still holding his bag, in the kitchen doorway.

 

So he hasn’t passed out. The silence is still sort of worrying.

 

“Rans?” 

 

“Dude,” Ransom finally says, voice sounding a bit odd. Choked, even. Holster does him the courtesy of not commenting on it. “You’re the best.”

 

 

---

 

 

There is one moment, sat together on Holster’s bunk with their bowls of KD and Netflix open between them, when Ransom levels him with this look that makes Holster think that maybe he’s figured it all out. Something in his eyes seems so much bigger than just being grateful for the pasta.

 

He’s about to say something, Holster is sure.

 

But then he glances away and the atmosphere dissipates. Whatever was on the tip of his tongue is lost and Holster is left with only his imagination of what it could have been.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster dives into his receipt list, and yeah he’s chasing that KD moment but he’s also really enjoying himself.

 

He puts that shelf up above the desk in the attic for all the textbooks that are currently piled haphazardly against the wall by the door, the pile they both keep knocking over in the dark. Ransom’s grin when he comes back from a Genetics lab and sees them all on the shelf (in alphabetical order, Holster’s not a monster) is so blinding that Holster is suddenly glad he’s sitting down.

 

The pie idea falls through but Holster starts making Canadian KD more often, because it was pretty cheap off of Amazon and he actually can’t tell the difference from the US one the way Ransom can. It’s no skin off of his back to give Rans that little bit of home. Just like Ransom somehow finds a Buffalo wing sauce that tastes exactly like Holster’s dad’s homemade one.

 

He lets Ransom choose their next movie-night movie, even though he makes them watch the shitty Goon sequel for about the seventh time this semester. He doesn’t complain once. Ok, maybe once. Or twice. Whatever. It’s the thought that counts.

 

In a brave effort to make up for his whining about the movie, Holster agrees to sit and watch a Leafs-Hawks game. And agrees to cheer for the Leafs instead of the team he grew up half-supporting. Ransom grins dangerously and shoves one of his horrible bright blue toques onto Holster’s head and Holster has to bite his tongue when Kane scores an absolute top-shelf beauty.

 

“Y’know he’s Jewish,” Ransom says randomly during second intermission.

 

Holster almost dislocates his neck looking over at Rans, wondering how the hell he missed that important fact about one of the most famous guys in the game. “Patrick Kane?” 

 

“No, dude, Zach Hyman," Rans says like it’s obvious. Holster guesses something on the analysis mentioned the guy but he was paying too much attention to Ransom to notice. He thinks he maybe shouldn’t tell Ransom that.

 

“That's not gonna make me like the Leafs, bro,” he smirks. “No chance.”

 

Ransom just pouts until Holster throws an arm around him and pulls him in to ruffle the tassels on his toque. They don’t untangle themselves from that position until the final buzzer sounds. Holster can’t reconcile the warm feeling of having Ransom close with a scoreboard that puts the Hawks to shame. But he can try, for Rans.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster records the next Leafs-Sabres game instead of watching it on his own while Ransom’s at class. It doesn’t quite go as smoothly as the last one did but the fates intervene and it comes to a 4-3 overtime win for the Leafs, which is pretty much the closest thing to equal. Holster can bear the pain of losing, he thinks, when he sees Ransom’s victorious grin.

 

Doesn’t mean he won’t prevent the evening dissolving into a wrestling match, though.

 

 

---

 

 

Holster tries to find every opportunity to do more of these ‘acts of service’ for Ransom. He makes up an extra protein shake after practise, he records all the Leafs games Rans misses because of class, he fixes the wobble in the desk chair that only makes the anxiety of exams worse.

 

He even calls the Visa Office to settle that query Rans has because he knows that phone calls are hell for stressed, anxiety-ridden juniors with finals coming up. It was sort of hell for him, too, but that doesn’t matter. He’s doing it for Ransom, because he loves him, and that’s what you do for people you love.

 

He’s learned more about how a healthy relationship should be in the last few weeks than he’d ever been taught by near on two decades of the American public school system. Go figure.

 

Still, he’s not getting any closer to Ransom realising. Sometimes there’ll be a moment like the KD one, where it almost seems like something is gonna break. Sometimes Rans will look at him in a way that really does not scream ‘bros’, but Holster has no way of finding out. No way of asking that doesn’t have the potential to horrifically backfire.

 

The whole point of this was to find Ransom’s love language, right? To find the thing which would convey it all without Holster having to say it straight out. But this one evidently isn’t it, or isn’t clear enough, and there’s only one more left. He’s almost losing hope.



Chapter Text

The final language, the one that basically all of Holster’s hopes are resting on, is ‘physical touch’. It seems pretty self-explanatory, really. Him and Rans already have a super tactile relationship and it can’t be too difficult to just, like, up the ante, right? 

 

He thinks they’ll both benefit from more hugs. There’s no way this can end badly.

 

Well, Ransom still not picking up what Holster’s putting down, that would be less than ideal. And him getting freaked out by Holster being extra huggy would obviously not be fun. But apart from that.

 

 

---

 

 

This is so easy, Holster thinks, slinging his legs over Ransom’s lap where they’re sat together on the couch playing Chel. Rans just lifts his arms out of the way without so much as a questioning glance, and when he puts them down again his forearms rest comfortable and warm against Holster’s shins. It’s unremarkable; completely and entirely natural.

 

That first step forward puts Holster at ease. It’s enough that he feels no worry about doing more of that kind of thing, because it had been such a non-issue that it’s almost like he didn’t do anything different at all.

 

Holster, accordingly, throws himself into a specially-formulated multi-step plan to slowly increase the level of physical contact. 

 

He remembers something Rans told him once, some biology myth that’s actually real. If you put some frogs in like, boiling water, they’ll jump out reflexively. But if you put them into lukewarm water, and ever so slowly increase the temperature, they’ll just sit there no matter how hot it gets, past boiling until they eventually die. They don’t notice the heat when it’s in small increments.

 

That’s sort of what Holster is hoping to do with Ransom.

 

Like, obviously not the boiling-him-until-he-dies stuff. But the slow increases. The increments. And then hopefully, eventually, after a manageable amount of time, Rans’ll realise. (Represented in that analogy by—well, the frogs dying? Holster guesses?)

 

He still slightly freaks out at the thought of Ransom knowing this shit. But it’s happening. It needs to, really, he can’t hold it in. And there’s no g-ddamn way he’s gonna just tell him straight out.

 

(Who really knows how that would go. They say shit like that all the time, he can’t think how he could make it not-platonic enough to get across what he means. Especially not without sounding super weird and perhaps a bit creepy. Or without falling over his words and making a mess. Whenever he has to say something important he makes sure he has Ransom by his side, and with him to support him, taking turns, inputting ideas, everything seems to go so much smoother, whether it's talking to professors about grades or talking to the frogs about plays. But that's obviously not an option here. He can't even get any help formulating his words like he would when Rans isn't available on the day. He's well and truly on his own. There's no chance he’s managing to do it the conventional way.)

 

He also doesn’t want to admit to himself that part of it—well, part of not wanting to just say it to Ransom’s face must be that he doesn’t want the fallout, right? The reaction that a sudden realisation would bring. Everything that comes with finding out whether or not your best friend is cool about you being in love with him.

 

Call him a coward, whatever. He still prefers the frog-boiling method.

 

 

---

 

 

And so the frog-boiling begins, in earnest, at their next home game. Holster leans longer against Ransom in the locker room before they leave, pressing their shoulders together for what feels like almost too long. But Rans doesn’t complain, so Holster keeps on; he does it again on the way to the ice, in the dimly lit corridor as they follow Jack out, ready to beat Princeton into the ground.

 

It’s solidifying, reassuring, feeling the press of his d-partner against him, and there's this rush of emotion that grips him and makes him feel invincible, like they’re gonna be a g-ddamn brick wall, like there’s no doubt they’ll stop every attack that comes at them.

 

There’s something weird about it, too, in the way Holster doesn’t have to hold back. He can lean in with his whole weight and Ransom will stay upright, can take anything Holster could throw at him. It’s different to how it is with a girl. Being as big as he is, Holster’s always having to watch himself with girls. But like this—like this he can be as exuberant and as tactile as he wants, safe in the knowledge that Rans isn’t going to break.

 

He likes it maybe a little too much, considering this isn’t actually a romantic relationship that they’ve got going on here. Considering that Ransom has never betrayed so much as an inkling that he’s anything but straight and this is the most Holster can wish for, the most he can expect to get, and he’s just going to have to accept that.

 

Well. Those are not the kind of thoughts he should be having before an important game, so he tries his hardest to wipe it out of his mind as they prepare for puck drop. Ransom is as always a constant, reassuring presence in his peripheral. Game on.

 

---

 

Ransom gets a goal. This beautiful top-shelf snipe from the point. Holster doesn’t spare a single thought to his plan as he sweeps Rans up in a huge exuberant hug, crashing them both into the boards with the force of it and just clinging on as he shouts adoration through their visors, pressed together.

 

He remembers as he’s pulling away and throws in a head-tap for good measure. It’s hard to see how he could have increased the physical contact at all, short of holding on to Ransom and never letting go, which Jack probably wouldn’t be too happy about. Maybe he’s already reached the acceptable limit as far as cellies are concerned.

 

(Doesn’t stop him sitting virtually on top of Rans on the bench, though. Even if that’s as much to do with the limited space as it is his own choice.)

 

 

---

 

 

As Holster continues with his campaign over the next few weeks, he begins to notice some things he never realised. Like the fact that Ransom isn’t actually that physical in terms of expressing emotion.

 

Of course, in comparison to Holster, pretty much everyone is less physically affectionate, but on the scale of octopus to—uh, porcupine, or something else spiky—he’s leaning towards the spiky end. Not more than Jack, certainly. Less than Dex, too, because Dex seems to have a problem initiating closeness of literally any kind, which is a problem Holster definitely vows to dedicate more thought to at a less pressing time.

 

The point is, Ransom is generally way less likely to initiate physical contact with teammates, even though he doesn’t act unwelcoming of it when it’s offered. Holster’s not sure if it’s insecurity or just a cultural thing—he’s been accused of being a ‘typical American frat boy’ more times than he could hope to count and from the limited pool of Canadians he has contact with—

 

(okay, that’s basically just Jack, Rans and a few younger guys on the team who Holster doesn’t really know all that well, but still) 

 

—it seems there’s at least a little discrepancy between their two countries. Which is a bit counter-intuitive, really. You’d think that in a colder country it would be more beneficial to keep closer contact with your buds, sharing body heat and all that. But whatever. That’s not Holster’s point.

 

The point is, Rans doesn’t initiate that much contact with the boys. No more than what is like, the base level for a college hockey team. And not much off the ice. Almost like he’s afraid of being too clingy, which sets off alarm bells in Holster’s head when he remembers the whole compliments fiasco. He’ll be damned if he lets another hang-up like that slip past him without even trying to fix it.

 

And yes, his method of fixing it is to slam on the gas pedal in relation to this frog-boiling plan. Sue him, it worked before. As long as he respects Ransom’s boundaries and all that, it seems like the way to go.

 

(Ok, he’s well aware that insecurities don’t disappear overnight. He knows it’ll be a long road, but he feels like he’s already making headway with the words of affirmation and this is the only thing he can do that isn’t, like, referring Ransom to a psychologist, which he thinks would not go down well. That’s a step Rans has to take, although Holster is definitely planning on making a case for it in the not-too-distant future. He would probably book himself in for a session too, if he’s honest, because there’s no way he doesn’t have some problems a professional could help with.)

 

 

---

 

 

The problem with stepping up the physical contact even further is that it becomes—pretty conspicuous. Ransom starts throwing him confused looks, like maybe he’s noticed.

 

“You sure you’re okay, Holtzy?” he says one time. His voice is sort of muffled by an admittedly big-ass shoulder, so Holster pulls back from the hug. A little. “There’s been kinda—loads of hugs recently. Not that I’m complaining, but.”

 

Ah shit. Holster’s been rumbled. “I’m fine, Rans,” he says, trying to not panic but also to not initiate any conversation about why he’s doing all this physical contact. Ransom is meant to be clever! He is so smart! Holster’s meant to be letting him figure it out and not having g-ddamn conversations about how hopelessly in love he is! That was the whole point!

 

Luckily, Ransom just lets himself be drawn into the hug again. Holster only stops, eventually, because he remembers that Rans has a class, and he is definitely way too polite to ask Holster to let him go so he can get there on time.

 

(He’s an idiot, but Holster loves him. So damn much.)

 

 

---

 

 

From that moment on, though, things are different. Ransom starts not just accepting Holster’s physical contact but taking an active role too. Holster slings his arm around Ransom on the couch and Rans slides down to fit better against Holster’s side. They’re in a dogpile celebrating Bitty’s OT winner and Holster feels arms wrap around his middle from behind, a voice in his ear saying something about his assist, warm breath against his neck making him shiver.

 

It goes on for a few days before Holster starts to notice the pattern. When Ransom hugs him for no reason after he returns from an Econ class, he realises that maybe there’s been a miscommunication here. It plays on his mind all the way through dinner and halfway into their Netflix time.

 

Holster tells Ransom he needs to get some air and finds himself absently heading towards the centre of campus as he chews on it. He can’t ask Shitty, because then he really will figure everything out. Lardo may just tell Shitty anything anyway. And Jack is still not the best person to go to for a personal conversation, poor thing. Bitty, the only person left, really, is working on a late-night assignment (something that apparently includes pie, somehow. Holster has no clue.)

 

So it looks like Holster’s got to go this one on his own. At least it does until he runs into a familiar figure on the path to the library. 

 

“Sorry, man,” Holster says. Then, “Wait, Johnson?”

 

“Hi Holster!” their old goalie, who one hundred percent graduated last year, says sunnily.

 

Holster doesn’t even want to ask what the hell Johnson is doing here, but it wouldn’t be polite to just walk away, so he engages the guy in conversation. It’s the sort of perfectly nice conversation that you can’t remember anything about once it’s over. Until the end, when Johnson levels him an assessing look and says, “He’s worried, y’know.”

 

“What?”

 

“Justin. He’s worried about you, all this physical contact you’re initiating. He thinks you’re going through something. Haven’t you noticed he’s started touching you more?”

 

Oh. “Wait, you mean that’s why—”

 

“He’s trying to show you he’s there for you,” Johnson says, and Holster doesn’t stop to question how he knows that. Johnson’s always been—uh, perceptive?

 

G-d, he doesn’t deserve Ransom. It seems pretty obvious that the ‘physical touch’ language hasn’t panned out the way he wanted, but that’s not because Ransom is oblivious, it’s because Ransom has a heart of gold, and the first thing he thought was to be concerned for Holster.


Holster loves him so much.

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“Yep.”

 

“... Right.”

 

 

---

 

 

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.

 

“What?”

 

“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—”

 

Holy shit. 

 

“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.”

 

Mostly— fuck. 

 

“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.