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got myself in a mess (and without you i'm in more)

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Family dinner is something Jake has never quite understood. When his dad was in the NHL, he was always away on road trips and often having to move to a new city, and as soon as he retired he went straight into broadcasting, another job requiring extensive travel. Naturally, he encouraged Jake to play hockey before he even learned to walk, and when he was a teenager, he'd often spend his evenings in practice or at games all across Alberta. His brief stint in the WHL with Swift Current had him 7 hours away from home, and he was even farther when he went to university in Montreal.

Having dinner together as a family is one thing when it happens in person. Jake understands it, even enjoys it on occasion. Having dinner together as a family with one or more members participating via FaceTime is nothing more than a pain in the ass, yet his mom has always insisted that they have everyone "together" for dinner at least once a week.

"Your dad's covering an important game tonight, you know," his mom says. "Blues and Leafs, a rematch of last year's final. Maybe this time the Leafs can take them."

"Doubt it," Jake's dad replies from the iPad situated at his usual spot at the dining table. "The Leafs would've lost in the first round if Anders Bjork hadn't been injured, and the Bruins would've beaten any of those teams. Including the Blues."

"It'll still be a great matchup," his sister says, her image blurry where it sits next to their dad on the iPad. "I'd watch it if I could, but there's this exam I really need to study for…"

"Hey, you know school's more important," his dad replies. "Jake, you don't have any plans, do you? How long's it been since you caught a game, eh?"

"Definitely not this season," his mom adds. "He's always so wrapped up in that Switch."

"Twitch," Jake corrects her. "Sorry Dad. I have to stream tonight."

"Again?" His dad chuckles. "Well, that's nice. How's the job search going?"

"It's going," Jake lies. He doesn't elaborate, and he's lucky enough that the conversation moves on. It's been two weeks since Jake so much as looked at a job posting, far longer since he bothered to apply for anything, but it's hard to land a job when he can't fake any passion for the work and has a degree in communications with no extracurriculars or leadership experience. His Twitch subscribers have doubled in the past month, and that has to count for something. He may be spending the majority of his post-grad life playing video games, but at least he's making some money off of it.

His parents aren't particularly pleased about his growing ambition to make a living off of video games, but they're well past rich enough that Jake knows they aren't going to kick him out even if he never pays them a single dollar. And even if they aren't particularly skilled at suppressing their disappointment in his life choices, at least he knows they still love him.

Jake is the first to finish his dinner - unsurprising given both his tendency to eat very quickly and his preference to participate in conversation as little as possible - and as soon as he does, he takes care of his dishes and heads straight to his room to start the stream.

-

Viewership on the stream is one of his highest counts yet, and Jake is positively ecstatic. His mood is only heightened when he finally manages to win a round of Fortnite, and the comment section blows up in response.

"Man, that was fucking awesome," Jake says. "Should I go again?" It's only been an hour; of course he's going to play another round. Asking the question helps with engagement, though, so he always does it.

The comments flood in, and he grins as they tell him what he already knew they were going to say.

"Fuck yeah," he says. "Let's do this."

He's waiting for that round to begin when he sees a comment that stands out from the rest.

Would you ever do a Just Chatting stream?

There's more text after it, something about him being "funny", but Jake doesn't get the chance to read it all before more comments push it offscreen.

"Hey, would you guys ever want to watch a Just Chatting stream if I did one? Like, you know, no games, just me talking, maybe doing a Q&A with you guys."

The round starts as he talks, so it's a bit difficult to play and read the comments at the same time, but he manages to both keep himself from getting killed and figure out that all the comments seem to be receptive to the idea.

"Cool, cool," he says. "Maybe I'll have to do that sometime soon. Give the people what they want and - oh fuck, watch out for that - got 'em."

King of multitasking, one of the comments flashes by. He grins.

"I've got a great feeling about this," Jake announces.

-

He starts off the Just Chatting stream with a brief recap of how his day has gone, but a day spent sitting at home stressing over what to say in the night's stream can only go so far in storytelling. It's probably safe to assume that most of the audience is here for the Q&A, not Jake being a loser, so he decides to get right into that.

"Alright, first question," Jake starts. "Is a hot dog a sandwich? I've got to say no. I mean, maybe if you stick a hot dog between some bread that covers the top and bottom, but in a hot dog bun, no way."

He laughs at the indignation of some of the commenters, and moves on to several more lighthearted questions before reaching one with an opportunity to be a bit more serious.

"My most embarrassing moment…" Jake trails off. "My life is a series of embarrassing moments. But number one is probably the time I got drafted into the top-tier junior hockey league in Canada and threw away any chance at going pro by coming home after barely two weeks on the team. Don't get me wrong, that place was hell and I had good reason, but I wasn't exactly going to tell everyone how bad it was, so everyone at school just thought I missed my mom too much. But hey, no regrets."

Maybe Jake has some regrets involving his time in hockey, but leaving isn't one of them. Of course, now all the commenters want to know is why.

"What was so bad about it? Let's just say the older guys on the team don't like it when the rookie refuses to participate in their hazing. If refusing to give the team captain a blowjob means I'm too weak to play pro hockey, then so be it, but I wasn't going to spend a whole year being harassed for it." Jake is, like, 90% sure he's not supposed to go anywhere near his deepest darkest secrets on his first ever Q&A, especially not with over 3000 people watching, but it's too late now. He thinks, not for the first time, that maybe his willingness to refuse when none of the other rookies did was nothing more than a sign that he was never truly passionate about hockey anyway.

He tries to quiet that line of thinking before it goes too far, especially considering the audience. "But, uh, yeah, anyway, maybe we should move on…"

The comments are full of sympathy and a few stragglers asking why he didn't report the incident, but someone throws him a bone and he jumps for it almost immediately. "Oh, favorite TV show, that's easy. Definitely Peaky Blinders. Super underrated, at least here in Canada."

The comments start to go back to normal quickly enough, and Jake is touched to see that the viewership hasn't gone down. He was half-expecting all the viewers to leave for reasons he can't quite explain.

Thoughts on Pasta?, one commenter asks.

"Thoughts on pasta? Depends what kind, but I have to say I'm a big manicotti guy. Anything with plenty of cheese and some real, homemade sauce. Spaghetti is cool too, kind of basic but it's a classic. Can't say I'm all that into white sauce, though."

He doesn't realize he's misinterpreted the question until dozens of comments inform him that Pasta is apparently the name of a Twitch streamer, but in hindsight, it does explain why the P in pasta was capitalized.

Ok but if your going to pretend u don't know who he is u should make it up to us by reading jake/pasta fic on stream, reads one comment that Jake chooses to ignore. He doesn't want to admit he doesn’t actually know who Pasta is just in case he's, like, famous, but he certainly isn't going to read fanfiction on stream without seriously thinking it over beforehand. Nor is he going to mentally address the implication that there is, in fact, fanfiction about him.

He returns to the normal questions without bringing Pasta up again, and after another half hour of answering those, he decides it's about time to end the stream. The viewership is declining, and they're starting to run out of fresh questions.

"It's been really fun," he says truthfully. "If you guys want it, I'll totally do another one of these sometime. But I'll be back to the usual Fortnite tomorrow night."

As soon as he ends the stream, Jake wastes no time in searching "Pasta twitch streamer" on Google, and once he confirms that Pasta is in fact a real person and he hadn't been played by a commenter, he edits the search to find the fanfiction about him and this Pasta guy that supposedly exists. Naturally, it does exist, and Jake has never closed his laptop faster than he does as soon as he sees that there are 15 total stories about him being in a relationship with this guy he's never even heard of.

He must be more popular than he'd thought.

-

Several hours of social media stalking later, Jake has confirmed that Pasta is a talented streamer based in Boston, has a great sense of humor, speaks with a Czech accent that probably shouldn't be sexy but totally is, and is completely irrevocably hot in the way that Jake is sure will dominate all of his fantasies for months to come. His real name is David, but he takes the Pasta branding very seriously, and watching a highlight compilation of his latest Q&A stream reveals that he works in marketing as a day job.

He's not quite sure why anyone ships the two of them, given that Pasta is clearly far out of Jake's league both as a streamer and as a person, but once again Jake is forced to confront the possibility that he's more popular than he's given himself credit for. Sure, he only has half the amount of Twitter followers Pasta has, but he definitely has at least five times the amount of followers he'd have if he'd stuck with hockey and ended up in the AHL. It's unlikely that Pasta knows who he is, given that he isn't following Jake, so he doubts that he's ever mentioned him on stream.

He does follow Jake back the next morning, though.

-

Life continues on as normal for about a week, other than Jake having notifications on for all of Pasta's social media accounts, watching all five of the streams he does that week, and spending an entire half hour of his life simply staring at a shirtless selfie that Pasta posted on Instagram. So maybe he has a little bit of a crush, but Jake can't help that Pasta liking two of his Tweets is the closest he's come to flirting with someone since he graduated from university six months ago.

And then Pasta - the Pasta - sends him a DM on Twitter.

Hey man, I'm a huge fan of your work. Want to squad stream Fortnite sometime?

Jake is half-convinced he's dreaming, so he doesn't even bother to think before replying Fuck yeah man, you're legit a legend I'd be honored. In hindsight, maybe that's a little embarrassing, but he can deal.

Pasta replies instantly to suggest a date and time, Jake offers to create some promotional graphics, and from there, the conversation flows naturally. Pasta seems to genuinely be interested to hear about how Jake can only stream at night because his parents don't entirely approve of his life choices and his mom always wants to spend time with him during the day, and Jake learns that Pasta actually hates his job and wants to do Twitch streaming full-time but needs a more legitimate job to keep his U.S. visa. He even says that Gen 5 is the best generation of Pokémon, and at that moment, Jake is ready to propose marriage.

By the end of the conversation, they've moved from Twitter DMs to texts, Pasta insists that Jake call him David, and Jake is more sure than ever that he's hopelessly crushing on his new friend David. The fact that they actually appear to be friends now is a sign that he at least has a 0.1% chance, though, so Jake is absolutely counting the night as a win.

-

Both Jake and David promote the squad stream for a whole week leading up to it, and by the date of the stream, Jake has 10,000 new Twitter followers and an average of 5,000 more viewers on all his streams that week. He's heard before that success is about who you know, not what you can do, but he never really considered that it could apply to his own life. It makes him wonder briefly if his dad had any influence on him being accepted into the WHL in the first place, but he doesn't dwell on it for long. The squad stream is far more important.

They get the stream set up with no difficulties, and it's the first time Jake has seen David live on a video call and been able to actually talk to him. It shouldn't be much different than watching him on a stream, but the knowledge that David can see him as well makes it so much more. David's setup is a little bit lacking, with the lighting in his apartment casting a dark shadow over his face and the background being nothing more than a plain white wall. He's wearing a backwards snapback and a chain necklace over a dark t-shirt and he looks so effortlessly cool that Jake knows he's going to have to avoid looking at him as much as possible in order to avoid making a fool of himself live on camera. Jake took the extra time today to put some gel in his hair, so it looks better than usual, if still a bit overgrown, and that's enough to be satisfied.

They've been streaming for all of two minutes when they hit the 20,000 viewers mark. It's not a number Jake thought he could achieve anytime soon, and he's maybe freaking out a little.

"We have the two best Fortnite players on Twitch here," David says to the audience. "We're basically guaranteed a win tonight, don't you think Jake?"

"Oh yeah, for sure," Jake grins. "Let's do this."

They don't win the first round, nor do they win the second or third, but they do pull it off on their fourth attempt. They're nearing 30,000 viewers now, and the comments are blowing up with fans thrilled that they managed to get a win. Jake's pretty sure he's gained several hundred new subscriptions and even more followers, and from the looks of it, even David's growing his fanbase.

"You guys seem to think me and Jake make a great team," David says, and it's true. Many commenters are already asking them to squad stream again sometime.

"I don't know," Jake says. "I think 'great' is putting it too lightly. We're the fucking best team!"

"Fuck yeah bro," David agrees. "We have to do this again, don't you think everyone?"

The comments start to come even faster, even as the view count starts to drop a little as people realize they're not playing another round. Jake is pleased to see that the commenters want them to squad stream again almost as much as Jake does. Despite the initial nerves, talking to David on stream felt so natural, and he's never enjoyed working on a team as much as he did with him.

They say goodbye as they end the stream, but seconds later, Jake's phone lights up with a text from David.

You want to go again with no audience?

Jake's heart skips a beat. It's an innocuous text, and David could very easily just be looking for a friend to play a round with, but he can't help but hope that it could be something more.

Fuck yeah, he sends back.

They set up a FaceTime call and play a few more rounds. It's a bit harder to concentrate this time around; without an audience to please, they're making casual conversation, and Jake would much rather focus on David than the game. He pulls himself together enough to not get killed, though, and they do win another round.

"Two wins in one night," David says with a grin. "Probably best to end there. Don't want to push our luck too far."

"We do make a great team," Jake says.

"It's lucky we both have a good connection, otherwise I'd have to try to meet you in person. You ever been to Boston?"

Jake shakes his head. "Surprisingly, no. I've been to a lot of NHL cities, though. Traveling with my dad and all. He used to play, now he's a broadcaster."

David starts to tell him about Boston and how it's so much different than his hometown, and Jake shares stories of the cities he lived in when he was younger, the unforgiving heat of Phoenix and the harbor views of Norfolk. He doesn't even realize it's been over an hour until David yawns and says he should probably get to bed so he can be well-rested for work the next day.

"I love talking to you," David laughs. "Obviously, if I let the time get away. We'll talk tomorrow, yeah?"

"Totally," Jake says. "Goodnight."

As soon as David hangs up, Jake throws his phone onto his bed and takes a deep breath. He's not good at romance, but he's pretty sure whatever he has with David is getting dangerously close to it.

-

Two days later, they do another squad stream. It's brought on by a spontaneous suggestion Jake made via text, and they go right to streaming without any promotion, but they reach 15,000 viewers within a few minutes.

Again, Jake sees himself gaining new followers and subscribers, though perhaps not to the same extent as last time. It seems that his fanbase and David's are becoming somewhat homogenous, and he resolves to never again check to see how much fanfiction has been written about the two of them. That number has probably risen as well, but he's pretty sure he's better off not knowing.

They grab two more wins before ending the stream, and this time, David FaceTimes Jake back without even asking. Jake answers in seconds, of course; he'd already been about to ask David if he wanted to keep talking. This time, they don't even bother to return to the game now that the audience is gone.

"Have you ever thought about dating long-distance?" David asks shortly into the conversation.

Jake's mom must have accidentally put weed in the homemade cookies he ate earlier or something because he wastes no time in replying, "With you, absolutely yes." His mind catches up to his mouth after a moment, and his heart begins to race in horror as he realizes what he's said.

"Oh wow," David replies. He's smiling, so Jake thinks that maybe he doesn't need to hang up and delete all of his social media and change his number and find a new career just yet. "Ever since you followed me, I've been - I've had a crush on you. So that's cool."

"Wait, for real?" Jake asks. He knows he should just take it and run with it, but he's still kind of in shock.

"Yes, for real," David assures him. "You want to try this? This dating thing?"

"Fuck yeah," Jake says. "I bet we'll be even better at doing this together than we are at Fortnite."

David laughs. "Oh, I know we will be."

-

The next few months are a flurry of virtual dates, Fortnite wins, new follower milestones, and sponsorship deals. Jake is pretty sure the combined power of him and David is the reason for his exponentially increased success, but David is positive that Jake is solely responsible. It doesn't hurt that David helped convince him to give up searching for jobs that he doesn't want, and the time he would've once spent on that is now spent furthering the career he actually wants. His parents don't love the idea, but they're happy that he's found someone who loves him and they claim they trust him to make the most of Twitch.

"I wonder what my 10-year-old self would say if he saw where I am now," Jake tells David one night over FaceTime. "Like, on the one hand, I'm not an NHL player and I don't have a smoking hot girlfriend, but on the other hand, I play video games for a living and I do have a smoking hot boyfriend."

"Is that all your 10-year-old self cared about?" David laughs. "Mine would just be glad I’m happy, I think. I hope yours would be too."

"I'm sure he would be," Jake says.

"My 24-year-old self does wish we could meet up, though," David adds. "A little birdie told me flights from Edmonton to Boston are cheaper this time of year."

"What, because it's cold?" Jake laughs.

David shrugs. "I don't know, the little birdie didn't give me a reason."

"Maybe I'll fly down for Valentine's," Jake suggests. "That'd be romantic and shit, right?"

"Oh, for sure," David says. "Hey, what do you say we make it official right now?"

"Like buy the ticket?"

David doesn't reply, instead grabbing his phone and letting Jake watch him type something out. When he finishes, he turns the phone around and holds it up to his laptop camera so Jake can read it.

Can't wait for @JDeBrusk to come see me for Valentines 💖💘. It's a drafted Tweet, and David is looking at Jake expectantly, waiting for him to make the final call on whether or not he sends that out to over 100,000 followers.

"Do it," Jake says, barely taking the time to think. "I love you, I'm going to come see you for Valentine's, and I want the world to know it."

David sends the Tweet and puts his phone back down. "I love you too. Can't wait to see you."

"You think it's a good time to go live?" Jake asks. "Maybe we can finally hit 100,000 views."

David grins. "I thought you'd never ask."