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Jared fucks up his ankle with the most perfect timing in the world — right before the Canucks are off on their first official roadie. A roadie that includes Edmonton and Calgary, among other cities. It’s not too bad, he’s assured repeatedly, all ‘could have been worse’ positivity that would bug him more if it hadn’t been so close — he found a rut and he went down like he was shot, didn’t even fucking know what was happening, barely managed to brace himself. He could have snapped his ankle, landed on his wrist and broken it or his arm, blown his knee out. He got lucky.

It still hurts like a bitch. And now he’s going to be stuck in Vancouver instead of getting to hang out with Julius, see his husband, and the season barely started before he got thrown out of things, a contract year no less, and he’s sore and trying to exercise around a sprained ankle is frustrating, and literally the only good thing that happens in his life is Elaine swinging by his apartment with takeaway and feeling his forehead like he’s got the flu or something. They watch a movie and she springs up to get him whatever he needs and it kind of feels nice to be babied. But that’s it. That’s the only good thing.

Being injured is frustrating. And boring. Jared’s bored. Jared’s bored, and mad, because the Canucks are in Edmonton and Jared is not, and he couldn’t even sneak his way on the plane because there’s no way he’s game ready by the end of the road trip, plus he has appointments and check-ins constantly so he can’t like, fly off to Calgary in the guise of being moral support for the team. If it was a little better he could have flown with the team, if it was worse he could have gone back to Calgary to recuperate. He’s in an annoying fucking middle as far as LTIR goes.

“You’re the bitchiest patient ever,” Stephen says. He’s terrible company but he’s better company than being alone when Jared’s this frustrated with his luck and his body, and Elaine offered to watch the game with him but she was also dressed up nice like she had non-Jared plans in her day, so Jared politely declined. “And I know bitchy patients.”

“Gabe’s a bitchy patient?” Jared says. That seems un-Gabe like.

“No, I was a bitchy patient when my wrist blew up along with my NHL career,” Stephen says, with a distinct undertone of ‘which was a big deal unlike your ankle sprain, suck it the fuck up’. “Stop being a sad sack or I’m kicking you out and you can go watch the game alone.”

“No,” Jared says stubbornly. He can be a sad sack if he wants to.

Julius plays a hell of a game — Jared is not sulking ‘like a scowly little baby’ that they can’t hang out after, despite what one Stephen Petersen says — but he’s one man. One extremely talented man who gets two in the back of the net, but the Canucks win it by two anyway.

Would have won by more if I was there, Jared texts Julius, and gets an eyeroll emoji from him right around the time he would have gotten his second star of the game, wrapped up media, retreated to his stall. He texted Jared pre-shower. That’s touching. Jared’s touched.

Stephen drives him home, Gabe on speaker phone very diplomatically telling Jared how much they missed him out there and all that. They looked fine without him. Didn’t need him to win.

“He’s sulking,” Stephen tells Gabe.

“I’m not sulking,” Jared mumbles.

“Couple more weeks,” Gabe says. “Just be happy you didn’t do it when we finally got to go somewhere warm.”

“You’re flying to my husband’s city tomorrow,” Jared mutters. “What the fuck do I care about the weather.”

“Our baby’s cranky, Gabe,” Stephen says, then, “Fuck off, you don’t hit the driver!”

“I do when he’s a dick,” Jared says.

*

When Jared isn’t sleeping, or dealing with doctors, or rehab, or at the team’s gym, or out with Elaine, he’s pretty much at Gabe and Stephen’s. It’s kind of like being alone, because Stephen’s often in his office working, and Jared’s on his phone doing whatever, but it doesn’t make him feel claustrophobic the way his too small apartment does when he has to spend too much time in it. Stephen bitches about it, but considering he’s the one picking Jared up and driving him home — he’s still not allowed to drive, which is annoying — Jared is pretty sure he doesn’t mind. It is literally within his control how often Jared’s there.

Stephen went to go pick up burritos for them while Jared sprawls out on their comfy coach, making himself at home. He’s bored, and vaguely hungry in a not body way as well as hungry in the body way, and even though he shouldn’t, he punches his name into twitter, idly checking it. There’s the official tweets about him being injured, a reporter trying to make a tweet out of his comments about it — it sucks, that’s not news — and then he catches Bryce’s name once, again, and everything in him is still except for his finger scrolling down the page, following it down into the rabbit hole.

By the time Stephen returns he’s googled their names together and found like — stories. About them. And gifs. And something called a ‘ship primer’ which has a lot of information about him and Bryce. Like, an uncomfortable amount. Like technically public knowledge but you’d have to be really interested. And puts together some pieces way more cleanly than Jared would like.

“You look like you got hit with a crow bar,” Stephen says. Jared didn’t even hear him come in.

“Uh,” Jared says. “People figured out me and Bryce are together.”

Stephen’s double timing it over to the couch. “Media?”

“No,” Jared says. “It’s like? Twitter? And stories? And — stuff on tumblr?”

Jared’s never really gotten tumblr. Now he’s grateful.

“Oh,” Stephen says, then relaxes. “They do that.”

“What do you mean ‘they do that’?” Jared says.

Stephen yawns. “A small contingent are convinced Gabe and Dmitry are dating, have been for like, a literal decade, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”

Jared blinks at him.

“It’s the internet,” Stephen says, like that explains anything.

Jared blinks some more.

“Gabe and Dmitry?” he asks.

“Dima’s a huggy person,” Stephen says with a shrug. “Usually he’s huggy with Gabe.”

Thankfully, because when he’s huggy with Gabe it means he isn’t being huggy with Jared.

“Dmitry’s also married,” Jared says.

“So’s Gabe, more or less, though it’s not exactly common knowledge,” Stephen says. “Doesn’t seem to stop anybody.”

“That doesn’t — bother you?” Jared says.

“Of course it bothers me,” Stephen says. “You want the steak or the chicken?”

“Steak,” Jared says.

“Chicken it is,” Stephen says, because he’s an asshole, but he goes and grabs a glass of water and Jared’s painkillers for him when everything starts to get sharp but the idea of standing is very, very bad, so like. Semi-asshole. He can be okay.

“There are stories about me,” Jared reels. “On the internet. About us.”

“Yeah,” Stephen says. “You’re two good looking dudes who are close friends. It happens.”

“We’re married,” Jared says.

Stephen rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but I think the majority of the time it’s just two good looking guys who are close friends. Such was the case with Gabe and Dima.”

“I wouldn’t call Dmitry good looking,” Jared says. “And Gabe—”

“You say a single disparaging word about Gabe and you’re clomping home on that injured ankle of yours after I kick it,” Stephen says.

“—is very handsome,” Jared says, who is one-hundred percent Stephen would be petty enough to do it, and his painkillers haven’t kicked in yet. “Best looking Canuck by far.”

“Overselling it, Matheson,” Stephen says dryly. “Everyone’s fully aware you’re the prettiest princess of them all.”

Jared gives him the finger.

“What are we supposed to do about the stories?” Jared says.

“Pretend you never saw them,” Stephen says. “Pretend they don’t exist. Selective amnesia. That’s what Gabe does.”

“What do you do?” Jared says.

“Find it deeply offensive on Gabe’s behalf that anyone would think he would have such poor standards as to date Dmitry Kurmazov,” Stephen says.

Jared snorts.

“But then, Oksana apparently does, and she’s like, NHL to his BCHL, league wise,” Stephen muses. “So clearly luck in love is a factor in his success.”

Jared picks up his phone.

“Don’t do it,” Stephen says.

“What does ‘E’ mean anyway?” Jared says.

“I will confiscate that from you,” Stephen says. “That is going ten steps further down the road from googling yourself to read about your play. Don’t do it. Leave it to PR.”

“PR knows about this?” Jared asks.

“You think PR isn’t on top of every single facet of team public relations?” Stephen says. “Their literal job? PR knows you’re married, and who you’re married to, and that there are stories about you being married, and holy fuck do they hope that stays in the realm of ‘things people think are fiction’, but if it doesn’t PR has figured out fifteen different statements and ways to spin things.”

“I have a headache,” Jared says. “I don’t want to think about this. I want this back in the box.”

“Be like Gabe,” Stephen says. “Selective amnesia.”

It sounds like a good tack to take. One that Jared will probably be incapable of, but a good one.

“There’s probably more about you and Halla anyway,” Stephen says.

“What?” Jared screeches, and goes for his phone again.

*

Jared has forgotten everything. Jared has forgotten everything, so he is not obligated to tell his husband that there are stories about them, knowing that Bryce would panic, and he is not aware that E means explicit, as in explicit sex, meaning that people have written about fictional stories about him, Jared Matheson, having sex, and he is not completely enraged that there are, in fact, more stories about him and Julius than there are about him and Bryce.

Julius. Of all people. A man who thinks cupcake towers are acceptable at weddings. Obviously they’d never make it to the altar.

He is aware of none of this.

Yet simultaneously very aware that PR is aware of all of this. That he has probably spoken to PR people, who have looked him in the eye, and probably thought ‘eh, don’t really get why people are writing about him having sex, he’s boring’. Like, Bryce Jared gets, but him?

He thinks he’s been blushing for twelve straight hours. He bets he continued to blush in his sleep.

“How’s your morning babe?” Bryce says when Jared calls him over breakfast.

“Oh, fine, good, y’know,” Jared says. “I mean, not fine, injured, which sucks but like — considering.”

He can practically see Bryce frowning, all ‘what the hell, J’.

“How’s yours?” Jared says quickly.

“I mean, wish you were playing me tonight,” Bryce says.

“Yeah, me too,” Jared says.

“Mom said you’re going to watch the game?” Bryce says.

“Yeah, I even got like, a bottle of wine for her from around the block,” Jared says. Which, for the record, was much more of a big deal than it sounds like, considering it was raining, as per fucking usual, and he almost wiped out twice and injured his ankle worse. So he would like praise from Bryce.

“Aww,” Bryce says, delivering the praise Jared was angling for. “You didn’t need to do that, she brings her own. And she’s not going to have more than a glass or anything, she’s driving.”

Praise, not logic.

“Maybe I’ll drink it all,” Jared says. “And send you drunk texts trash-talking your play.”

“My play would have to be bad for you to trash-talk it,” Bryce says, effortlessly confident.

Jared snorts. “Trash-talk Chaz’s play in the group chat then,” he says.

“If you want Ashley to kill you the next time you step foot in Calgary,” Bryce says.

“Whenever the hell that’ll be,” Jared mumbles. It’s in two months. He knows it’s in two months. Yeah, the Flames come to Vancouver before that, and they’ll have Christmas break right after, so it’ll be a nice extended time together, but he doesn’t get to see Bryce nearly enough as it is, he feels like he’s wasting his fucking time here, sitting in his Vancouver apartment, hundreds of miles away from where he wants to be.

“I know,” Bryce says, which doesn’t really make sense as a response, but also does. And he does know. Better than anyone.

“Yeah,” Jared says, blowing out a breath.

“I’m drinking from your Eeyore mug,” Bryce says. “If like. You want a pathetic image of how much I miss you. And Chaz threatened to kill me yesterday if I didn’t stop sighing.”

Jared shuts his eyes. “This has got to get easier eventually, right?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” Bryce says. “It hasn’t. For me, I mean.”

“Me either,” Jared says. “Well like, easier now that I get doses of Elaine all the time, but—”

“Yeah,” Bryce says.

“I can’t believe you’re drinking out of Eeyore,” Jared says. “That’s mine.”

“It’s yours when you’re here,” Bryce says. “You’re not here, so.”

“Sorry,” Jared says.

“For what, spraining your ankle?” Bryce snorts.

“Cutting down one more chance to see you,” Jared says.

“Shut up or I’m going to like, cry,” Bryce says.

“Shutting up,” Jared says hastily.

“I’m gonna kick Canucks ass tonight,” Bryce says. “Like, extra hard for having an arena that injured you, since I can’t like, fight ice.”

“A battle you would lose,” Jared says.

“Tell my mom I love her,” Bryce says.

“Like you don’t do that daily,” Jared says.

“Yeah, well, you get to say it in person, so,” Bryce says.

“I’m gonna get tipsy and see if I can get Elaine to trash-talk you,” Jared says.

“Never going to happen,” Bryce says with the same effortless confidence.

“Make my dad happy tonight,” Jared says, because he has no doubt that with Jared out of the roster right now, his dad’s rooting for a Flames win.

“Do my best,” Bryce says.

“I really fucking miss you, Bryce,” Jared says before he can stop himself.

“I really fucking miss you too,” Bryce says, and Jared’s eyes are stinging when Bryce has to hang up to go to work.