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Glory Days

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Kent’s heart gives one hard knock in his chest as he stares at the screen of Scraps’ phone. Something heavy spreads from his chest to his gut, setting deep and ugly around his middle. The noise of the bar has dimmed; he’s vaguely aware that Carl is running his mouth. Again. Considering what Kent was staring at on his phone he had no interest in actually figuring out what it was. There’s laughter, soft, in response to whatever his Neanderthal teammate was saying, but it’s dimmed too.

On the screen, Jack and the blonde from that party at Samwell--Bittle, a small voice echoed. You know his name is Eric Bittle. Number 15. Speedy. Worked great on Jack’s line, really kicked up his game--were caught up in an embrace, their mouths pressed together in a kiss that was not some in-the-heat-of-the-moment embrace. That was a comfortable kiss. That was the kind of kiss that the guys who scored the cup shared with their spouses or their long-term partners. That was the kind of kiss that said love-and-pride-and-joy not elated-I’m-losing-my-mind-celebration-let’s-kiss-for-drama.

And once upon a time, Jack’s face had held a younger, paler imitation of the expression it was making now, his lips pressed against another's, hand tangled in blonde hair. Kent had a picture of that kiss, that expression, buried deep in a box in the top of his closet, that he hadn’t looked at in years but was burned into his brain.

But this wasn’t a stolen picture of a kiss between boys, impaired by liquor and pills and the heady thrill of youth and sneaking around. This was Jack--anxious, afraid Jack--who had kissed a man on live TV after scoring the winning goal and capping off his first season in the NHL with a Cup win with his team. It was Jack; which meant that this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. No matter how caught up he was in his win, Jack would have thought about this, considered what it meant, what it would mean, what--

“Go back to your glory days talk, Carly,” Scraps’ voice is mild but Kent still can’t tear his eyes away from the screen, even as he feels Swoops move in to displace where Carl had stood a second before, a hand pressing against Kent’s shoulder; a warm and heavy weight. The drone of voices starts up again as a small handful of the Aces distract the others. Swoops and Scraps staying where they are, bracketing their captain. Scraps reaches out a hand and gently pries the screen from Kent’s hands, taking the phone back. “Parser.” Kent doesn’t respond, just stares at the space where the phone had been, hands feeling numb.

“Parse.” Swoops’ voice is steady and warm. “Hey. Come on, man.”

Kent’s gaze moves up toward his friend, then over to Scraps. He opens his mouth but no noise escapes. The numbness spreads from his hands, up his arms, through his chest and torso. His head swims a little, before settling. It feels a little like everything was in a bubble, like he hasn’t had enough sleep or air. He pushes back his stool and stands, shrugging off the hand Swoops still has on his shoulder, scooping up his phone and shoving it in his pocket before moving down the bar toward the rest of the team.

“Okay boys, I’m out.” There are boos as a couple of his teammates call him an old man.

“Not as out as Zimmerman and his tiny blonde though,” Carl barks out a laugh, “am I right?”

A couple of the guys laugh, but Kent is more aware of the two men moving up behind him, a solid wall that was pumping off concern and disapproval. He feels oddly detached from the whole thing. “Yeah, well,” he snorts. “Man just won The Cup--guessing he feels like he’s on top of the world at the moment considering he got in the winning goal. Not a feeling you’d be familiar with though, right, Carly?” Kent chirps. “Where the fuck’s my hat?” He glances back, catching sight of it on the bar. Takes a step back to grab it, jams it on his head, ignoring his friends.

“Don’t forget your training this summer--kick it up a notch or two and maybe we can be on TV next year instead of watching the game.” There are more boos. He steals the shot sitting in front of one of the rookies, throws it back, and waves as he heads for the door. “See you in pre-season, assholes.”

He makes it through the front door of the bar, moving at a quick pace down the sidewalk. Had he driven? No. Watching the final game in a bar meant none of them drove--Parse’s rule--so he should call and Uber. Or a Lyft. He should call… he pulls out his phone and just stares at the screen. Unsurprisingly there are a series of notifications. One missed call--from his sister. His finger hovers over the unlock for a second before he swears. Jack is on the ice, there isn’t going to be a message from him. Jack is on the ice...kissing his boyfriend.

Kent’s breath leaves him in a hard whoosh and he stops moving, ignoring the way the people walking by swear and jostle him. His phone drops out of his hand, hitting the pavement with a crack.

“Alright. I got you.” A hand moves into his vision to scoop up his phone. He looks up and sees Swoops. Swoops, who has been his friend from the first, who has gotten him through more drunken mistakes and bad decisions than anyone else. Swoops, maybe the only person in the world who might know just what Jack means--meant--to him. “Come on, Parse. Let’s get you home.” He moves forward and wraps a hand gently around Kent’s elbow and leads him toward the curb.

“I don’t need your help.” He doesn’t need anyone. He needs to be alone. He needs to figure out what this means for him--if he can just get past seeing that image, of Jack, on center ice, lips pressed gently against another man’s.

In love, with a Cup win, coming out on center ice.

“Sure, you don’t.” Swoops’ voice is light. “But I’m giving it anyway. Besides, I’m a fucking delight.” He hustles Kent into the back of an Uber. “Scraps has got the rest of the team, don’t worry. We’re just gonna get you home and…” he trails off. “Let’s just get you home.”

“Yeah,” Kent tips his head back and closes his eyes, ignoring the sting behind them. Later, he might cry. Over Jack, over what Jack had just done, how Kent wasn’t sure he’d ever be that stupid or brave. Over how safe Jack must feel and how much Kent isn’t. Tomorrow he might even get angry--Jack probably wouldn’t have considered how much shit this is going to bring to Kent’s door. Tomorrow… but for now, he just releases a small puff of air and tries to focus on the play of lights behind his eyelids. “Home’s good.”