“Oh hell no.” Kent was striding out of the team's locker room before he'd even finished the sentiment, tossing his jersey on haphazardly as he went. He had a one track mind and no one was going to stop him. Not even Swoops who'd also heard the interview and was swinging out the door after him, calling his name frantically. There was no stopping a man with a mission. A mission that had been waiting in the wings for a long time and could no longer be delayed.
Tater was standing outside the opposing team's locker room, staring happily at his phone when Kent marched around the corner. Swoops was still running after him, trying to keep his voice low as he yelled for his captain to come back before he did something he might regret.
“Where the fuck is he?” Kent yelled, disinterested in keeping his own voice quiet. He was done playing the role of good guy. If everyone wanted to believe he was the bad cop here, then he was going to make the most of it. “Zimmerman! Get your ass out here!”
“Hey.” Tater frowned at the pair of furious Aces heading towards his turf. “What you want Zimmbonni for? You can't go in there.”
Kent was already trying to push his way inside, still screaming for his former teammate to come out and 'face him.' Tater decided in that moment that checking was completely appropriate off the ice. He drove his palm into the Ace's shoulder, shoving him back into Swoops who instantly took hold and dragged him back. The blonde elbowed his teammate to get free and dove for the door again. No need as Zimmerman was already poking his head out, frowning at the sight before him.
“Stay inside, Zimmbonni. Got this.” Tater waved his alternate back inside but Jack stepped out anyway, shutting the door behind him. No further members of the Falconers followed likely meaning that Jack, their shining star, had given them explicit instructions to stay put. Oh well, they'd probably hear what he had to say anyhow.
“Kent? What-what are you doing?” There was a slight stutter in Jack's voice. It pissed Kent off more. Hadn't been any of that in his bull shit interview.
“Oh hey Z, how are you? Caught that soundbite on ESPN. A thug, really? You don't talk to me for six fucking years and you want throw around labels?” Swoops had a hand fisted in the back of Kent's jersey. Though he could have easily broken out of the grip, he didn't feel compelled to move any closer to the man he was currently chastising.
Jack frowned and mumbled something under his breath to Tater. Together, the two edged towards the door of their locker room. “Just an interview, Parson. Go get ready for the game.”
“Parson? Not Parsie or Kenny? Just using last names now. We have come so far, Zimmerman. Whoops, guess I'm guilty too.”
“Let's go, Tater,” Jack directed, hand on the door handle.
“Fine Z! You don't want to associate with me? See if I fucking care. But I'm not going to let you come to my house and parade for the cameras like you're the only one with a shitload of problems.”
“Watch language!” Tater insisted, leering at the blonde man. Jack put a hand on his chest. His eyes were narrowed at Kent. The captain should stop, should take that look and walk away with it burned into his mind. Instead, every nerve in his body was screaming for him to continue. What came next had been culminating for quite some time.
“Do you know that there are still people in this league, probably in this fucking stadium, that think I sat in that bathroom with you and shoved pills down your throat?”
That wiped the look off of Jack's face. Instead of looking angry, he just looked startled. His hand was frozen on the handle of the door, though he wasn't making any move to head inside. If Kent had any control of himself, he'd have smirked. Jack needed to hear what had been banging around the Aces' captain's head for years now.
“Yeah! I was the number one draft pick that year and all they could talk about what how I got that title by trying to kill-” his voice cracked but he continued on- “my best friend. Great way to start a career. Half the guys on the team thinking you'll stab them in the back because you're so damn ruthless. The other half thinking you're mentally unstable because yeah, finding your friend dead on the most important days of your lives kinda fucks you up.”
“Kent...” The pitiful whisper comes from behind him. It's Swoops, who shouldn't be having to hear any of this. He should have stayed behind. But Kent can't give him any attention. The second he looks away from Jack, he'll disappear and this opportunity will never arise again.
“It doesn't stop there. I couldn't escape your fucking name being thrown at me from every direction. Even the coaches! 'Well, I've seen Zimmerman do it this way, try that' and 'Oh, isn't that Zimmer's golden move? Think you can pull that off?' Even comparing me to Bob! Always rubbing in my face that they were all set for you, that my place was second. How disappointed they must have been to get me instead of you. I'm no Jack Zimmerman. At least, that's what all the headlines said.”
“Except, except we're more alike than I thought-” Kent spat out, unable to stop the words streaming out of him in violent spurts, “-because if you think I went out to celebrate after the draft, you're so wrong! I sat in my hotel room—alone mind you because my mom's flight got delayed and she wasn't even there to see my called number one—on the floor of the bathroom just to be funny and had a full blown panic attack ala Zimmerman. Screaming, crying, not breathing, puking, the whole works. All the signs I'd trained myself to look for. For you!
“In the mess of it all, I remember being so jealous of you. Jealous that you weren't dealing with this bull shit. And I wanted to call you and tell you how ridiculous that was but I couldn't. Couldn't because I didn't even know if you were alive and no one had the time to pick up their phones to tell me. You decided to keep that streak going too. Didn't bother to call me to tell me you were okay, that you were out of rehab, that you missed me like I missed you! You didn't call!”
“You could have-” Jack mumbled, surprising all of them. But it didn't break the words rolling out of Kent.
“Could have called? Sure, I could have. But I didn't because I wanted to give you your space. Because those whispers had gotten into my head. Maybe it was my fault. Didn't I tell you to take another pill that night? Because I feel like I did. Instead of helping you through things, I was so exhausted that I might just have been the guy to push you over the edge. I might have been the one who almost killed you! I was so scared of what you would say if I called you. So I gave you space.”
And there were the tears. Kent had never admitted it aloud before that he had convinced himself long ago that those godforsaken reporters may have had it exactly right. The memory, whether real or fabricated in his head, was so clear. Kent had just wanted to look good on camera when he was drafted second. If he weren't going first, he at least wanted to look good. And he was so tired of talking Jack down when everyone knew that Jack was the better player. Kent would play second to him for the rest of his life. For one night, he needed to do something for himself. How had he ever thought that telling the other boy to up the dosage was wise, was something a friend would do? He was just so tired... Kent swiped at his eyes and continued.
“I let you finish rehab, put yourself back on track, and when I thought you were doing better, I couldn't wait any longer. So I went to find you. Years later and I was still holding out hope that maybe my best friend was waiting for me too. He just needed time.
“But you know what I found when I got to that stupid frat house? A stranger. A stranger who looked at me like I was Satan come to drag him back to the hell he'd just climbed out of. Like I was the reason you were still playing college hockey and not living your dream in the NHL. The reason for your anxiety, your overdose, your pain, every last bit of it. Your friends were swell guys.” He cricked an arm towards his chest, a comical gesture turned very unfunny as Kent's nose started to run. “They were the only reason I managed to talk myself out of it all. That I didn't just wrap my car around a pole on the drive back to the hotel and call it a day. They did the best that they could and you? You're still looking at me like that, Jack!”
Finally, Kent couldn't take the look on his former best friend's face one second longer. He tilted his head towards the floor, the tears still raining down his cheeks. His hands were balled in fists at his sides. “I was so in love with you.” His voice had fallen to a whisper, his first quiet words of the night. “When you were in rehab, I thought it was you that needed me and wouldn't let me in but... I needed you all those years.” Kent took a shaky breath. “I had to do my first year in the NHL alone with whispers at my back and so much judgment looking me in the face. I needed you. But you didn't need me. So I did it all alone. Even if you thought I was worthless, undeserving of being loved by you, even if I believed that, at least someone was taking notice.”
“You see this?” His voice had risen again. Kent's face came up, a glare having taken hold. He tugged at his jersey, grabbing at the stark white C atop it. “At least the NHL thinks I'm worth something. Even if they got Parson instead of the Great Jack Zimmerman, at least he plays a damn fine game of hockey.”
Kent dragged the sleeve of his jersey across his running nose and stared at Zimmerman, his chest heaving. His eyes had gone dark, his voice cold as he stared Jack down, his chest heaving. “And now? I'm going to go out there and kick your ass so you can see just how worthless I am.”
With that, the captain turned about face on his heel and stalked off in the direction of their locker room. Swoops was staring at him with shock scrawled across his face. Kent pushed by. The scrambling of feet behind him must be the man following his captain back. There were quiet apologies tossed around, all from Jeff.
Without speaking, Kent ducked into an equipment room on the way, not bothering to shut the door behind him. Swoops handled that, starting to speak as soon as he entered. “Parse, what-”
Kent whipped a puck at the wall. It made a solid crack before bouncing off cushioned pads nearby and settling at his feet. He quickly reached for another, silently hoping for connection. Anything to escape the feeling currently traversing through his chest. Pained animal noises erupted from his throat as he flung equipment and kicked at fallen sticks, intent to destroy the room.
It wasn't long before a pair of arms wrapped around from the back without warning. Kent kicked and screamed, doing everything in his power to dislodge his captor. Swoops held tighter. “I know,” he murmured into his captain's hair, “I know.” It wasn't long until the blonde crumpled in his alternate's arms, his entire body aching as he sobbed into the darkness.