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“Right,” says Jack dumbly. “Yeah. Bittle - you’re. You’re right. Bittle made the pies.”

Jack waits for Tater to connect it all together: so if Bittle made the pies, and if the pies are no longer coming, because Jack broke up with his secret partner, then that must mean... but Tater doesn’t say anything. He continues to frown at Jack, his hand still held in the air between them at Bittle’s height. Maybe there’s an explanation Jack could give; maybe that’s all Tater wants to hear, something just plausible enough that Tater will prefer to believe it over the alternative.

“Bittle was - my girlfriend, his sister,” attempts Jack. The words trip over each other. Tater frowns harder.

“Zimmboni,” he says. “I do not think - ”

Jack’s chest constricts. He panics. It’s like standing in the ocean, only to be knocked over by a sudden wave. It’s the same sense of helplessness, of weightlessness. He can’t breathe.

“Zimmboni?” says Tater again, alarmed now. He steps inside, closing the door behind him.

“I’m fine,” Jack chokes out. He backs up, attempts to sit on the edge of his bed, but misses. He thumps to the floor.

He knows what this is, not that knowing ever helped. He cups his hands over his mouth, wishes he had a paper bag to blow in and out of instead. He’s being stupid, he chides himself. Even if Tater - even if he’s pieced together, it’s not like Tater will… He doesn’t finish the thought. His mind feels staticy, and his heart rattles in his chest. He never understood what people meant by “pounding.” It always feels more like his heart has gotten loose and is making a break for it, vibrating the whole way. Tater hovers above him.

“Zimmboni?” says Tater, for a third time. He raises his hands, and Jack flinches. Tater lowers his hands.

“Sorry,” says Jack gasping. “Sorry. I’m just - ”

He waves his hand vaguely, trying to convey - what, exactly? That he’s falling apart. That part’s obvious.

There are tricks for this, Jack reminds himself, in the cold, far away part of his mind that never seems able to connect to his body at moments like this. There are strategies: count five colors, scrunch your toes, focus on something tactile. Tater’s face swings above him like a confused moon. Jack clenches his hand around his phone, the closest object he has at hand, concentrates on the feel of it - hard and chill and smooth.
One of the first times he ever had a panic attack in front of Kent, Kent responded by pouring an entire water bottle over Jack’s head.
“It works in the movies,” Kent had said, more mulish than apologetic, later, and Jack laughed so hard his stomach hurt. “What movies?” Jack had demanded, and Kent had shrugged, sullen, but then smiled as Jack laughed more.

He wishes Kent were here.

That thought, in its simple need, at least, is clear.

“I am not caring about the pies that much,” says Tater helplessly, crouched in front of Jack

“Call,” Jack says. “I need to call.”

“Uh - like, ambulance?” says Tater. Jack ignores him, the thought of Kent now a lifeline, a single, thrown rope.

Kent picks up on the second ring.

“Jack,” he says tersely. “I thought - ”


“Jack?” Kent’s voice flashes from annoyed to alarmed. “Are you okay?”

Jack tries to speak again, but his chest locks down. He sucks at air. Thrusts the phone at Tater.

“Hello?” says Tater, bewildered.

Kent’s loud enough on the phone to be heard even from a foot away. “Who is - Mashkov? What the fuck? What the fuck is going on? Is Jack okay?”

“He is - ” Tater pauses to take stock of Jack. Jack tries to gesture that he’s fine. He’s just catching his breath. He puts his head between his knees.

“‘Freaking out’?” attempts Tater. He mutters, “Don’t know the word in English. I have - ” Tater stops himself and scowls, addresses himself to Jack instead of Kent. “Zimmboni, I have pill from last time I have surgery. It could help - ”

“Don’t you dare!” shrills Kent. Tater winces and holds the phone away from his ear. Kent keeps yelling. “You do that, and I’ll fucking kill you, Mashkov! I swear to god!”

Tater looks surprised, but he manages a dour, “Like to see Parson try,” that Jack’s sure Kent can’t hear.

Jack starts to laugh, hard enough to make his stomach hurt. It makes it even harder to breathe. He hunches down further into his knees and just howls with laughter until his eyes start to stream with tears and he can’t fucking breathe again. He ends up gasping.

“Zimmboni?” Tater rests a heavy hand on the back of Jack’s head. “Jack?”

Jack shakes his head. He’s tempted, almost, to take Tater up on the offer. He never had a problem with painkillers. And it would help. It would help to not feel like he was in this body or in this mind; it would help to feel like all the sharp, cutting edges inside him have dulled and melted away. There are times he wants it so badly his hands start to shake. He wraps his hands tightly around his elbows and digs his nails into his skin.

Too much time passes. Kent must say something, must have been saying something, because Tater gives the name of their hotel. There’s a pause, and Jack can make out the tone but not the words of what Kent says next. Tater gives their room number. He sounds confused.

“He’s coming here,” says Tater, a second later.

It’s like a bottle of cold water, dumped over his head. Jack jerks up and stares at Tater.

“What? Give me - ”

Tater hands him the phone, but there’s just silence when Jack presses his ear to it. He immediately calls Kent again, but it goes straight to voicemail. Kent’s voicemail is strangely chipper, or maybe not strangely, but an odd contrast to the night’s events.

Tater brings him a glass of water. Jack hadn’t even noticed him walk away.

“Thanks,” says Jack, addressing the carpet.

“No problem,” says Tater. He sits down slowly beside Jack.

Jack curls his fingers around the glass and drinks deeply.

“I should try Kent again,” he says.

Kent still doesn’t pick up.

“Parse,” says Jack, to Kent’s voicemail. He stops, uncertain what to say, surprised, really, that Kent isn’t picking up.

“You don’t need to come,” he says, after a very long pause. “I’m fine. Call me in the morning. Sorry, I - ”

He gets cut off then. It’s probably for the best.

Tater clears his throat. “No Parson?”

Jack laughs. “No Parson,” he confirms.

Tater just nods.

“Bittle did bake the pies,” Jack says, eventually, when Tater makes no attempt to move, no gambit at conversation. “Bittle was my boyfriend.”

It’s almost enough to send him another hysterical bout of laughter. Of course he’s telling Tater this now, when it doesn’t matter.

Tater makes a low noise that Jack chooses to interpret as sympathetic.

“That’s why, you know, all the secrets,” he adds glumly.

“Is still secret,” says Tater.

“Yeah,” says Jack. He glances at Tater, but Tater is frowning at the floor. It’s not an unfriendly expression, exactly, but it’s closer to what Jack is used to seeing from Tater on the ice than off it.

“Then I will not tell,” says Tater.

“Thanks,” says Jack. He hesitates. “You don’t, uh, mind?”

Tater’s quiet.

“No,” he says finally. He looks at Jack. “Is better here, in America.” He shrugs. “But is not so good back home.”

Tater’s said something like this before, Jack remembers, all the way back in the fall. He couldn’t interpret it then, but now he wonders if, even then, Tater knew, or suspected. The thought makes him a little sick. He looks back at Tater, and the air between them feels heavy. It strikes him that he doesn’t actually know that much about Tater, for all they’ve been sharing a room for the better part of seven months now, for all that Jack would consider him a friend.

“It’s still not good here,” says Jack.

Tater pats him on the shoulder and stands. Jack wonders if he’s going to leave, or go to bed, but he just turns on the TV and sits back down on the floor. They watch a rerun of a sitcom Jack’s never seen. There’s a laugh track, but neither of them laugh along with it.

“And the pills,” Jack says, during a commercial break. The words are thick in his throat. Tater looks at him curiously. “You can’t - I can’t take those. I appreciate that you were trying to help, but I can’t take pills like that.”

He watches Tater think, realize what Jack means. Tater nods. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” says Jack, feeling bad for making Tater apologize, feeling also like he should say something else, tell Tater he shouldn’t be offering that shit to anyone. But it’s just how it is. It’s not like it was ever hard to get pills in the Q. It hasn’t changed. It doesn’t change, all of his history that he has to make other people responsible for.

They’re quiet. The rerun turns into infomercials. Jack tries Kent again, and again reaches just his voicemail.

“Kent,” he says into it. “Kenny.” He sighs, buries his face in his hand. It’s not that he doesn’t want to see Kent, it’s just that he doesn’t want to see Kent like this - embarrassed and confused and pathetic.

He hangs up. It’s not like there’s anything he can do to convince Kent to stay away. God knows he’s tried.


Around 2 in the morning, there’s a knock at the door. Jack groans.

Tater grunts and stands. A few seconds later, Jack hears the door open, and then Kent says, dry and amused, “Evening, Mashkov.”

“Parson,” says Tater.

“Are you gonna let me in?”

“Tater,” calls Jack. “It’s fine.”

He looks over, finally, at the door. He can’t see Kent through Tater, but then Tater grumbles and steps aside. And there’s Kent. He’s wearing the same too-large hoodie he wore to that awful dinner, the hood pulled over another baseball cap. With the hallway light to his back and the cap’s shadow over his face, Jack can’t make out his expression.

Kent’s head turns, and he must spot Jack, because he lets out a low, breathy laugh. Behind him, Tater shuts the door and leans against it, his arms crossed over his chest, like the bouncer at the world’s shittiest, most exclusive club: Jack Zimmermann’s Self Pity, party of two.

“Hey,” says Kent, moving to stand in front of Jack. Jack can make out his expression now. It’s carefully neutral, but Kent can’t hide how obviously tired he is. Jack can smell the night air on him. He pictures Kent driving through the hundreds of miles of darkness between here and Las Vegas, hood rolled down, in one of the sporty little cars Kent’s always favored, the cool, dry, desert wind whipping through his hair.

“You didn’t need to come,” says Jack.

“You didn’t need to call me,” says Kent. Hands on his hips, head cocked, eyebrows raised: a cool, sardonic posture. He jerks his head at Tater and smiles sweetly. “But are we really gonna have this fight with Boris watching?”

Tater lets out an ominous rumble. Jack gives him an apologetic look.

“Sorry, Tater, do you mind…?”

Tater sighs and then nods.

“Okay, Zimmboni,” he says. He scowls at Kent. “But you be careful.”

Kent’s eyes narrow, but he doesn’t say anything until Tater’s closed the door behind him.

“What does he think I’m gonna do?” he says. “Dick.”

He says it like he expects Jack to agree with him. Or, rather, he says it like he’s giving Jack the opportunity to agree with him. Jack remembers this from the Q: the guys who would trip over themselves to agree with anything Kent said. It never seemed to impress Kent very much.

“He’s the only reason we still might make the playoffs,” says Jack, “and I made him babysit me all night.”

Kent shrugs. “You’re a big selfish baby, Zimmermann. What else is new?”

Jack stands slowly, using the bed to lever himself up. His body aches, from his face to legs, but he can’t have this conversation with Kent looming over him.

“Your pep talks used to be better,” he says.

Kent’s mouth twitches. “I used to think they could help.”

Jack glares. Kent smiles wider, smiles meaner. Jack doesn’t understand how Kent came to be here, standing in Jack’s hotel room at the ass hour of the night, sparking like a downed wire. This isn’t the Kent Jack last saw, walking away from him in a different hotel’s parking lot. And this isn’t the Kent Jack had in the car with him, anguished and confused. It’s the Kent from that dinner, Jack realizes: angry at Jack for asking something Kent didn’t want to give, angry at himself for giving it anyway.

“I didn’t ask you to come,” he tells Kent.

Kent turns his head away and tucks it towards his chest. He smiles like he’s trying to hide it, like it’s not really funny. Jack watches him swallow down whatever it is he wants to say.

“Sure. So why did you call?”

“I didn’t mean to. I - ” Jack clenches his jaw. “I was just panicking.”

“Just panicking,” repeats Kent.

Jack doesn’t say anything. Kent keeps his head turned away, but he glances at Jack from the corner of his eye.

“Can you tell me why you were fucking panicking at least?” Kents says. “Or at least why you had to fucking call me about it.”

Jack still doesn’t say anything. He wishes he had an answer that made sense, or, at least, an answer that doesn’t make him feel hideously vulnerable. He can’t put the words, ‘I needed you,’ out there and let them flop between the two of them, like a dying fish.

“I thought… it would help.”

“Okay!” says Kent, and when Jack looks at him, Kent’s expression is brighter, hopeful. He makes a ‘keep going’ gesture with his hand, like Jack’s a kid tentatively testing the ice. “Why did you think it would help?”

“ I don’t - you don’t need to patronize me, Parse.”

“Oh my god,” says Kent. He laughs and covers his face with his hands. “Oh my god, Jack. This is bullshit. This is - this is the most fucking bullshit. I fucking thought - I thought Mashkov was about to, like, after school special you into relapsing - I fucking drove here. And you can’t - you can’t even fucking articulate why you’re so - “

“I didn’t ask you to come, Kent!” Kent tries to say something, but Jack keeps going, “It’s not your job to look after me - ”

“Just because it’s not my job,” shouts Kent, “doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like my responsibility!”

They both freeze.

“I didn’t mean - ” starts Kent. He breathes in deeply and laughs softly on the exhale. “No. I did mean it. I just didn’t mean to say it.”

“I know,” says Jack.

Kent puts his face in his hands again. For a moment, Jack thinks he might be crying. But when Kent speaks, his voice is hard and clear. But he doesn’t move his hands.

“Heard you got into a fight with Blanco. What was that about?”

“Nothing,” says Jack. “He’s just annoying.”

“Bullshit,” snarls Kent, hands snapping down from his face. “Can you just say, for once in your fucking life, what the hell is going on with you?”

Jack jerks back, startled. “Bittle and I broke up,” he admits, quickly, all at once. “And Tater… found out.”

“Oh,” says Kent. His shoulders stiffen. “Mashkov - He knew you and Bitty were - ?”

“No. He figured it out. He caught me right after I got off the phone with Bittle - ”

“You broke up with Bittle over the phone?”

“No.” Jack laughs. It’s not really funny. “Over skype. A couple days ago. In front of Shitty and Lardo.”

Kent looks shocked.

“Jesus, Jack. It hasn’t even been - I saw you in Providence, like, a week ago.”

“I didn’t want to keep hurting him.”

It’s a variation on what he said to Shitty - Bittle just deserves better. But Kent doesn’t respond with Shitty’s calm empathy. He just snorts.

“Wow, Jack,” he says. “That’s so considerate.”

“I mean it,” says Jack. “I was a terrible boyfriend.” He can hear Bittle’s voice in the back of his mind - no, Jack, honey! You were amazing! And he recoils from it. Not that Bittle had said anything like that over the phone, and Jack can’t think about that, either, without feeling his chest shrivel with guilt.

“What if I’ve ruined his life?”

“Jesus – no, you haven’t.” Kent breathes out heavily. Then, in a deeply stupid voice, he says, “Hey, everybody, look at me. I’m Jack Zimmermann, and everything I touch dies.”

Unexpectedly, even to himself, Jack laughs.

“Shut up. You’re an asshole, Kenny.”

“Of course I’m an asshole,” says Kent, with surprising heat. “I’m 5’10 and a gay hockey player. I have to be an asshole, or else I wouldn’t be able to do this shit. You’re an asshole, too, you know. You just like to pretend you’re not.”

“I know I’m an asshole,” says Jack.

“Yeah, but you don’t own it. You just use it as, like, a bat to beat yourself up with. Or an excuse.”

“Oh, because you’re a therapist now.”

“No, I’m just self-aware. Asshole.”

“If you know you’re an asshole, and you don’t do anything to change it, what does that make you? A sociopath?”

“Oh, right,” says Kent angrily. “I’m the sociopath. I’m the one who doesn’t have any feelings. You wouldn’t recognize an emotion if it hit you in the fucking face, Jack.” He laughs scornfully, takes a step towards Jack. “God, what even was the fucking point of - “ he waves his hand as if he’s gesturing at something behind him - “of, of your fucking school, of all that shit, if you’re not even any better?”

Kent blanches as soon as the words are out of his mouth.

“Shit, I mean - “

Jack is not particularly in the mood to be forgiving. He jumps to his feet, his hands balled into fists at his sides.

“You have, you have no idea what it’s like for me.”

“You’ve never told me what it’s like for you!” cries Kent. “How can I know if you’ve never even tried to tell me?”

“Try empathy, for starters.”

Kent’s eyes go black with hurt and fury.

“How’d you end up breaking things off with ‘Bittle’ anyway?” he says, snakelike and crafty. “Bet you were really kind and empathetic about it.”

Jack flinches, and Kent smirks with the satisfaction of having hit his mark.

“Figures,” he says. “You always run away.”

“Shut up,” says Jack.

Kent steps closer, an ugly, gloating expression on his face.

“Honestly, I’m kind of surprised. I figured Bitty was perfect for you - spineless, devoted. You always needed someone to fucking worship you. But I guess you figure out how to disappoint everyone, in the end.”

Jack reacts with actual anger. It’s nothing like the scabby flare of irritation he felt when he finally swung at LeBlanc, but a red and real rage. He steps forward, too, close enough that Kent has to tilt his head up to look at him.

“If Bittle was so spineless and devoted,” Jack says, calmly, “then what’s it say about you that you’re here?”

Kent goes white. He looks like Jack’s knocked the air out of him. Then, he squares his shoulders and lifts his chin, like he’s daring Jack to take a swing.

He smiles.

“Guess it means I’m perfect for you, Zimms.”

Jack kisses him. He grabs Kent by the front of his hoodie and hauls him up. Kent makes a small, harsh noise in the back of his throat and kisses back.

There aren’t words for this. There’s just a chasm they’ve both been navigating, that might still be too dangerous to cross.

There’s just the twisting and shifting want inside him: the times he has wanted Kent away, and the times he’s wanted Kent with him, the times he’s wanted to be Kent, and the times he’s just wanted Kent, and all the times he’s wanted to never have to think about Kent at all.

He shoves Kent hard against the wall. Kent gasps into his mouth, and his hands come up, grab at Jack’s hair and yank. Jack curses in French and bites down on Kent’s lower lip.

He turns Kent around, twisting Kent’s arm behind his back as he does so. Kent makes a high, abrupt noise, and Jack freezes. He can’t tell if it was arousal or pain.

“Parse?” he says.

Kent breathes in shakily.

“Come on, Zimms,” he says. “Let me go. I wanna look at you.”

Jack takes a deep breath and leans forward. He presses his forehead into the back of Kent’s shoulder.

“Yeah?” he says, ragged.

“Yeah,” says Kent softly.

Jack feels him twist in his grip, turn around, and suddenly Kent is pushing him back towards the bed. Jack goes willingly, finds himself relieved to hand over control.

His legs hit the edge of the bed, and he sits. Kent climbs into his lap, straddling him. He lifts Jack’s chin and kisses him very softly. Jack opens his mouth for him. Jack’s skin prickles. He almost shivers. Kent pulls back, but not far; the tip of Kent’s nose brushes against Jack’s. His breath is warm on Jack’s mouth.

They kiss again, slow and heated. Jack runs his hands up and down Kent’s back, and then spreads them across his ass. He can feel himself getting hard, and he can feel Kent getting hard, too, as Kent presses even closer against Jack. Jack tugs on the hem of Kent’s sweatshirt, and Kent pulls away just enough for Jack to yank Kent’s sweatshirt and shirt off. Jack pauses to take him in.

Kent’s visibly bruised up, even in just the flickering light provided by the television. Jack doesn’t know if Kent got the bruises at the Falcs’ game or more recently, or if they overlap like sediment, a colorful, ever-shifting history of the season. He skims his hand down Kent’s side, and Kent inhales sharply, in pleasure, his eyelids stuttering. Jack kisses his shoulder.

Kent’s filled out than when they were kids, his shoulders broader, his arms rounder with muscle. Jack runs his hand down the hard planes of his stomach, the fine trail of hair leading down there, and he palms Kent’s erection through the soft material of his track pants.

Kent groans, closes his eyes, and Jack rolls his hand. Kent breathes out hard against his ear, and Jack keeps going. Kent’s breathing picks up more, carries with it the smallest thread of a whine, and he rolls his hips to meet Jack’s hand. Heat floods Jack’s gut. He holds Kent’s throat with his other hand, his thumb against Kent’s pulse, and can’t tell whose heart is hammering. Kent moans, and Jack feels the vibration in his hand, in his wrist. He keeps moving his other hand, and Kent rolls his hips to meet him.

“Zimms,” says Kent, plaintive. He holds himself so still, he starts to tremble. “I gotta wear these pants back.”

“Oh,” says Jack. “Sorry.” He moves his hand to Kent’s hip.

Kent just laughs, his hands gripping Jack’s shoulders. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Jack studies his face - the fan of his eyelashes against his cheek, the sharp point of his jaw, the way his throat bobs as he swallows, his mouth red from all the times Jack’s kissed him. Jack kisses him again.

Kent squirms away. Jack’s mouth trails wetly down his chin.

“Gross,” says Kent, laughing. He tugs at Jack’s shirt. “You gotta take this off, man. Fair’s fair.”

Jack laughs and pulls his shirt off. Kent looks him over. He grins slowly, with delight.

“Jack Zimmermann, you vain motherfucker.” He spreads his hands possessively across Jack’s stomach. “Holy shit.”

“Shut up,” says Jack sheepishly.

Kent shakes his head and kisses him.

Jack falls backward, pulling Kent with him. Their bodies press together, from knee to shoulder. Jack shifts slightly, so that his thigh presses against Kent’s crotch. Kent grinds down. Jack locks an arm around Kent’s waist, keeps Kent tight against him. He’s starting to feel a little dizzy.

He rolls Kent onto his back and pulls down his sweatpants and boxers. There’s a scar on Kent’s knee that Jack doesn’t remember, that he realizes must be from when Kent had an off-season surgery a couple years ago. It had been for one of those injuries you don’t hear about until after the season is over. He remembers wondering if it would slow Kent down. He remembers hating himself, a little, for the thought. And he remembers wondering how Kent was recovering, if he was bored, if he was in pain. But of course Jack never called.

He kisses the scar softly, now, and Kent shudders beneath him. He calls Jack’s name, as if he were across the room, and props himself up on his elbows. Jack kisses his hipbone, the crease of his thigh.

“I didn’t – ” says Kent. Jack looks up at him. And Kent stares down at him, his expression goes foggy for a second, like he’s lost his train of thought. He wets his lips.

“I didn’t bring anything,” says Kent slowly, finally.

It takes a second for Jack to realize what Kent means.

“Oh,” says Jack. “Oh, that’s – ” He wants to say, that doesn’t matter. “That’s okay.”

“Okay,” says Kent.

Jack licks his palm and wraps it around Kent’s dick. He slides his hand up slowly, and Kent whimpers. His hips buck. Jack uses his free arm to lock Kent’s hips down.

“I still want,” says Jack, apologetically, “to – ”

He slides his mouth over Kent’s dick. Kent’s stomach muscles clench beneath Jack’s arm. Jack can hear him pant over the low murmur of voices from the TV. Kent’s hands twist in Jack’s hair, and then he tugs. The pain shivers pleasantly down Jack’s neck, down his back.

“Jack,” says Kent. “Zimms, come here.”

Jack complies, though slowly, kissing his way up Kent’s side, moving his mouth gently over the bruises. Kent pulls him down and kisses him hard when he’s finally all the way back up the bed, and then he bullies Jack onto his back and settles on Jack’s thighs.

“Motherfucker,” Kent informs Jack. Jack just grins. Kent’s body is flushed all over, a delicate pink that fans down from his neck. He tugs down Jack’s pants roughly, to mid-thigh, and Jack’s dick springs out, red and hard.

Then, Kent slides forward until their dicks align. He warps his hand around both of them, so they slide together, both already slick with pre-cum, with Jack’s spit. Jack adds his hand so their fingers touch, almost as electric as the feeling of their dicks touching each other. He sits back up and kisses Kent’s neck, his collarbone, his shoulders. They move together. Kent’s eyes are tossing, storm-colored, his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat.

Jack flips Kent back down again, and Kent lands with a small cry. Jack buries his mouth in Kent’s neck, sucking a dark mark even as he works Kent with firm, hard strokes. At first, it was just quick, hidden stuff, whatever they could get away with, and then, as they got braver, or more curious, figuring out what they liked best, the pleasure that comes from perfection, from knowing precisely what would do it for Kent. knowing Kent’s body and reactions almost as well in bed as he did on the ice.

“We’re not running drills,” Kent had said, breathless and limp, one afternoon after Jack had made him come three times in a row. They’re probably too old for that now, but – who knows.

The thought of doing that to Kent again, of learning again the perfect way to make Kent cry out and squirm is almost enough to set Jack over the edge. He steadies himself, breathes deep. He rubs his thumb over the tip of Kent’s dick.

“Do you still – ?” says Jack. “Like this?”

“Yes, Zimms, holy shit,” hisses Kent. His fingers dig into Jack’s bicep, and Jack can feel how hard Kent’s heels are digging into the bed. He looks into Jack’s face and laughs.

“What?” says Jack, grinning. He slows down, but keeps the same pressure, and Kent moans loudly.

“You just.” Kent reaches up and touches between Jack’s eyebrows. “You’re so serious about everything!” he cries, voice pitching as Jack speeds up again. His hips jerk up erratically. He comes, in Jack’s hand, over his own stomach and chest. Jack doesn’t last much longer. He comes across Kent’s stomach, too.

They lie there, for awhile, in silence. Jack rests his head on Kent's chest. Kent's hand is in his hair.

Afterwards, he cleans Kent off with a wet washcloth. Kent pulls him back down and wraps his arms around Jack’s shoulders. Jack rubs his back and hums.

Kent brings Jack’s knuckles to his mouth and kisses them. Jack shivers, a reaction that starts in his gut and streaks jaggedly through his chest, makes the hair on his arms stand.

“Still mad I came?” says Kent, the words slurring together in his tiredness.

Jack thumbs at Kent’s hairline and smiles.

“Shut up, Kenny,” he says, “And go to sleep.”


He wakes up only a couple hours later, when his phone alarm goes off. He silences it quickly. Kent is lying on his side, clutching a pillow with his fist curled beneath his chin. A lock of hair falls over his forehead. Jack thinks about the way Kent looked when he fell asleep on Jack at the All-Star Game. It’s another stolen moment, but it’s not one he should feel guilty about. Still, he looks away.

He gets out of bed and goes to mess with the hotel room Keurig. He feels scraped out and strange, gray-brained with the lack of sleep. The bruise around his eye throbs a reminder, and Jack presses his fingers against it. It’s a good, grounding pain. He tries to decipher how he feels. Dehydrated. Exhausted. He’ll definitely sleep the whole plane ride to Vancouver. But also, he thinks, for the first time in days, calm.

That doesn’t mean anything, necessarily. He’d felt calm right before he OD’d, too.

“You didn’t ruin my life,” says Kent.

Jack turns.

“I thought you were asleep,” he says.

“I woke up,” says Kent. “I do it every morning.”

He props himself up on his elbows, into a half-sitting position, and looks at Jack. Jack’s weirdly grateful for the coffee cup he’s holding, as if it were some kind of shield.

“Congrats. Coffee?”

“I mean it. You didn’t ruin my life. I moved on. I kick ass now.”

Jack looks at him – sprawled out in his bed, a sheet across his lap, his eyes still half-lidded from sleep, a dark spot on his collarbone that Jack left.

“Oh, yeah,” says Jack. “You’ve really moved on.”

Kent flips him off and tilts his head back, shows off his throat.

“I’m just saying,” he says to the ceiling, voice bored and flat. “You’re not gonna ruin Bittle’s life. Your dick’s not that good.”

“Thanks,” says Jack. Is that what Kent’s been thinking about? he wonders. Because, he frankly, hasn’t been thinking about Bittle at all. He chalks that up as something he should feel guilty about.
“That’s really comforting.”

Kent shrugs. He tilts his head back down, but looks away, eyes cutting towards the floor, one arm curled protectively over his chest, cupping his shoulder. Jack watches him. He’s never been sure what to do with Kent when he’s vulnerable. There’s a part of him that, even now, suspects a ploy. Though what ploy that would be, exactly, he couldn’t say. He strides back over to the bed.

“Hey,” he says, looming above Kent.

“What?” says Kent sullenly. He glares up at Jack. His hair is standing up in every direction.

Jack places the cup on the side table, then leans down and kisses him.

Kent makes a surprised noise, but grabs Jack’s collar and keeps him there.

“You need to brush your teeth, dude,” mutters Kent, when they finally pull apart. He rests his forehead against Jack’s chest, keeps his fingers curled around the hem of Jack’s shirt.

“Heh,” says Jack. He cups the back of Kent’s neck and tugs lightly on his hair. “Probably.”

Kent shakes his head. He pulls away just enough to peer up at Jack.

“So...” he says. He scrubs at his face like a child and then laughs. “Fuck, I was gonna ask if we’re gonna talk about this, but I’m way too fucking tired, man.”

Jack slides his hand to Kent’s chin. He cradles his face. He’s struck again by the thought of Kent driving through the night to see him. It’s an act of devotion that’s almost overwhelming. It’s mortifying and gratifying in equal measures. It’s also very typical of Kent, to give Jack something he didn’t ask for, that he needed, that he doesn’t know how to accept. He’s reminded, in a creeping way, of Bittle. He shunts the thought aside.

He releases Kent’s jaw and sinks onto the bed next to him. Kent leans against him, pillowing his head on Jack’s shoulder.

“At least you’re not kicking me out this time,” says Kent, after a moment.

“No,” says Jack. “No, I won’t kick you out.”

Kent looks away jerkily, his cheeks red. He grabs the coffee cup off the nightstand and stares into it as if he can see the future in it. Or more likely he’s just exhausted.

Jack plucks the coffee out of his hand and takes a drink.

“Hey,” says Kent, startled, laughing. He snatches it back and cradles it against his chest. “I need that more than you.”

“I can make another cup,” says Jack, amused.

Kent shakes his head and drinks deeply. Jack watches his throat move.

“Here,” says Kent, thrusting the now empty coffee cup back into Jack’s hand. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’m gonna shower.”

Jack snorts and tosses the cup into the trash can. Kent whistles appreciatively.

“Maybe you should change your sport, Zimms.”

“Take your shower, Kenny,” says Jack, grinning.

He lies back on his bed and continues to grin dumbly up at the ceiling. He could join Kent in the shower, he’s pretty sure, but he’s enjoying just lying there, listening.

“Hey,” says Kent, when he steps out of the shower a few minutes later, followed by a white cloud of steam.

“Yeah?” says Jack, propping himself up on his elbows. He can tell that Kent wants to ask him something.

Kent takes his time asking. He towels at his hair, then wraps the towel around his waist and studies his reflection.

“When Mashkov offered...” Kent says to the mirror and not to Jack. He glances at Jack out of the corner of his eye and looks away quickly when he sees Jack looking back at him. “You didn’t take anything, right?”

“No,” says Jack, annoyed. “I didn’t self medicate with my teammate’s prescription pain meds, Kent.”

Kent rolls his eyes and starts getting dressed. He doesn’t say anything else about it, but there’s a stiffness to his shoulders that Jack can interpret as irritation.

“I didn’t,” said Jack, sullen. “And I won’t. And I talked to Tater about it.”

“Well,” says Kent briskly, “as long as you’re talking to someone about it.”

“Kent,” says Jack - low, a warning.

Kent doesn’t say anything else, just frowns unhappily at his reflection. Jack watches him. He wonders if every conversation is going to be like this: fine, but they both know where the knives are.

Kent combs his fingers through his hair, then grimaces at his reflection again when it still stands on end.

“You’re beautiful, Kenny,” says Jack, monotone.

Kent laughs. It sounds genuine. He leans against the bathroom counter and faces Jack.

“Fuck, Zimms. I’m so tired I feel like I’m gonna puke.”

“You’re not going to drive back?” asks Jack, concerned, but also a little selfishly glad that he gets to be the worried one now.

Kent shakes his head. “I don’t have a death wish. I’m gonna get a flight. I’ll figure out the car later.”

Jack nods. There isn’t really anything he can do to be helpful.

“Do you want another cup of coffee…?”

“I’ll pick one up,” says Kent. “I gotta get going. Good luck in Vancouver.”

He goes to the door. Jack gets off the bed and follows him. He puts his hand on Kent’s shoulder. He watches his face carefully.

“Thanks,” says Jack. “For coming.”

Kent’s quiet. He looks embarrassed.

“What?” says Jack.

“Nothing. Just. Thanks for letting me.”

“I’m not that much of an asshole. Not after you drove all the way here.”

Kent smiles wanly, like he disagrees. “If you’d told me six months ago that we’d be here…”

“You wouldn’t have believed it?”

“I don’t know,” Kent admits, after a beat. He raises his eyebrows, sardonic. “Not like we haven’t been here before.”

Jack cups his face. “I’m not kicking you out this time,” he points out.

Kent snorts. “Someday it’s gonna be my turn,” he says, but he doesn’t pull away. He hesitates and then he turns his head slightly and kisses Jack’s hand, at the base of his palm. Then he steps away. He pulls on his cap and hood, produces a set of aviator glasses from his front pocket and slides them on. He looks very obviously like someone trying not to be noticed, but he doesn’t particularly look like Kent Parson. He smiles, all mirrors.

“See ya, Zimms,” he says, and he walks out into the hallway, the still quiet morning.

Jack closes the door and unlocks his phone. He has a text from Shitty - a u doing ok bro? - that he ignores in favor of texting Kent. He sends him an airplane, a spade. A rising sun.